Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Benefits of Twitter for Scientists » American Scientist


The Benefits of Twitter for Scientists

David ShiffmanJan 13, 2017
Click to Enlarge Image
Despite frequent


to the contrary, social media tools such as Twitter can be incredibly


for scholars. My own research (and years of personal experience) has shown
that if properly used, Twitter makes it possible for scholars

to follow along with cutting-edge research

in their discipline as it is presented at conferences on the other side of
the world,

to directly share their expertise

with policy makers and journalists, and

to get feedback from expert peers

as they work on their own research projects.


from the writers of the Fisheries Blog has
revealed another professional benefit of social media usage for scholars.
“We found that the number of tweets about a primary ecology research
article was significantly correlated to the number of citations that the
paper received,” said Brandon Peoples, assistant professor of fisheries
ecology at Clemson University and the paper’s lead author. This new
analysis notes that Twitter activity related to a paper predicted citations
more than the 5-year impact factor of the journal where that paper was
published, at least for ecology-focused journals.

This PLoS One


, “Twitter predicts citation rates of ecological research,” is not the
first to address this question, and past studies have found mixed results.
However, Peoples noted that his new study took a different and more complex
approach. “Several studies have looked at the relationship between various altmetrics,
measures of activity on, for instance, Facebook, Twitter, or blog posts)
and citations. Most of them have used simple bivariate correlations and
have found weak relationships,” Peoples said. “What we did differently was
account for other important sources of variation in the same model: time
since publication, journal impact factor, and random variation among
journals. This allowed us to identify the ‘signal’ of Twitter over the
‘noise’ produced by the other variables. You can’t do that with simple
correlation analyses.”

Other researchers caution reading too much into these results. “Tweets can
be manipulated too easily by a coauthor with a high number of Twitter
followers,” said Trevor Branch, associate
professor of aquatic and fishery sciences at the University of Washington.
“I regularly tweet about my papers. This has a big influence on the
altmetric score, since my tweets are often retweeted and each retweet
counts as another tweet.” He notes that he has 4 of the 10 papers with the
highest altmetric scores for the journal Fish and Fisheries, but
that none of those papers are among the most cited. (As a scientist with
lots of Twitter followers, I agree; many of my papers are among the most
tweeted in the history of those journals, but they are certainly not the
most cited).

Peoples points out, “Our research suggests that Twitter and citations are
related, not that tweets cause citations. I wouldn’t advise researchers to
tweet about their research simply to increase citations. Tweeting about
your paper will help to introduce it to the online community, but it
probably won’t be well-discussed on Twitter if it’s not interesting.” While
Twitter doesn’t automatically increase citations, it is changing the way
that scholars communicate with one another, with journalists, and with
nonscientists of all kinds.

Social media tools have changed how science is communicated, and so Peoples
believes they can be incredibly useful for the scholars who learn how to
use them. “Twitter provides a global forum where scientists from all career
levels can meet and discuss—a kind of conversation that is hard to find in
a traditional conference setting,” he said. “As a scientist, you should
always be prepared to publicly defend critiques of your work. But on
Twitter, it happens in real time. If you tweet your paper, be ready to
discuss it instantaneously in front of a global audience.”

While Twitter is not a shortcut to increasing the number of citations for
your paper, researchers who effectively use this communications tool will
experience numerous other personal and professional benefits. Twitter has
made me a better scientist, a better communicator, and a better educator.
If you have any questions about how to use Twitter more effectively, you
can find me in the Twitterverse at @WhySharksMatter.

[UPDATE on 1/16/17: An earlier version of the
graphic gave an incorrect number for the relationship between the median
number of Twitter followers and the median size of a university
department. It has been corrected to 7.3.

This post is published in Macroscope

The Benefits of Twitter for Scientists » American Scientist

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