Social media and science communication:
Andrew Maynard

FWIW…science communication that matters

Great post, Andrew! My blogging/tweeting is a sideline, too — although like you, I think there’s a responsibility to share what I’ve learned as a public scientist. But as well, because most of what I’ve written and worked on in the last few decades doesn’t have my name on it at all, there’s personal satisfaction in writing in my personal voice.

I like creating things, and doing that remains its own reward — whether my name is on it or not. When I’m proud of the work, that’s the main thing. But it is (temporarily) deflating if it doesn’t get positive feedback. Who is reading is more important to me, though, than just numbers.

When I blogged at Scientific American we had access to everyone’s visitor data, not just our own. And being a bit of a data type, I did a lot of analysis. Once I’d done that, it changed how I saw this. Not just because of seeing what a rift there often is between quantity of visitors and what’s worth people’s time to read. But also because of seeing that in general, there’s a lot of inflating of perceptions going on: many are giving (or allowing) the perception of much vaster readership than is actually happening. And the visits are so shallow, it can’t be regarded as reading: it’s a click, a glance, and off to the next thing.

Like you, I’m disappointed if a post gets less than a thousand views — unless it’s clear that there were several hundred people who really read it and got something out of it. Then I’m happy. But because that can happen, I don’t write unless it’s worthwhile to me, regardless of whether anyone reads it at all. Mostly, though, my posts go higher, although not all that often into the five figures.

I think, for science communication via social media, there’s a lot that’s personal and about ego gratification. Or it’s infotainment that I don’t see as having any greater value than other forms of entertainment — and indeed, less value than a great deal of art, for example.

The writing I do that gets the six and seven figures is in the Wikipedia (and work things that don’t have my name on them). If the goal is to communicate scientific information that reaches very large numbers of people who possibly need it, then we don’t need to be part of a mass media outlet: Wikipedia is the place to be spending the time.