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…