Researchers at University of Wisconsin have found a correlation between the use of social media to publicize a scientist’s work and the amount of recognition they will receive.
However, not all scientists agree that it is actually a good thing to use social media as an outlet to spread their findings and reach a larger audience, Dietram Scheufele, professor of life sciences communication, said.
“I think in many ways the topic is so popular because there has been a long debate in the sciences to which degree [scientists] should engage with the public or use some of these new tools in the first place,” Scheufele said.
UW’s research was interested in looking into how often scientists interact with more traditional outlets, like journalists, and also how present they are on social media.
A factor they looked at was their impact within the academic field. UW researchers measured these values with what they call the h-index, which basically indicates how many citations a scientist’s articles receive.
The h-index is also a good indicator of the respect a scientist is getting from other scholars who cite their work, Scheufele said. Citations are not just a matter of popularity, they are an indicator of quality and quantity, he said.
All journals in the academic world have an impact factor, which shows how many people cite the article in the first two years after its publication, and most journals are not cited more than 30 times.
“With a single tweet, with a single well-placed social media message, I can reach way more people,” Scheufele said. “It has the ability to tie together learning and research in ways we’ve never seen before.”
Not only has UW’s research shown a correlation between social media use and high citation rates, but it indicates a combination effect of being on new media and talking to journalists, meaning the impact of talking to journalists is significantly higher in combination with also having a presence on Twitter.
In the past, a scientist’s research would travel to the general public only if a journalist decided to cover it. With social media it is far easier to reach large numbers of people with news releases and aspects of the research, without having to rely on a journalist to multiply that for them, Scheufele said.
“Between talking to reporters and being mentioned in social media, because we’re doing both, we have an even greater record of citations,” Dominique Brossard, chair of the Department of Life Sciences Communications, said. “The more you use communication platforms, either traditional or social media, to talk about your research, the more likely you are for that research to be cited,” she said.
UW is at the forefront of trying to encourage students to interact with scientists and become knowledgeable of current research taking place, Brossard said.
Overall more and more scientists are going to begin to interact with the public and use social media, she said.
“Younger generations of scientists tend to be more active than others,” Brossard said. “The culture is changing and it will be the norm. It will become more widespread to have a large number of scientists present in social media.”