Twitter for High-IQ Types: The Cure for a Pre-Web Way of Working?

In a recent post on his In the Pipeline blog, Derek Lowe (@dereklowe) notes how scientists can be prone to smugness. “There's a particular danger in the sciences, because (on the one hand) there's so much to know, that a given person does indeed have a good chance of knowing something that others don't,” he writes. “But on that inevitable other hand, this knowledge is set against a background of the huge, vast, pile of what we don't know—and if you keep that perspective, that knowing little smile just starts to look ridiculous.”

Lowe quotes Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman (@ldtimmerman), who says that the high IQs and egos of some people in the life sciences often “spills over into smugness or arrogance.”

No one has cornered the market on smugness, for sure. We all partake. But I do detect a whiff of it among many “high IQ” types when it comes to Twitter. Time and again I’ve heard people I’ve met in the course of my work—engineers, chemists, academics, marketers, consultants—say that they don’t need Twitter. Otherwise very intelligent people say, “Why should I care what somebody else is having for lunch?”

Those who think that Twitter is merely a trivial social gimmick--for the likes of pseudo-celebs like Snooki (@snooki) and people with too much time on their hands--don't understand how it has evolved. Sure, Twitter spawns an inordinate amount of nonsense and faux news, and gets a lot of attention for doing so. Too much of it is useless. But for professionals, Twitter is increasingly about networking, about influence.

In a recent column, my colleague Michele V. Wagner notes how Twitter is significantly influencing which articles in scientific journals get read and cited. In the old days, it would take months for articles to get reviewed and interpreted by a select few thought leaders. Now, thanks to Twitter and other social media, journal articles are assessed almost as soon as they are published by the digital masses. This isn’t always a good thing, of course—scientific research can be valued more for how many people know about it rather than for its inherent quality and importance.

Wagner goes on to quote an article from Forbes: “We are creating knowledge in new ways but have a philosophy of science modeled on a pre-web way of working.”

In his Eye on FDA blog, Mark Senak (@eyeonfda), of Fleishman-Hillard's Washington, D.C. office, notes how Twitter has become a fundamental tool of all journalists. “It increases their exposure and therefore their influence considerably,” he writes. “Instead of being names behind a headline or talking heads on a screen or behind a microphone, they are now in a venue where they can interact and develop relationships.”

I can vouch for that. Many of my most important contacts within the industry are Twitter friends.

It’s taken me a couple years of trial and error to figure out how Twitter fits into my workday and career. Depending upon your exact profession, you may or may not have an urgent need to maintain a significant presence on Twitter. But, like it or not, Twitter is shaping your life, so it pays to understand how it works, and how it might work for you.

Join me there.

--Paul Thomas (aka @PaulThomasPharm)