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European Science Editing Social Media Article

December 1, 2015

In November I published an article in European Science Editing, the journal of the European Association of Science Editors (EASE) organisation, with the title ‘The role of social media in the research cycle’.

The article is available in issue 4 of volume 41, for all EASE members to access online here.  EASE make articles open access after six months, so this article will be freely available from May 2016.  I will of course, repost links to it when the time comes.

The article examined how different types of social media are being adopted and utilised by members of the scientific community, and the ways it is being employed in the different stages of the research cycle. It looks at how alternative web-based metrics are becoming an indicator of social impact and a measure of online ‘presence’ (a word I would like to see used in place of ‘impact’), to supplement conventional bibliometric methods. The paper includes interviews with Jon Tennant, a palaeontologist at Imperial College London, and Euan Adie, the founder of Altmetric.

I also spoke to Andrew Preston of Publons over email, but we concluded the conversation too late to make it into the final version of the article.  I will post that conversation in its entirety in a future blog post.

The interview I conducted with Jon was a fascinating insight into the experience and ideology of a young PhD researcher, passionate about open access and science communication. It was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation, as well as being hugely enlightening.  I could not fit as much as I would have liked into the final article, so here’s part of that interview with Jon, in which he talks about the readership of articles, the function of open access in the public’s awareness of science:

 

 

Jon: Academic journals, in how they are currently written, as they have always been written, are not designed for public consumption. In the same way that you have policy documents, lawyer documents. Anything which is exclusively written for an inner group of people is designed to be in the language of that group of people, so they can progress and communicate with themselves more effectively.  But of pretty much every kind of career sphere out there, scientists are the only ones consistently slammed for not making their work more publically accessible.

So there’s this call to increase access to research for the good of the public, but we’re still not changing papers to be written in a way in which they can be consumed more easily. At the moment you have this call for increased access, but we’re not actually doing anything beyond increasing that access and expanding the readership, but there’s no thought  about why that might necessarily be a good thing, at the moment.  Access to research is not the end all.  A lot of science communicators will say that’s a failing of science, because we are very elite in how we write, but scientists will say “yeah, but that’s because that’s how I’ve been trained, I didn’t train how to use this language for seven years to learn how to not use it, because I want to talk in the way that allows me to progress”

On a personal level, I can probably say that social media has vastly increased the readership for my work.  I only started publishing in academic journals last year, and my citation count is still very low, but irrespective of that, I am still getting thousands of hits on every page, and hundreds of downloads which suggests to me that although academics aren’t necessarily using my research, I am still getting used by a broader audience, which I assume comes through social media.  My papers are getting very high Altmetric scores, so despite not being widely cited, yet, within academic circles….[Laughs].  I’m saying yet because I’m hoping the will be useful at some point in the future.

At the end of the day, we all like talking about audiences, academic policy makers, the informed scientifically literate, all these various different audiences people talk about. When we look at what we’re getting, all we get is a number that says ‘You’ve got ten thousand hits’, and we can’t actually translate that. Or you could have comments, which is more of a qualitative assessment of your work, but translating that into who is actually reading your work – that’s the question which hasn’t been solved by social media, and is probably the thing that is generating more questions than it’s answering.”

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