Do Social Media have a role to play in the Scientific Process?

Victoria Louise Ng

In 2012 The Guardian stated that ‘Social media platforms can provide feedback during research and then assist in the promotion of the published work’. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter provide a way for current researchers to put their data to a much wider audience. CERN for instance have a current count of 1.03M followers on Twitter and 341,140 likes on Facebook. Now imagine that each of those followers and likes are a different person. That’s nearly 1.4 million people!

Say CERN announce something on these platforms that appeals to just a quarter of these people, that’s 0.35 million people retweeting and sharing that same information. If each of those people have 20 friends or followers that then read that announcement that’s a massive 7 million people, nearly 5 times the original reach. That’s the power of social media.

Now imagine we go back in time 15 years. No Facebook and no Twitter. How many people would that announcement reach? The answer is not a lot. Only the people that see it in a newspaper, if the newspaper picks up on it.

But, Social Media itself is often described as social interaction among people. There’s no distinction in the type of people involved in social media so, by extension, it’s mostly dominated by non academics. These are people who tend to believe the word of a scientist is fact. A recent example for instance was an article I stumbled across on a popular website called helloU. This article in particular was about the current ebola crisis but the article itself wasn’t what peaked my interest.

In the comment section was the sentence “My evidence for the information I provided was an article in a newspaper about Ebola, with an interview from a scientist.” This was in regards to the statement that Ebola isn’t infectious within it’s 21day incubation period. The interesting thing I find here is the mix of the words evidence, newspaper and interview. Along with most members of the public this person took what a scientist said in a newspaper to be evidential fact. For all I know, this scientist may be bang on the money, making it up on the spot or having their words twisted by journalists.

So, social media is a great tool for getting the word out there and spreading news amongst the general public, but are the general public really that good at distinguishing what makes a good paper if they are willing to use a ‘scientist’s say so’ as fact?

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/jul/24/social-media-academic-research-tool\

HelloU: http://www.hellou.co.uk/2014/10/ebola-uk-21435/?fb_comment_id=fbc_907199852642978_907234622639501_907234622639501#f15c0012cc

Do Social Media have a role to play in the Scientific Process?

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