Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why I love Twitter for science & communication

Do you think of Twitter as a place of trivia, where people broadcast their pizza order as if it were front-page news?  If you answered yes, I encourage you to reconsider. It’s true that some use Twitter to share every inconsequential thing that enters their minds. More than once, an acquaintance of mine really did tweet which pizza he ordered to watch a football game; I stopped following him. I value Twitter because I find it to be a font of information on science, conservation, and science communication, as well as a springboard for interaction among those interested in these topics.

I’m not a big technology devotee; I’m even a bit of a Luddite, making me an unlikely advocate for social media.  But in the several years I’ve been on Twitter, I’ve grown into a huge fan.  I got started on Twitter to follow my husband’s field work. While keeping an eye on tweets from him and his colleagues in Peru, I ended up discovering a whole world of information and colleagues. 

Here are a few of the things that make me a Twitter enthusiast.

Twitter is a treasure-trove of science, conservation, & communication news

It’s a great place to learn of new discoveries and papers, as soon as they’re published (sometimes even before). With a little “listening” on Twitter, I soon found—and continue to find—key news outlets, organizations, and people talking about things in which I am interested.

Twitter allows me to follow conferences I can’t attend

Conference hashtags let you learn what presentations colleagues at a conference are finding engaging.  Searching on a meeting’s hashtag—usually the meeting’s acronym and year—calls up a list of tweets posted by attendees, providing an instant set of conference highlights.

I’ll be trying my hand at live tweeting from a conference at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Madison, WI in July. I’ll tweet both from my personal account and on behalf of the Conservation Marketing Working Group of the Society for Conservation Biology. My tweets will include the meeting hashtag—#NACCB2016. If you can’t attend and want to know what’s happening at the conference, search Twitter for the hashtag #NACCB2016 to see what attendees are tweeting. If you can attend, I hope you’ll come hear my presentation on Wednesday 7/20: To share your message, tweet it! Twitter as a channel to communicate your science

Twitter humanizes scientists, making science more accessible

Twitter allows more direct, personal communication between scientists and the public, reducing the distance between them. Tweets allow personality to come through, revealing scientists to be the funny, dedicated, and interesting people they are.
Those who saw the recent hashtag #ecologistconfessions met a group of very human, approachable people.

Twitter connects like-minded communities of people

Twitter helped me find “communities”—sets of individuals and organizations—talking about things in which I have interest. Twitter makes recommendations for whom to follow, based on who you already follow and who follows you. So very quickly, you discover people and groups with interests similar to yours.

Most scientists and communicators can find a kindred Twitter community for almost anything in which they have interest. For an employer, I follow researchers studying amphibians and the chytrid fungi devastating them.   For myself, I’ve found a suite of science communicators. From their Twitter feeds, I learn what papers they’re reading, which conferences they’re attending, and what they’re blogging about. I learn much from this new, broader set of colleagues. 

Twitter lists help organize the communities I want to track

After finding accounts of those with whom I shared interests, I wondered how to keep track of them. Twitter’s list-making feature is a great help in this. A Twitter list is a curated collection of Twitter accounts. You can make your own lists or subscribe to lists created by others. When you view a list, the timeline shows you tweets from only the accounts in that list.  You can make your lists public or private, for your use only.
Some members of my scicomm list

I have 10 public lists that I curate, on topics including science communication, Chicago region environment, and amphibian conservation. I also subscribe to several lists that others have created. I don’t check each list every day.  But checking every few days provides a quick means to catch up on what’s happening in my areas of interest.

I apologize for coming across like the Chief Executive Cheerleader for Twitter. If I’m a cheerleader for anything, it’s for more, and more effective, science communication. I think that Twitter is an excellent means for scientists and communicators to share content with each other and with broader audiences. So if you’re not already a Twitter user, I encourage you to sign up and start “listening.” When you’re ready, jump into the conversation!



  1. Totally agree! I am a high school science teacher who joined Twitter about a year ago. I asked a younger colleague how he always had the most recent studies and data and he encourage me to get Twitter and follow some of the same science organizations that he did. It is my primary use of Twitter and I feel so much smarter!

    1. Great to hear! It truly is a wonderful source of information. One of my biggest challenges is to limit my time online so I don't just explore and explore!