Social media and research, a talk with Nina Bjerglund

 

I am so happy I have met Nina Bjerglund! I wanted to make a short interview with her to know more about her research project on “Social Media and Public Health Research”, but it turned into a very long – but delightful and inspiring! – meeting where we discussed our huge interest for science communication!

Nina is a very enthusiastic science communicator and a specialist of social media. She has been working on a research project on public health science communication and the social media  at the Medical Museion in Copenhagen during the past year.

General considerations on science communication

First I want to write down some of the more general things we discussed, since I consider them as central issues in science communication.

What is important to communicate about research?

The answer to this question is of course dependent on what your target group is and why you communicate.

But when your aim is to trigger interest for science and research to a non expert audience, it might not be the best strategy to start by presenting the facts or the new evidences that research has proved.

Scientific facts alone do not tell me anything about what research is. They highlight my ignorance instead of involving me in a logical approach leading to a new understanding of a part of the world.

While discussing those issues, Nina told me about a Danish scientist she had heard at a conference and who said:

“What motivates many scientists in their work is the curiosity  for what they do not know.”

And indeed knowledge is not the only output of research. Research always leads to further questions and unveils new areas of ignorance.

What about communicating more about what scientists love the most: the exploration of the unknown?

Why is it important to communicate science?

Nina had prepared a very clear answer to that question:

1) because research is so interesting! And why do research if you do not share it ?

2) because communicating contribute positively to research in many ways (access to fundings, more visibility in different media, better abilities to work in interdisciplinary groups, etc)

3) because there is a lot of pseudo-scientific knowledge out there, and scientists should consider it as their duty to engage in public debates and give their version of the truth. For example, Nina told me, that she had been asking scientists if they used wikipedia. Most of them used it as a way to gather information on a topic, but none of them had ever written a post on wikipedia. Even if they found wrong information, they didn’t bother correct it.

Social media and research

As I mentionned earlier, Nina has been working on a research project on “Social media and Public Health Research” at the Medical Museion in Copenhagen. The aim of the project was to analyze, how scientists in the field of public health research use social media to communicate. The project was completed in august, and the first outputs are :

1) a report – to be published soon on the Medical Museion’s web site - mapping the most popular social media for research and how scientists use them. The report also entails recommandations for how social media can be introduced in public health research as well as in the education of future scientists,

2) a new course in public health science communication that Nina herself is developing and conducting for students at the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen,

3) a blog on Public Health Science Communication 2.0.

Since she started digging into the world of social media a year ago, Nina has been amazed by their potential for networking, sharing information and triggering creativity. Since she started blogging and tweeting, she has been in contact with people all over the world. She is connected to kindred bloggers and twitter users whom she exchanges ideas and information with.

Social media as research tools

Nina sees a huge potential in social media for research. She told me the story of one of her friends and colleagues in public health, who was sceptical about the use of facebooktwitter or other social platforms for professional purposes. Nina told her (or, as Nina ironically said, it was more like a kind of harassment :-)  ) about all the possibilities in social media communication for research, she became convinced that she should at least give it a try. Twitter today plays a central role in Nina’s friend’s research work: she uses it to get in contact with scientists working on projects similar to hers, and to share the progress of her own research projects.

What seems to be so motivating about social media is that they provide very relevant and supportive contacts, i.e. people you can exchange with on very specific issues, that people in your close environment don’t know anything about. They take the most specialized scientists out of their solitude…

Nina’s blog is full of inspiring examples on how social media, and especially twitter, can contribute and even transform science communication. I recommend anyone interested in integrating social media in their communication or outreach strategy to read her posts!

3 inspiring initiatives

  • Science online conferences

Science online conferences take place once a year in North Carolina and aim at exchanging good practices, tools and methods to communicate science on the web. Nina was there last year and enjoyed the informal tone of the event, the interdisciplinarity (participants have various backgrounds: IT experts, scientists, writers, communication professionals, etc) and the many different views on science communication.

The next Science Online Conference will take place January 31-February 2, 2013. It will possible to follow the conference on twitter at @scio13 or by using the hashtag #scio13.

  • Impact of Social Sciences – London School of Economics and Political Science’s blog

Impact of Social Sciences is a blog where social scientists reflect upon their experiences with communication. Nina has found several interesting stories on this blog, for instance the story of a scientific article which was downloaded 70 times instead of 2 after its author started using twitter!

  • Twitter chats and forums

Twitter can be quite overwhelming at the beginning, since it gives access to so many people and so much information.

NIna recommends to use twitter chats and forums, which are moderated discussions generally taking place once a week at a given time. The discussion topic is defined beforehand and any twitter user with an interest for the topic can participate.

In the field of public health, Nina recommends Twitter journal clubs and Health Care Social Media.

Twitter journal clubs are twitter chat dedicated to medical science. Twitter journal clubs are moderated discussions taking place once a week on twitter, and where scientists in the medical field discuss recently published papers.

 Health Care Social Media are twitter discussions on health care. Discussions are announced on the dedicated web page and any twitter user can participate. All you need is to integrate the hashtag #hcsm to your tweets.

 

I’m not an advanced twitter user yet, but I will add that I enjoy following tweets from conferences that I can’t attend. Reading tweets from a conference gives a quick overview of the presentations’ main ideas. As for the organizers, tweets tell a lot about what people will recall from the event.

 

What about the future of science communication?

Nina thinks that it will remain difficult to convince scientists that communication is important. But she hopes, that communication initiatives can gain recognition in scientific institutions in the future.

The major barrier for promoting communication in research institutions is that scientists don’t get any credit for their efforts. The only part of their work that they get credit for is research.

Creating incitaments for communication would contribute positively to engage scientists in communicating on their research.

Social media make it easier to communicate, therefore Nina hopes that they can contribute to develop a direct dialogue between scientists and society.

 

 

 

 

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