Science is, by nature, interdisciplinary; every branch of science and research intersects and intermingles with countless others and without the cooperation of scientists from different fields, progress would be very slow if non-existent. But how does a new discovery made by a researcher from one field make its way into the hands of the researcher from another? The nitty gritty of that is a topic for another week, but in short, it’s through the publication and distribution via scientific journals despite the advent of the internet and social media.
This month we shared a number of scientific research articles about scientific communication and posed a number of questions. One paper discussed social media, specifically twitter, and how it has the potential for increasing traditional bibliometrics and alt-metrics.
As the world has become increasingly digital, journals, and the scientific community in general has lagged behind in digitizing records and building an online presence but thanks to the worldwide web, most journal and articles can be accessed by anyone in the world. Or can they?
But one of the biggest problems with sharing research in the more public sphere is that not everyone has access to every article that’s published. Sure you may be able to find the article, maybe even read the abstract, but most journals have pay walls that block potential readers from viewing their content without a subscription or paying a sometimes, sizable fee.
(check out this amazing tarot card by neuroscientist and cartoonist Dr. Matteo Farinella about paywalls)
Now, obviously these paywalls are there for a reason, but it does present an issue on access to information and perhaps solutions and alternative methods of funding should be found if the scientific community wants to work towards sharing information with a greater audience.
A topic that has in the most recent past, lacked effective communication is issues relating to climate change and sea level rise. When it comes to issues popular with the public like Climate change and sea level rise, it often feels like all that we ever hear is bad news, with little hope on the horizon.
In 2018, Johns et al. set out to see if that was actually the case. The study focused on ocean-related articles published from 2001–2015 in major news sources like the New York Times, and sorted the articles by topic: climate change, Species and/or Population status Pollution Offshore Drilling Aquaculture.
It was found that only 10% of the articles analyzed contained doom and gloom words and of that 10%, over 50% contained positive words as well.
27% of the articles analyzed contained optimistic words and 49% of the articles were inconclusive as to whether they were positive or negative. As far as the categories of topics they analyzed, aquaculture articles were the most optimistic and shocker, climate change were the most doom and gloom.
This brings up certain questions of climate and scientific communication as a whole. What type of rhetoric is more effective? How do researchers communicate their important findings to the public in a way that will be accepted and digested as intended?
The answer isn’t as cut and dry as “doom and gloom” or “optimistic”, the true answer probably lies somewhere in between and honestly, this form of communication isn’t the responsibility of the researchers. Researchers should be aware that their work can and should be communicated in other ways beside just the traditional journals via platforms like twitter and instagram (check out this great article about PhDs for a good chuckle).
Understanding that there are other professionals who specialize in communication and that there is a need for research about science and social media will benefit everyone, the researchers, the communicators and the public.
Collaboration is the name of the game if science is to be communicated effectively in the digital age. A paper published by Cheng et al. discussed the importance and potential for greater impact with the use of Graphical Abstracts (GA) that follow classic design principles. The study took graphical abstracts and reworked them to be more simple and adhere to traditional design principles. They found that people not only preferred the reworked GAs but the reworked GAs also helped enhance the reader’s understanding of the article it was depicting.
Science and art have always had some form of overlap, specifically in the field of scientific illustration (think of the traditional methods of research in biology where the scientists would sketch and note take simultaneously). Today, there is an increasing need for science to communicate, not just depict research findings via art and design. This is being seen increasingly in the hiring of illustrators, note the difference from traditional scientific illustrators, to artistically depict findings in online articles and magazines, as well as animators and those that specialize in various forms of video production.
All in all, this is a relatively unexplored field and there is a need for research about the new methods of scientific communication specifically the role social media plays, methods of effective communication and facing the obstacles that come with an increasingly digital world such as the warding off of “fake news”, false science and propaganda.
What are some questions you have about scientific communication in the digital age? Is there a place for science on social media?