"Some biologists shun new media", reads the press release. This is the study, published in the April 2013 edition of Bioscience, that reveals that scientists aren't much inclined to use blogs and online social networks to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in science.
The study compiled the results of an online survey completed by 257 neuroscientists in Germany and the US. Researchers found that although biologists thought that online social networks had an important influence on public opinion and political decisions, they would instead prefer to keep informed about scientific developments through more traditional channels such as newspapers and television.
There could be any number of reasons for these results.
First of all, consider the study design. Perhaps the attitudes of neuroscientists are different to other biologists? Perhaps the online nature of the survey skewed the results? Perhaps the survey was given to certain demographics that were less familiar with online social networks?
Second of all, there's the issue of time. Science is busy. Perhaps the time it takes to trawl through Twitter feeds and update blogs is an inefficient use of time – an opportunity cost too far? If social media is seen to serve little purpose, then it will be relegated in the list of priorities for a busy research scientist.
Then there's the third issue, and possibly the most important issue at large here – that online social media lacks peer-review. The authors of the study indeed note that scientists "continue to value the vetting process to which information is subject in media channels”.
The fact remains, however, that blogs and online social networks are rapid. Twitter is now. And with only 140 characters to play with (that's about the length of this sentence), the investment in time for a single post is minimal. Information and opinions travel fast in the world of social media. Links can be shared and partnerships forged. Ideas can be proposed, and questions can be answered rapidly by an expert in the field. For scientists who want their research to reach a wide audience with almost immediate effect, online social networks are surely the future.
Do you think that scientists "shun new media"?
Do you think blogs and online social networks are an important form of science communication?
You can join our discussion on LinkedIn or leave a comment below, I'd love to hear what you think. Vaccine Nation is also on Twitter @vaccinenation.
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