Category Archives: #SciCommSunday

#SciCommSunday: Tweeting about publications

In case you’ve been wondering why I’ve been tweeting so much about our recent Nature article: Yes, I am really this proud and need to tell the whole world about it! :-)

Of course there are more other good reasons to discuss articles on Twitter, to do it yourself, and to publish in journals that also tweet about articles.

But let’s start with a disclaimer: Even though it’s the measure most commonly used to capture the impact of an article, and the one that is used below, too, citations of course don’t actually tell us anything about the quality of an article, nor about its importance for bringing the field forward. And none of the articles referred to below look at mechanisms — correlation doesn’t imply causation! With that out of the way, let’s look at the impact of tweeting about an article on that article’s citations.

More tweets about an article mean more citations

In their 2016 article, Peoples et al. looked at Twitter and how it relates to citation rates in ecological research. Of course, the strongest predictor of the number of times an article is cited is time after publication: the older the article, the more time it has had to accumulate citations. However, Peoples et al. (2016) found a strong relationship between the number of unique tweets, i.e. Twitter activity, about an article and the number of citations that article received. It’s thus beneficial for authors to tweet about articles — it brings the article to a larger audience’s attention, and knowing of an article is the requirement for it being read and potentially cited.

Peoples et al. (2016) also found that how much twitter activity an article received was not related to the journal’s impact factor. Articles in journals with lower impact factors can be just as heavily tweeted, and cited, as articles in higher impact factor journals. And in fact, they found that twitter activity related to an article was a better predictor of how much articles were going to be cited than 5-year journal impact factor of the journal they were published in!

If you don’t tweet about an article, nobody will

Actually, that’s completely overstating what the literature says. But it brings across a point I’m always trying to make: It’s in your own hands to promote yourself and your science.

In their 2016 study, Ortega found that articles authored by Twitter users are tweeted about 33% more than articles that were authored by non-Twitter users. Which makes sense to me: Even though I occasionally tweet about articles someone else has published, I tweet about pretty much everything that I publish myself.

Interestingly, once someone — anyone — tweets about an article, citation numbers don’t depend on whether the authors tweeted about it themselves, or whether someone else did for an author that isn’t a Twitter user. But again, if you tweet yourself, it’s in your hands and you don’t have to rely on anyone else to disseminate your research output, making it more likely that it will be seen and cited.

The more you tweet, the more they’ll cite

It’s kinda obvious, but the more you tweet about an article, the more people have a chance to catch that tweet, read the article, and eventually cite it.

As Eysenbach (2011) found: Highly tweeted articles are 11 times more likely to be highly cited than less-tweeted articles. Number of tweets can even be used to predict highly cited articles within the first 3 days of publication of an article.

But: correlation doesn’t imply causation, so we don’t know anything about the mechanism, and they write: “Social media activity either increases citations or reflects the underlying qualities of the article that also predict citations”.

More followers mean more visibility for your paper, thus more citations

This result of the Ortega (2016) seems also fairly obvious: Many tweets citing an article are probably due to the authors promoting a newly published article. So the more followers an author has, the more likely, and the further, the message can be directly multiplied by followers’ retweets.

On the flip side: You yourself are also one of those followers that can multiply someone else’s work. Use your own followers to generate visibility for other people’s articles!

Journals that are on Twitter get tweeted about, and cited, more than those that aren’t

A 2017 study by Ortega investigates the relationship between the presence of academic journals on Twitter and how much articles in those journals get cited. Turns out that journals that have their own Twitter accounts are tweeted about about twice as much as journals without a Twitter account. Also, journals with twitter accounts do get 3 times more citations  than those without.

So even if you don’t want to tweet yourself, even just picking a journal that is active on Twitter is helping to make your article more visible to more people. Obviously this shouldn’t be the deciding factor for where to publish…

It even benefits the journal to be on Twitter

In a study on the use of Twitter by radiology journals by Kelly et al. (2016), it was shown that journals with Twitter profiles had a higher impact factor than those without a Twitter profile. There is, of course, the hen and egg problem here. But the study also found that 7 of 11 journals experienced increases in impact factor after joining Twitter, and that a greater number of followers on Twitter correlated with higher journal impact factor.

Btw, if you want to see an example of a journal’s Twitter done really well, check out Frontiers for Young Minds Twitter @FrontYoungMinds!

