All you wanted to know about Facebook and science and you were afraid to ask.
Most of us agree that communication is important. It is vital in every aspect of our lives and in everything that we do. It is the reason that most human belong in the category of social animals. For this reason sharing becomes important; sharing experiences and information. It has been mentioned before: this sharing is the foundation of culture.
Science is part of the information and experience that is ought to be shared. The term Science derives from the latin (yup,it hurts that is not a Greek reference this time): scientia that means “knowledge”. And what is the point of knowledge if it is not communicated? Writing, itself has been invented for the more efficient transmission of knowledge that allows less spread of falsehoods and enforces memory.
Successful science is not only good results with powerful correlations and desired p-values. Significant part of the success is related to the impact that can have to the community. And the first step towards that impact is making it available to people.
Sharing our research results with fellow scientists helps to improve it, discuss future steps and enhances the knowledge on which other scientists will base their own research. That happens usually through conferences and publishing peer reviewed articles. It isn’t of any less importance to share it with the rest of the world. Until not very long time ago, the way to do this was through the news, documentaries, books and newspapers. Some scientists get a lot more of this type of exposure than others. Nowadays, everyone can give publicity to his/her scientific research and share it with family, friends, “friends” and more.
The ability to communicate and share information has been switched to another dimension since the internet and the social media have taken off. Social networks offer easiness in socializing in long distances and in the long term, and that has transformed this platform into an integral part of most people’s lives. I don’t argue that this media has also altered irreversibly the way we interact with each other; for good or bad.
But this is a subject for another blog or even a whole social sciences’ conference.
Social networking animals
Connections and networking are useful, especially if you are an early career scientist. And that is what Facebook is about. Using it to make people aware of science seems to be a good idea considering its impact. Numbers talk for themselves: 1/7th of the world population has a Facebook profile. In this fraction we don’t even account for China having it censored (I know what you are thinking: what do Chinese use to procrastinate and waste time?). This number can even be compared to the Catholic Church members!
Do the math:
- World population: 7.291,658,406 billion
- Facebook users: 1.35 billion and 757 million daily users (fake profiles: 81.000.000)
- Catholic Church: 1.2 billion members
- China’s population: 1.4 billion.
This network has changed so much human communication that in tech culture the year 2015 is translated as the year 11 a.F.; with “a.F” standing for “after Facebook” (it was funded in 2004). It has undoubtedly spawned a big variety of nasty and unpleasant habits but we largely agree that it is an effective platform for long distance communication.
I don’t blame you if you are skeptical about the relationship of science and Facebook but there are certainly advantages in using it for this purpose. A good example is the Facebook page IFLS described as the lighter and funny side of science that has almost 20 million followers! There are plenty of similar profiles with millions of users around the world that get people interested into science. And this is the first main advantage of Facebook. It is global (besides China, North Korea and Tajikistan) and it allows international connections not just among friends and family members but also among colleagues and former lab members. It is particularly helpful for scientists since they tend to travel a lot (good reason to be one). Even the non-scientific Facebook contacts can be useful since you never know who is connected to whom. I have been a few times contacted through Facebook for work offers even by non-scientists friends. Information about new publications is immediately shared since researchers often, if not always, post their new publication as soon as it is accepted and often when it is just submitted. It is also a convenient way to follow updates and conversations if you are introverted since you don’t have to physically step into groups of people.
Almost all universities and research institutes have Facebook pages and that can be used for former or potential employers. Our ORCAA lab maintains a Facebook account. We use it for all sorts of updates that are related to bioacoustics and graduate student life and it is a direct and easy mean for people to contact us by sending us a message. New publications from our lab members are posted, as well as information related to conferences or meetings. However, the main reason we utilize it is for sharing our blog posts. Exactly, we post on Facebook to tell you that we blogged!
Since we concluded that Facebook can be useful for scientific purposes, here are a couple of tips on how to increase the impact of your posts.
I am sure that from personal use you will have noticed that the timing of your posts matters. It has been shown (there are figures below to confirm) that the most productive time to post on Facebook and get the most interaction (likes and shares) is during the weekends, especially on Saturdays and on a daily base just before and after lunch time. Too many posts are not a good thing; oversharing/overposting can have the opposite from desired results. Specifically one post every two days is highly recommended. When not to post? On Fridays. People are already away from their screens celebrating the entrance of the weekend. No worries, you will get them again on Saturday.
Now the question is what to post. It is important to translate your science in the most amusing and approachable way possible. Humor always helps; try to use quotes, jokes and fun facts. Everyone likes and remembers fun facts. ZeFrank is the King of fun facts and his True Facts (watch this link) series is legendary. I am surprised he doesn’t have an episode on sperm whales, they provide abundant “fun fact” material!
Pictures, photos and videos are worth a thousand words and an easy way to get messages across. Tagging people is a way to encourage interaction but do it with relevant to your post “friends”. Same is the case with questions; they raise interaction. To connect the scientist and his work with a non-scientific audience, to get people interested and involved is the goal. The challenge is to not vitiate your results or your methods in the process of simplifying them so they can be accessible. Just change the wooden, stiff scientific language into a more fun and personal expression.
You don’t have to be a professional science journalist. It would help but it’s not necessary. Writing never gets easy anyways. At least that’s what Elizabeth Kolbert said yesterday at the presentation she gave at OSU. She is the author of the book 6th extinction and she writes a lot! Her comment caused an empathetic feeling to a lot of students in the auditorium. Including me.
*This post is based on the Tech Talk that Selene, Danielle and me gave last Monday at the Hatfield Marine Science Center with the title “#SciComm”. Selene will be posting a more comprehensive text on the use of different social media in communicating science*