A new study from Pew Research Center, How Scientists Engage the Public, shows that the number of scientists who use social media and blogs to communicate with audiences is growing. According to the report, which surveyed 3,748 American-based scientists connected with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), nearly one in two scientists (47%) talk about science or read about science using social media sites. Nearly one in four scientists (24%) blog about science and their research.
As you might expect, younger scientists are more likely to use social media to keep up with science news and research and to promote their own work. While 22% of AAAS scientists overall believe that social media promotion of their findings is important for their career advancement, the percentage jumps to 31% for scientists between the ages of 18 and 34 and to 27% for scientists between the ages of 35 and 49. Only 20% of scientists between the ages of 50 and 64 and 17% of scientists over the age of 65 believe that self-promotion via social media is important to their career advancement.
The data related to blogging is quite different from the data related to social media. The Pew Research Center study found that blogging is used fairly equally among all age groups under age 65. Furthermore, the most engaged scientists typically use multiple tools and methods to engage with the public.
Scientists who work in fields that are more often the subject of debate are more likely to say that media and social media are important for their careers.
Among scientists who say there is a lot of (or some debate) about their fields in the public, 81% believe that having their work covered in traditional media is important and 26% believe that promoting their work on social media is important. However, among scientists who say there is not much public debate about their fields, only 34% believe that traditional media coverage is important and only 17% believe that social media promotion is important.
Traditional and Digital Matter
The survey also asked scientists how they stay up to date with their fields. According to the data, scientists turn to multiple sources for information about their areas of expertise and broader scientific topics. For example, 84% of scientists read journal articles outside of their primary fields while 79% attend professional meetings, workshops, and lectures. These are the only two traditional methods ranked by scientists in this survey. The rest are all digital tools.
A total of 58% of scientists keep up to date about science topics through email alerts from journals in their specialty areas, and 56% get email alerts from general science journals. Other sources of information include listservs (32%), blogs written by experts in their specialty areas (19%), and experts in their specialty on social media (12%).
Solving The Public Engagement Problem
Scientists also revealed that a lack of public knowledge and inaccurate media reports are significant problems for science. Specifically, 84% believe that the public doesn’t know much about science and believe this is a major problem. A total of 79% of scientists believe that news reports don’t distinguish well-founded findings, and 52% believe that the news media oversimplify scientific findings.
Certainly, the more scientists who publish blogs and share their findings via social media, the more the public will learn about science from reputable sources. With that in mind, let’s hope that the number of scientists who are active on social media and writing blogs continues to grow!