Scientists and Twitter

After the Google Science Fair, Alice Bell wrote a great piecein the Guardian in which she proposed a charge to “adult” scientist: for us to be more like these inspiring students in how we communicate our passion for science to the general public. She explains that there seems to be a liminility in “grownup” science, that we no longer do not draw inspiration from issues we care about but rather do research on what will provide us with funding or get us published in a peer review journal.Oh! How so very true that scientists are not often required to present their work to the general public. I believe that the closest thing every graduate students gets is explaining their thesis work to their parents. But I am a strong believer in trying to make our work understood and for those who fund us, taxpayers, to understand the importance of our research.

More often then not, we are trained to write for our peers. Journal articles and grant proposals are reviewed by our peers. Now, I am not advocating here for a change in the peer review process, today infact, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, had a subcommittee review NSF’s Merit Review Process. Which should be an interesting read.

Sure, there are requirements (especially in NSF grants) for applicants to consider the broader impacts of their work; but is there any commitment or study to follow up on those impacts? I would like to see more than just published reports on the science that are a means of illustrating productivity but to perhaps also see progress on the broader impacts that are outlined.

Among all the disagreements and lack of compromise in sight at this time, I realize that from my colleagues there will be arguments against needing to provide evidence for broader impacts is that the general public will not understand. They will pick the most obscure projects (robots folding laundry), advocate to cut the funding because they do not really understanding why it is important (to teach uncoordinated tasks). But I think that we should do a better job of trying. In the era in which the sharing of information could not be any more instant or easier that perhaps scientists can do a better job at conversing through twitter* or to have a hand at editing Wikipedia entries.  Through these things we can only help the general public understand our science better. And therefore really let them experience our dreams and aspirations that inspire us to do the science that we do.

*David Waldock wrote an excellent post back in May? about how scientists can ask each other questions through twitter. I think that also perhaps this might be a way for the general public to get a glimpse at the process of research. That statements are not absolute. That when new data and instrumentations come along, it changes our perspective.


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