SpotOn London 2013 – communicating science online

Outreach. SpotOn is a series of community events for the discussion of how science is carried out and communicated online. SpotOn London (November 7-9, 2013) is organized by the Nature Publishing Group and represents the flagship conference of the SpotOn series. SpotOn discussions fall into three broad topic areas – policy, outreach, and tools – and this site collates the conversations and other archive material around all of the events. Within the outreach track, Roland and I will contribute to the session about scientist-to-scientist communication using blogs and other online tools. Here is why this pertains to you: in a semi-strategic last-minute move, we managed to reserve one extra ticket that we would like to give to a young scientist who would like to join us in London. Short notice? Spontaneous ideas are sometimes the best ideas. Also, for everybody else, there is one last chance on Friday at 12:00 London time to get tickets.

Social media and science. You might think that the term social media only applies to sharing photos of your kids or liking Justin Bieber’s new haircut. You might think that Facebook and Twitter are temporary phenomena of a young generation with too much free time on their hands. And you might think that one should rather write papers or grants than think about social media in science. The truth is that you are constantly using social media. People always have. Martin Luther did. What we are experiencing at the moment is the effect of a new medium. We are experiencing how this medium affects us and the way we are communicating. Researchers in the field of neurogenetics or epilepsy genetics constitute a community, and a community has rules for communication. Accordingly, the “social” in social media also refers to your academic peer group. We have formal ways of communicating through publications, presentations, and committees. However, a large section of our peer-to-peer communication occurs informally beneath the surface. And this communication has the potential to be vastly improved by the modern social media tools available to us.

The initial X-ray of DNA by Rosalind Franklin, which led to the suggestion that DNA might actually be a double helix (photo taken at King’s College in 2012). In contrast to her peers Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, Franklin did not receive a Nobel Prize. While many factors may have contributed to this questionable decision, the fact that Franklin was possessive of data and not a good communicator might have contributed to this. This year’s SpotOn is the first time that we will attend an event on online science communication, and we are excited to get new ideas on how we can improve our way of talking to each other through social media and other online sources on a peer-to-peer basis in science.

The initial X-ray of DNA by Rosalind Franklin, which led to the suggestion that DNA might actually be a double helix (photo taken at King’s College in 2012). In contrast to her peers Watson, Crick, and Wilkins, Franklin did not receive a Nobel Prize. While many factors may have contributed to this questionable decision, the fact that Franklin was possessive of data and not a good communicator might have contributed to this. This year’s SpotOn is the first time that we will attend an event on online science communication, and we are excited to get new ideas on how we can improve our way of talking to each other through social media and other online sources on a peer-to-peer basis in science.

Make yourself heard. Is there actually anything to improve upon in the way we communicate with our scientific peers? Yes, there is. To be frank, science has a huge problem. An average PhD student works several years on his or her project before anything is published. And in most cases, the impact of the resulting publication is a matter of luck. There is no guarantee that a given project will result in a high impact paper that will compensate for years of sacrifice. In addition, we have entered the era of consortium science and are increasingly realizing that we need large networks to accomplish milestone research. How will young researchers be recognized in these research projects? How can you reward being one of more than 20 coauthors? We need a better way of attributing scientific achievement, one that doesn’t require you to address 21st century research questions while trying to generate a 19th century academic biography. Maintaining an active profile by contributing to peer-to-peer research social media might be one way of establishing this.

Credibility. There are many aspects of blogging and online communication that I think are noteworthy. First, there is the community aspect. Blogging is not journalism. Being a blogger is being part of a community and contributing to this community. The involvement in a given research community is also the main difference to commercial blogs and websites. The quality of research peer-to-peer blogging is not measured in clicks, and we don’t generate revenue through ads or use SEO tools. Research peer-to-peer blogging must be credible within your research community. How do you measure the success and effectiveness of peer-to-peer research blogs? Well, why don’t we have this discussion in London?

Writing to learn. A second aspect of research blogging is the learning aspect. You can’t help learning when you prepare a blog post. You will end up reading much more about a particular topic than you would have done otherwise. Many scientists, particularly non-native English speakers, have a certain level of hesitance when it comes to writing. One way to address this issue is to simply keep writing, and a blog is extremely helpful for this. But there is actually much more to it. You are not only learning to write, you are writing to learn. The topics you write about will be hardwired in your CNS.

Join us for the London SpotOn meeting. Roland and I have volunteered to help organize a session on scientist-to-scientist communication through online tools. I have to admit that I am slightly nervous about this. We will be facing scrutinizing questions by professional science communicators and will have our blogging technology taken apart by Web 2.0 experts. However, we keep reassuring ourselves that our experience as peer-to-peer research bloggers has some aspects that are worth talking about. We would be happy for you to join us in London. We are looking for a young scientist who might have an interest in learning about online science communication. We will give the ticket out on a first come first served basis, so just give it a try and contact us!

You can follow our preparations for London on Twitter through @euroepinomics or @ingohelbig #solo13 #solo13blogs

4 thoughts on “SpotOn London 2013 – communicating science online

  1. Pingback: SpotOn London, Open Access and the Higgs boson | Beyond the Ion Channel

  2. Pingback: “Dark social” or “Who is afraid of email?” | Beyond the Ion Channel

  3. Pingback: Papers of the week (w47) | Beyond the Ion Channel

  4. Pingback: Why you need to know what EGI stands for | Beyond the Ion Channel

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s