Recently, David Crotty observed that scientists are not joining social networks. The comments indicated that this might not be a fair generalization, and that adoption in some fields might be quite high. In addition, the use of social media tools remained unaddressed.
In an analysis published in the October 30th issue of Cell, Laura Bonetta quotes a number of scientists who are using Twitter to broadcast awareness of papers they find interesting while learning about papers others find interesting. Most of those quoted have 1,000+ followers. In addition, scientists Bonetta found are Twittering from meetings to help peers follow along.
Interestingly, one of the controversies Bonetta uncovers originated at Cold Spring Harbor Labs (CSHL), where David works. Tweets from a meeting caught the attention of the meeting organizers thanks to tattling by Genomeweb, which was upset because its journalists were being scooped by Twitter:
Because of the complaints, a month later CSHL released a statement that “any participant intending to blog, twitter or otherwise communicate or disseminate results or discussion presented at the meeting to anonymous third parties must obtain permission from the relevant presenting author before communicating any results or discussion to third party groups, message boards, blogs or other online resources (other than your own lab or departments).”
As an aside, Genomeweb is here the “traditional” provider, yet is built on Drupal, which “supports a variety of websites ranging from personal weblogs to large community-driven websites.”
Apparently, there was enough impact from science Twittering to give a non-traditional (now, traditional) provider cause for concern.
Digging into this brought me back to David’s assertion that scientists aren’t joining social networks. Clicking through to his primary source, I found the curious opening sentence:
An adoption rate of 1/7 is a little over 14%. But you have to parse the sentence closely to see that this is probably an underestimation, possibly quite severe. First of all, it was a “quick analysis,” which I think sub-texts into “I barely scratched the surface.” Then there are the networks examined — LinkedIn and Xing, which are networks targeted at businesspeople wishing to keep their contacts up, not necessarily collaborative social networks and certainly not flexible social media tools like Twitter.
Reading further into the same source, there is this even more curious sentence from the author:
Now, personally I know a lot of scientists who are using social media and social networking tools. I have enlisted more than 600 members in a Twitter group after all, and hundreds of my contacts in research are on FriendFeed, LinkedIn, Facebook etc.
Now, I didn’t start writing this post with the intent of quibbling with David. But digging into these links led me to see some things differently, and I have to quibble now.
It seems there’s plenty of evidence that scientists are using social networks (from general ones like Facebook and LinkedIn to more specialized ones like Academia.edu and others), as well as social media tools, from blogs to Twitter to RSS.
It’s often hard to pin down new cultural developments, especially when there are many scattered initiatives, making it hard to aggregate information and spot trends. Yet, it seems scientists are finding value in social tools, and are moving into social networking.
And while you can argue that they won’t want to because they’ll have to divulge secrets, this is like saying they won’t go to parties because they might have to talk shop. Social media requires social skills and social know-how. Scientists know how to chat about what they can and keep secret what they must. This familiar social terrain is hardly a barrier to adoption if there are new advantages to be found in social media.