Digital Insights: Scientists & Twitter

Feb. 6, 2012
Twitter's impact on the scientific community and scientific literature citations in particular is growing at a rapid rate.

I have been speculating on the many uses for Twitter since it was first introduced in 2008. What started as a venue for broadcasting what you had for dinner or how you have to do laundry has morphed into a vehicle for well, still that, but also for knowledge sharing, public service announcements and now, apparently, for science.

There is an increasing impact of social media on most everything, but its impact on the scientific community and scientific literature citations in particular is growing at a rapid rate. Alexis Madrigal, a writer for The Atlantic, citing research done by the Journal of Medical Internet Research, has noted that articles which are frequently tweeted about are roughly 11 times more likely to be cited in scientific publications than those few people tweeted about.

He writes, “Its implications are even more interesting. It generally takes months and years for papers to be cited by other scientific publications. Thus, on the day an article comes out, it would seem to be difficult to tell whether it will have a real impact on a given field. However, because the majority of tweets about journal articles occur within the first two days of publication, we now have an early signal about which research is likely to be significant.”

However, there is much debate on the validity of the sources tweeting and retweeting scientific articles (and most everything in general) with many “twit-bots” serving information automatically and without review. But, one thing remains true in regard to twitter and science . . . where an article or topic may have once taken months for review and opinion, it now can be accessed by thousands in a matter of days.

A recent article in Forbes points out three social media take-aways for those in scientific industries:

# 1. We are creating knowledge in new ways but have a philosophy of science modeled on a pre-web way of working; we still tend to think of science and any rigorous thinking as an object that we collectively cultivate and grow.

# 2. The Journal’s research may be a useful early indicator of how social is changing science publishing but also a lesson for the wider community of opinion formers that opinion forming is itself changing and we need to understand its more fluid nature.

# 3. What we know will change. For decades it has mattered where you publish and peer review has been a brake on some innovative perspectives. It has tended to defend established viewpoints. The possibility is that new interpretations of experience can evolve and evolve rapidly. It needs a new philosophy of knowledge.

Do you think Twitter is a good venue for scientific research, citations and collaborations? Let us know: [email protected].

About the Author

Michele V. Wagner | Senior Digital Editor