Author: Chris Petranek, a PhD candidate studying bumble bee physiology
"That some scientists’ social media following outstrips their citation count should not imply a lack of credibility. If all scientists were more Kardashian-like in their ability to influence the public, we might not
be living in a “post-truth” era."
For better or worse, carefully curating an internet presence is a key component of any professional career in 2017. This wholesome avocation can range from maintaining a savvy personal website to merely making sure your Facebook profile won’t preclude an interview. Social media outlets are a great way for others to collect information about you, so you may as well use them to your advantage. For most, that means leveraging personality and interesting content to advertise a product or advocate for a desired outcome. If you know the ropes, social media platforms are great for getting your message to reach content consumers worldwide.
Such an inexpensive means for distributing information widely seems especially well suited to scientists seeking to engage the public. To this end, social media can be so effective some scientists are concerned that online presence is overshadowing the importance of quality research. Thus, the “Kardashian Index”, for pitting online communication reach against citation count.
Neil Hall proposed the "K-index" in 2014 to measure scientists' social media fame (# of twitter followers) with respect to their scientific renown (approximated by citation count).
Reassuringly, these preliminary data suggest one’s social media popularity is correlated with their popularity in the scientific community. However, that some scientists’ social media following outstrips their citation count (“Kardashians”) should not imply a lack of credibility. If all scientists were more Kardashian-like in their ability to influence the public, we might not be living in a “post-truth” era.
“Post-truth” refers to the salient observation by nerds nationwide that lay-audiences are not swayed by torrents of numerical observations. There is thus ongoing debate in the scientific community about whether celebrity influencers are useful for communicating science issues broadly via social media. Some say that the ends justify the means, but others are hesitant to have non-specialists speak out about pressing issues in science (Galetti & Costa-Pereira 2017, Mojarad 2017).
Author: Dan Albrecht-Mallinger, PhD candidate studying forest birds in Panama
"Like public art, if our goals are for knowledge to be shared and for discoveries to understood, we scientists are obliged to put research into the public space in a way that it can be explored, enjoyed, and–when appropriate–celebrated."
Public art serves as many functions as it has forms: it can inspire awe, joy, and pride for place and history. It is often with these net-positive reactions in mind that communities commission public art. Antagonists inevitably object to the content, cost, or even the concept of public art itself. However, without intentional beautification budgets, public art will unavoidably arise, whether by paint canister or yarn.
In other cases, public art may be designed to discomfort and rankle. The motivations of artists who strive to provoke can be to educate or spark dialogue, or they may be intentionally inscrutable. Whatever the goal, an artist can consider their cause célèbre as a success provided it does generate controversy.
Like public art, science rarely reaches general audiences from the mouths of scientists themselves. More often than not, discoveries are communicated through media intermediaries like popular science periodicals and documentary series. This communication runs the gambit from articulate and faithful to unforgivable inaccuracy–much to the dismay of scientists and educators. Disney's erroneous and unethical portrayal of lemming migration as mass suicide in White Wilderness is an infamous example of this.
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