Craig R. McClain, from Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, published in Plos Biology a Community Page (i.e. forum for organizations and societies to highlight their efforts to enhance the dissemination and value of scientific knowledge) about the place of researchers on Facebook while presenting results of a survey amongst 203 of them. Here is the short video we made to promote the post on social medias:

Selected extracts from the publication: Scientists appear in large Facebook networks but seldom post information about general science, their own scientific research, or culturally controversial topics in science. The proliferation of “fake news” [1]—is likely a reflection of the fact that an increasing proportion of the public get their news through social media. The necessity for scientists to engage with the public online is perhaps greater than ever, and over the last decade, scientists have seen increasing calls, from both within and outside the field, to engage with the public [35], especially through social media [69]. Facebook has taken a prime role in disseminating fake news, alternate facts, and pseudoscience, but is often ignored in the context of science outreach, especially among individual scientists. Main results of the survey amongst 203 researchers:

  • Three distinctive clusters of Facebook scientist users were identified: those who connect with nonscientists (most common), mainly other scientists (rare), or a mixture of the two (common). Interestingly, earlier career scientists were much more likely to have Facebook networks that contained nonscientists.
  • The mean number of posts to Facebook reported by survey participants was 16 per month, though most researchers reported well below 6 posts per month. The mean percentage of science posts to Facebook reported by survey participants was 23.6% of posts per month. Three-quarter of respondents posted about science less than 33% of total their total monthly Facebook posts.
  • On average, 40.1% of all science-related posts on Facebook by participants were on controversial topics (e.g., climate change, vaccines, evolution, genetically modified organisms).

Scientists appear in large Facebook networks but seldom post information about general science, their own scientific research, or culturally controversial topics in science. The typical individual scientist’s audience is large and personally connected, potentially leading to both a broad and deep engagement in science.

Craig R. McClain about the results of his survey

Your personal Facebook audience is large and listening

The personal relationships that people have on Facebook often transcend the online world, i.e., the depth of connection is greater than other social media outlets. The promise of Facebook is that many scientists are already a “Nerd of Trust” within their network of family and friends [35]. On average the people in an individual’s personal Facebook network, because of familiarity, trust and value their judgment, especially in their specific field [37, 38]. Facebook values individual expertise, allowing scientists to serve as a “Nerd of Trust” for their online friend and family networks. Science outreach via social media demands a renewed interest, and Facebook may be an overlooked high-return, low-risk science outreach tool in which scientists can play a valuable role to combat disinformation.

Facebook for science outreach: The way forward

Realizing the promise of using Facebook for science outreach may require overcoming cultural and technical barriers. Funders may not consider sharing science on a personal Facebook account as a legitimate form of science outreach. Public outreach is part of the broader impacts statement required for a (…) grant. But reviewers are likely to prefer that research-related content be shared via a blog rather than a personal Facebook account, even though the audience on Facebook is likely to be far greater than the traffic of most fledgling blogs. Another potential issue (…) is the difficulty of evaluating engagement. Metrics for Facebook are needed that quantify the quality and quantity of engagement with scientific content posted to Facebook. Currently accessing Facebook data is difficult and can often incur a fee.

Full reference

McClain CR (2017) Practices and promises of Facebook for science outreach: Becoming a “Nerd of Trust”. PLoS Biol 15(6): e2002020. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2002020

Copyright: © 2017 Craig R. McClain. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Thoughts – Any alternatives?

This article indicates that Facebook might be underused by scientists to talk about science (their own results or Science in general). However, using one’s personal account to do so might not be for everyone. Whether you need to disconnect with work while on this social media or you do not have the kind of friends interested in the subject, reasons are numerous. Any alternatives? What about promoting existing Science groups amongst one’s own network? What about joining existing groups and actively collaborating to their content or development? Thousands of serious science-based groups already exist and some researchers are already part of them. One of the problem explaining why there aren’t more of them might be lack of time. Researchers are overworked (I don’t know any of them working 35h a week), being extremely busy with teaching, administrative tasks, managing all the steps of research including writting grant proposals and articles, hiring and managing assistants. If we want researchers to be more on social medias and share their expertise about Science, we must take away some work from them, somehow (o research needed to understand they only have 24 hours in a day). Another alternative would be having more dedicated professionals paid by public funds (e.g., grant agencies) to make science more accessible, to transfer more knowledge, to fight more misinterpretations and fake news. Initiatives exist, but are there enough?

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