My 2 cents on tweeting about publications

I hear all the time that people (usually those neither actively nor passively involved with Twitter) feel like tweeting about articles is somehow a repulsive way of selling something that should be recognized for its scientific value alone, not for how much publicity the authors or someone else is generating for it. And while I kinda see the point — I agree that articles should be cited based on their scientific value, not their authors’ Twitter skills — I kinda don’t see it. In this day and age, there is so much research published every single day that it’s not a realistic expectation to be fully aware of everything being published that might be relevant to ones own research and interests. So assuming that not everybody for whom my articles might be relevant will be see it, I feel that it’s a service to the community to help them come across my work, that I of course believe is interesting, relevant, and sound. If I can let people know that I’ve published something that is worth reading, and I can even give them a brief idea what it’s about, either in a tweet or a thread, I am making it easier for people to find what they might have been looking for (or even what they would have been looking for had they known there was something like this out there to look for). And if they are not at all interested, I wonder how much of a different scrolling past my 280 characters will make? Surely not enough for them to cite something irrelevant.

Anyway, my take-away from all the research I’ve summarized above:

  • Tweet about your publications, and repeatedly!
  • Make your co-authors, your journal, your network tweet about articles!
  • But also: Tweet about / retweet other people’s relevant articles to make that information visible to your own network!

Bibliography

Eysenbach G. (2011). Can Tweets Predict Citations? Metrics of Social Impact Based on Twitter and Correlation with Traditional Metrics of Scientific Impact, J Med Internet Res 2011;13(4):e123, DOI: 10.2196/jmir.2012

Kelly, B.S., Redmond, C.E., Nason, G.J., Healy, G.M., Horgan, N.A., Heffernan, E.J. (2016). “The Use of Twitter by Radiology Journals: An Analysis of Twitter Activity and Impact Factor”, Journal of the American College of Radiology, Volume 13, Issue 11, Pages 1391-1396, ISSN 1546-1440,
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacr.2016.06.041.

Ortega, J.L. (2016) To be or not to be on Twitter, and its relationship with the tweeting and citation of research papers. Scientometrics 109, 1353–1364. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-016-2113-0

Ortega, J. (2017), “The presence of academic journals on Twitter and its relationship with dissemination (tweets) and research impact (citations)”, Aslib Journal of Information Management, Vol. 69 No. 6, pp. 674-687. https://doi.org/10.1108/AJIM-02-2017-0055

Peoples, B. K., Midway, S. R., Sackett, D., Lynch, A., & Cooney, P. B. (2016). Twitter Predicts Citation Rates of Ecological Research. PloS one, 11(11), e0166570. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0166570

 

#SciCommSunday: Why talking about myself can be a good thing in #SciComm

A couple of Sundays ago, I wrote about why I chose to post selfies on my scicomm Instagram @fascinocean_kiel, even though my topic is wave watching (check out that blog post here). And then this week I came across a very recently published study on “Constructing and influencing perceived authenticity in science communication: Experimenting with narrative” by Saffran et al. (2020), which now gives me a perfect retroactive reason for writing in the first-person style that I prefer for my blog and social media anyway.

When communicating science, we are faced with the dilemma that we, on the one hand, want to be perceived as an expert, while on the other hand we want to be relatable. Obviously our expertise needs to become visible — it’s after all what provided us with the information we are hoping to share; information that has come from years of study and highly specialized research. So in that way, we may well be very unlike our audience: Even though within academia we tend to forget how weird we really are, most people are not as highly educated and dedicated to studying very specific topics for large parts of their lives, and our choices might be alien to them. But as much as we want to point out our expertise, on the other hand, we want to be perceived as not-so-unlike our audience, in order to build rapport and be perceived as trustworthy, as authentic. Authenticity in this context means that it becomes clear what our values, world views, intentions are. The authors write that “authenticity offers an opportunity for scientist and audience to recognize each other as individuals with qualities in common that, while expressed in the context of science communication, are not dependent upon the science itself (passion, eagerness to be understood, a specific personal history).”

Authenticity, the authors find, is strongly connected to benevolence, the assumption of good intentions. Benevolence can thus be expanded to include the scientist’s passion for their topic and for using that work for the audience’s benefit. This is then defined as “connection”.

