Claire HOLESOVSKY, Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, United States
Kathleen ROSE, Dartmouth College, United States
Dominique BROSSARD, University of Wisconsin at Madison, United States
In recent years, social media has become an integral forum for sharing and spreading news and information. Stemming from the rising popularity, social media platforms offer a potential venue for discussions about science and science-related issues to take place, both in terms of engaging with broad communities about science and facilitating processes related to scientific research and publication. Yet as scientists venture into the social media environment, much remains unknown about how members of the scientific community view and utilize social media as a component of their roles as researchers.
In stepping back to explore scientists’ current use of social media, we provide context for discussions about science (and scientists) on social media, as well as ongoing research focusing on science and social media. To assess the current social media use and attitudes of a substantial cohort of scientists, we used a census survey of scientists at 46 public universities in the U.S. (N=10,706). Although our sample is limited to scientists affiliated with American universities, we recognize that the conversations scientists have on social media are not limited to a country’s boundaries and influence science-related social media conversations world-wide. Additionally, by using a sample built around university affiliation, we establish an unbiased and representative sample of public university-affiliated scientists in the U.S. to better understand how a cross-section of scientists view these platforms, and avoid sampling scientists who are predisposed toward using social media.
Our results suggest that an optimistic view of the potential for social media to spark further scientist-public discussions may be premature. We do not find that scientists are currently using these platforms with this intention. Rather, our results suggest that scientists at American universities may more often turn to social media as a platform to encourage further exchange and collaboration with their colleagues. We also find a strong relationship between scientists’ use of social media for work-related purposes and their attitudes toward social media. Specifically, holding beliefs about social media increasing academic impact and being too time-consuming are important predictors of the extent social media is used for scientific purposes.
As science-related content continues to make its way onto social media, it is important to reflect on where we are as a community and to constrain any expectations about the future of these platforms as a scientist-public forum in light of how scientists use social media. By understanding how scientists currently engage with social media, we can work to establish more effective pathways for communication and identify potential areas of concern that might arise in the future. Implications and limitations of these findings are discussed.