Why scientists should tweet

Yesterday I attended a Twitter tutorial organised by Jenny Rohn and Uta Frith for the UCL Women group. It reminded me afresh how much I value Twitter, and also how much persuasion I had needed to join it in the first place. I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts about why I think scientists should tweet.

I first tried Twitter out 3 or 4 years ago and resigned shortly thereafter in disgust. It seemed full of the most banal trivia. I am, I thought to myself loftily, much too busy and intellectually deep for this mindless drivel clearly designed for the short-of-attention span with not much to think about. With which arrogance I thus deserved to miss out on a couple of years of useful fun.

I rejoined it last year on Jenny Rohn’s advice, and this time I had her online tutorial to guide me. The trick, I discovered, is to follow the right people. While the celebs of this world really do tweet about what they had for breakfast, it turns out that scientists tweet about, prepare to be surprised, science. Lots of it. In short, snappy chunks that can be grasped in a single saccade.

Furthermore, the insight that I hadn’t made the first time around, Twitter (useful Twitter) is not so much the comments as the links. It turns out that Twitter for the busy scientist is a vast, seething ocean of pointers – links to this paper or that paper or this blog or that review or this commentary or that scathing take-down or… it’s really a vast roadmap of where the cool stuff is happening right now. The immediacy is the best thing about it – I find out about new findings far faster on Twitter than I do through the usual routes, and I also find out what people think about what’s happening – and by “people” I mean “experts”.

Twitter, like science, is about information, and information is power. Out there in Twitter world, the young and cyber-savvy are busy exchanging knowledge and ideas at an incredible rate and any scientist who doesn’t join in is, frankly, missing out. When I got angry at a paper I was reviewing one day, I tweeted this:


This generated a flurry of sympathetic conversation, I responded with a blogpost that set out my frustration in more detail, and within three days I had been contacted by several journal editors saying they were responding to our concerns and taking them to higher mangement discussions. One editor, of a new online journal, came to my office to collect my views in person. Such is the power of Twitter, to spread information and facilitate change.

So I urge all you recalcitrant scientists who are too busy for this mindless drivel – think again, and do give it a try. And don’t just “lurk” (read but say nothing) – tweet. Be part of the knowledge marketplace. Tell us about your work. Read and comment on those papers so we don’t all have to! Tell us what you think. And every now and then, if you have something *really* great for breakfast, tell us that too…

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6 Responses to Why scientists should tweet

  1. EPSBT says:

    I have been trying to encourage my colleagues to engage with twitter, but am really struggling. I like the idea of a twitter tutorial and think that I might try to deliver a session at a team meeting and to demonstrate that it is not just another facebook. Thanks for the blogpost!

  2. Pingback: Morsels for the mind – 21/6/2013 › Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast

  3. I agree! I’m new to tweeting in my ‘scientist’ capacity but I love it and am trying to develop a blog based on my science after seeing this work so well on twitter. I have lost count of the times I’ve commented on new papers I’ve found via twitter to my colleagues who have not yet seen them through the traditional channels. I do find that some of the, how shall I say it, more mature colleagues may not appreciate the value of twitter and have the perception that it’s mindless gossip and celebrity junk but it’s an invaluable resource for me.

  4. Klara says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Twitter is really more than just trivia. Hopefully more scientists will recognize its value in the time to come, which is why I also wrote a very similar blog post on this topic 🙂

  5. kusjasherb says:

    Thank you for this post. The whole thing with celeb empty talk is often the only idea that many folks in academe have; that makes them abstain from the ocean of resources and pointers Twitter has to offer.

  6. Pingback: Why physicists need to get on Twitter - physicsfocus.org

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