Connection is a two-way-street, though: It’s the positive feelings of the scientist towards their audience as well as the positive feelings that the audience in turn feels towards the scientist. Especially when there are power differences, for example when the scientist is a lot more educated on a topic than their audience, the audience needs to feel that the scientist is really interested in communicating about their research, about making the research relevant to the audience’s lives, about opening up to become visible as a person that a connection can be made with.

The study shows that what creates the largest feeling of authenticity is if the researcher uses first-person language and also discloses how they became interested in their topic and pursuing such a specific career in the first place. (Interestingly, being open about past difficulties or mistakes or about uncertainties in creating scientific knowledge, both included in the study to present the scientist as vulnerable and thus approachable, did not have a statistically significant effect.) Combining these kinds of stories with the traditional scicomm goals of conveying facts has “the potential to create opportunities for connection that might be otherwise closed off.”

So in a nutshell: I’ll continue with sharing what fascinates me about wave watching and kitchen oceanography and everything else, in order to share my authentic self and create connection with my readers. And I’ll do so feeling that it’s because I am following cutting edge best practice scicomm! :-)

Reference:

Saffran L, Hu S, Hinnant A, Scherer LD, Nagel SC (2020) Constructing and influencing perceived authenticity in science communication: Experimenting with narrative. PLoS ONE 15(1): e0226711. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0226711

#SciCommSunday: How your audience changes the more Twitter followers you have

As my Twitter @meermini was quickly approaching 1k followers last week, I’ve been reflecting about who is following me and why. And on whether what I assume about my audience is influencing my tweeting behaviour. And I remembered an article I had read a while back by Coté and Darling (2018):

“Scientists on Twitter: Preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?”.

The question being discussed in the article is whether Twitter mainly serves scientists for inreach (“preaching to the choir”) or outreach (“singing from the rooftops”). Turns out that this typically depends on the number of followers an account has. There is a point at around 1k followers when scientists’ accounts typically start reaching audiences beyond other scientists and are therefore starting to be more useful as an outreach tool (outreach being defined in the article as reaching an audience of mainly non-scientists).

This doesn’t seem too surprising: Most scientists, when they start out on twitter, first follow people they know personally. Those are likely mostly scientists from within, or close to, their own speciality. But as the network grows, at some point the pool of those is “used up” and the network has to eventually expand to people who aren’t so close to that speciality any more, or even within science. I have certainly observed this for my account at just below 1k followers, probably enhanced by starting a non-academic job about a year ago that opened up a whole new world (and network) on and off Twitter.

Did the number of followers influence your tweeting behaviour, and if so, how?

I started out tweeting in the microblogging sense that I wanted my parents to be able to see pictures of my life in Norway without me having to email them. At that time I didn’t have any followers, nor did I follow anyone, so I would tend to not count this as actually “using Twitter”. But my handle @meermini still stems from that time. Nowadays I would probably choose something else for professional use… ;-)

After a little while, I began to realize the potential of using Twitter professionally, and I started following more people and reading more on Twitter. I was still mainly a passive user. I remained passive for several years, only at some point starting to have my blog automatically tweet the title and link to new blog posts as they were published. But for the longest time, I didn’t even bother to modify the tweet and really just tweeted out the title & link. This is not the best communication strategy, obviously, but it did help build an audience slowly and steadily, mainly of people who were really interested in my blog and thus my core topics.

As more and more people became interested in my kitchen oceanography stuff, I eventually started modifying the automated tweets to contain more than just the title of the blog posts, and I started thinking about what images to use as featured images on my blog, since they would be tweeted with the link & title. But I would only do it when I had time and mental space for that. I still put a lot more effort into the blog posts themselves than on advertising them on Twitter.

These days I am aware of how many people potentially see my tweets (but there are those rare times when it doesn’t register at all, too). I use the automated tweets that post with scheduled blogposts, as well as Twitter in general, a lot more purposefully now. I now pretty much always modify the automated tweets to include more information than just the blog post’s title. I also try to always include a picture in tweets. Either there is one in the blog post already that I think works well, or if there isn’t, I go find one. Sometimes I include hashtags in those pictures to make it easy to see at first glance what the post is about. I schedule blog posts (and thus the automated tweets) for specific days, so I can use meaningful hashtags on Twitter, like #SciCommSunday (that I am using for this post, btw) or #WaveWatchingWednesday or #FlumeFriday, and thus reach specific audiences.

