Today, I decided to post a blog; I’ve never been particularly active in social media. I have a Facebook profile, and recently even dabbled in the realm of twitter to follow a few people who interest me. But to me bloggers always seemed to fall in two categories: those who gregariously share their wealth of knowledge, insights and witticisms with the world, and those who’d like to think they were in the first category. Recently, however, I find myself not being quite so constrained in my thinking. It probably started with a discussion I had sometime last year, about the role in social media in science. This was in a conservation biology course.
Science as it is practiced in academic circles is not quite the glorious pursuit of knowledge I envisioned upon my entrance into University. Don’t get me wrong, furthering knowledge and understanding remains the forefront of scientific undertakings. However, the problem comes in the communication of this new knowledge. Many of you probably know that scientific findings are published in peer-reviewed journals. The peer review process is not a bad one at heart. Having your work analysed by experts in the relevant field ensures that you don’t publish bogus conclusions, and don’t try to pass off work done by others as your own.
No, the problem lies within our attitude towards those journals. The number of articles published by a researcher in top journals such as Nature or Science and the number of citations those articles received have become performance indicators. This means that researchers get judged by the number of articles they produce and publish in certain journals, rather than the research itself. So researchers tailor their research; try to link it with popular themes, or simplify conclusions to meet a strict word limit. Obviously, this has a negative impact on innovative new research: if it’s not popular, it may not make the cut.
So you can see that a large part of science and being a researcher these days is less about making a contribution to the research community and society as a whole, and more about publishing your papers. The question you may be asking is where social media comes in. Well, this is the platform for researchers to launch their ideas on a broader basis. They can show people how new ideas can affect their lives; introduce new concepts and ways of thinking. Specifically for the Environmental Sciences and Conservation Biology, fields that are based solely on human values, this is where researchers get to explain how they see the world. It’s a way to transmit ideas without diluting them through media filters.
Scientist often complain that they’re misunderstood, and that scientific findings can only be interpreted by other scientists, that once the knowledge reaches the public the conclusions have been muddled by people who do not understand scientific procedure. Well, I’d say it’s our own damn fault: Scientists write for other scientists, not for laymen. So here’s a chance for researchers to take their expertise, their findings, their insights, and distribute them to the public, where it may find acceptance.
So this is why I’m writing a blog I guess. Not that there’s any research I’ll be publishing: I’m still just a student. But I’ve decided to take my own advice, and post my own views on science and the world in general up online. And it’s a relief to be able to write a piece where I do not have to cite 25 sources to make it ‘academically relevant’.
- Why is science behind a paywall? (priceonomics.com)
- Online Science: Open Access,The Penny University and Nautilus (thesebonesofmine.wordpress.com)
- The legitimacy and usefulness of academic blogging will shape how intellectualism develops (blogs.lse.ac.uk)