The Entomological Society of America Conference (#EntSoc2014) was recently hosted in Portland, Oregon. As one can imagine, the largest gathering of arthropod-focused scientists in the United States yields hundreds of presentations, posters, meetings and symposia on the latest breakthroughs in entomological research. But this year’s conference hosted some new kinds of symposia for the first time ever, and they revolved around science communication. Two notable symposia were:
- Reaching Beyond. This symposium demonstrated how social media have bridged the gap between entomologists and the public. Social media are powerful tools for enhancing and disseminating research, and present many opportunities for entomologists willing to look beyond their horizons. Some outstanding speakers in this session were Gwen Pearson (aka ‘Bug Gwen’), Phil Torres, Jessica Honaker and Kristina Reddick (aka the ‘Bug Chicks’), and Morgan Jackson.
- Grand Challenge: Effective Science Education with Communication. A grand challenge on our horizon is highly effective science communication. From invasive species education to political policy making decisions, effectively communicating the importance of our research and results is essential. The symposium addressed the need for better communication and gave many examples of how to do so. In this session, I presented a poster along with co-authors Mike Bentley, Jake Bova, Geoff Gallice, and Lary Reeves. The title was “Social Media: Giving Science Communication a Facelift”.
A link to a PDF of the poster can be found at the end of this post, but here are some of the sections and highlights!
Social media has revolutionized the interactive sharing of ideas using online communities, networks, and crowdsourcing [1,2]. For scientists, these online tools also offer a powerful platform to boost professional profiles, accelerate or create new contacts with research colleagues, increase article citations, and enhance communication between scientists and the general public. We draw upon recent research on the topic of social media and science communication, as well as some of our own experiences with Facebook, Twitter, crowdfunding and blogs to show how social media has influenced our scientific outlook, particularly in entomology and tropical conservation.
- Facebook is the most widely used social media site with over 1.35 billion monthly active users (http://goo.gl/kUUYcg). This site can be utilized to create a public profile or page that may reach a different audience than Twitter or blogs.
- The Facebook page ‘Relax. I’m an Entomologist’ was created by Jake Bova as an education website dedicated to sharing insect and arthropod related news and questions (Fig 1). The page was founded in 2012 and in a relatively short period of time has grown to have over 43,000 total page ‘likes’ with an estimated total post reach to 134,220 Facebook users (https://www.facebook.com/RelaxImAnEntomologist/insights as of 11/5/14)
- Another Facebook page ‘RACERS’ (Rainforest Adventurers, Conservationists, Educators and Research Scientists) was created in part by Lary Reeves (Fig 1). He and his colleagues share information from research and expeditions and are “racing to generate a better understanding of our planet's tropical forests”.
- Twitter is a microblogging platform that allows users to post short messages, called ‘tweets’ of less than 140 characters. These tweets can be shared and linked to websites or scientific papers. Currently there are 200+ million monthly active Twitter users who post 500+ million tweets per day.
- Tweeting published findings can communicate research to a broad audience. Some analyses have shown that tweeting papers lead to increased article downloads and citations [3,4] and highly tweeted journal articles are 11 times more likely to be highly cited compared to articles lacking social media coverage .
- We recently tweeted for ‘Real Scientists’, which is a rotational twitter account that features scientists, science writers, communicators, and policy makers (Fig 2). During a one week span, we ‘live-tweeted’ about a recent expedition to the Peruvian Amazon using the twitter handle @realscientists, which currently has over 14,400 followers (https://twitter.com/realscientists as of 11/5/14). We tweeted about a range of topics, including our own scientific research in the Amazon.
- Crowdfunding is a collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money in order to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Many researchers are utilizing crowdfunding as an alternative source to subsidize project expenses .
- We recently launched a crowdfunding campaign titled “Science Communicators in the Peruvian Amazon”. The project was run through RocketHub, which is an online crowdfunding website. In addition to raising funds, our goals were to interact with the online community to share the process of scientific discovery and answer questions about nature and biodiversity, all while presenting science in a more user-friendly format.
- Through this project we successfully reached and passed our funding goal and raised a total of $6,875. This helped to supplement the costs associated with our expeditions and allows us to produce better quality videos and photos related to scientific topics that will be shared with open access online.
- Blog posts can be directly beneficial to scientists, as they can be easily disseminated, linked via search engine terms, and provide an ‘expert’ information source that is accessible for years to come . They can also serve as a robust platform for building an online reputation.
- For scientists, blogging removes a barrier between the authors and their audience. This transparent communication exposes the public to the scientist as a person and allows them to build trust through the individual, not just the ideas being discussed . A downside to the scientist is that blog posts can require a great time investment (generating high quality posts can take several hours).
- We have constructed several personal blogs, including ‘The Next Gen Scientist’ and ‘Tropical Wildlife’ though Wordpress and ‘Relax. I’m an Entomologist’ through Tumblr. In addition to creating easily accessible content, we find that blogging also has immediate personal benefits. We attempt to write blog posts about our research or other scientific topics regularly, and this consistent blogging helps us to refine our persuasive writing skills, broaden our base-knowledge, and formulate new ideas.
The Future of Scientists and Social Media
- Social media outlets have changed the playing field for how scientists interact with one another and beyond academia into policy and public domains. We have presented several online social media tools that can be rewarding for scientists, but many other resources are available such as YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Reddit, and ResearchGate.
- Funding bodies, such as the National Science Foundation, are increasingly looking to support projects that will have broader impacts (http://goo.gl/4RZqkB) and this criteria may be satisfied by a researcher who has an established track record and well thought out online outreach strategy.
- While some of the current social media tools might one day become outdated in the ongoing evolution of social media services, we, and many other scientists, believe that the use of social media and interactions with online communities will continue to have long-term impact on the development and communication of scientific knowledge [1,2,4,7].
For a PDF version of the poster click the link here: ESA 2014 Poster Social Media Science Communication.
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