I also try to put topics of my blog posts into context for people who aren’t in my own little #KitchenOceanography and #WaveWatching bubble. By, again, using hashtags, but also by just writing more generally about what the blog post I am linking to is about. And also when tweeting without it being automated tweets from my blog, I am definitely thinking about whether people will be able to put this into context if they aren’t exactly in my field.

So for me, things have definitely changed as I got more followers, but also as I recognized more how powerful Twitter is in terms of creating — or finding — conversations around topics I care about.

What would you recommend for when you are starting out Twitter? Do it your way or start out with a strategy?

Obviously, it depends on your goal. If you want to reach a large and non-scientists audience fast, you should probably think about a strategy and put efforts into writing nice tweets that match what your target audience would be interested in and how they would like that information presented.

But if you are just dipping your toes into Twitter, I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing what I did, and just feeling your way into it. Yes, your audience won’t grow as quickly, but maybe that means that it’s growing at a rate you are comfortable with. And if it’s too much of a hassle to tweet — just take a break, the world won’t end and neither will your career. And I am a strong proponent of the “you can only know what you are potentially missing out on for networks that you are a part of”: Even if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on Twitter, even checking in or tweeting once every couple of months is better than not doing anything at all. And who knows, you might realize that it is of more benefit to you than you thought it could be, and start spending more time and effort there. Or not. Only one way to find out!

For me, having those automated Tweets from my blog was a great way to recognize how many people were really interested in my topics, and as I recognized their interest, realizing that I wanted to present that information in a nicer, more appealing way. And I am grateful to have this platform for my topics now: Both within the ocean community, and then also — noticeably! — more and more beyond it!

For #SciCommSunday: On the power of hashtags

Often completely underrated by people who start using twitter: The power of hashtags.

In this post: Very brief intro and then the three main purposes for which I personally use hashtags.

Hashtags: make your tweets easily findable

Marking a keyword in a tweet with the #-sign turns it into a link which, if clicked, takes you to a list of all other occurrences of this keyword marked by the #-sign, too. Hashtags are therefore a great way to make sure your tweets are seen by the relevant audience, or to make sure you see everything anyone else ever tweeted and marked with a specific hashtag.

Hashtags can be very broad (for example #science) or they can be very specific (like my favourite hashtag, #KitchenOceanography). And there is a whole spectrum in between those two extremes. Going from broad to more specific, one could use hashtags like #OceanScience, #Oceanography, #PhysicalOceanography, #OceanographyLab. Each of those is targeting a smaller audience, but one that is probably more specifically interested in what you are sharing (if you are writing about kitchen oceanography). Which hashtags to use therefore depends really on who you want to reach with a tweet: a larger, broad audience or a smaller, more focussed one.

I personally use hashtags for three main purposes:

Finding & building my community using hashtags

#CTDAppreciationDay, on January 22nd, is an amazing example of how social media can bring a community together around a common passion, in this case an oceanographic instrument.

This year’s #CTDAppreciationDay was the 5th annual event of its kind. From what I understand, it was started out of a combination of frustration and boredom at sea (but I might be completely off here. The first mention that I can find and that I am basing my interpretation on is this one here). But no matter why it was started, it definitely caught on: Oceanographers of all disciplines use the instrument, and clearly many people appreciate it a lot. So on this year’s #CTDappreciationday, about 200 tweets used that hashtag on Twitter. Nearly all of those tweets were either reminiscing of a particularly noteworthy moment at sea working with the instrument, a pretty sunset or rough weather, or were showing the many different applications of the instrument.

While those tweets are definitely enjoyable, for me, using this specific hashtag more is about finding “my people” than the content of the tweets themselves. Just following the hashtag #CTDAppreciationDay, I found about 40 new people to follow on that one day. All those people share my passion for fieldwork and appreciation of CTDs, and tweet about stuff related to the oceanography. I also gained 22 new followers that same day plus 19 more over the next two days (can’t be completely sure they all found me via that hashtag, but many of them followed me back after I followed them). As I don’t go to conferences any more, twitter is my main way of meeting new oceanographers, and this hashtag worked super well!

Which hashtag could you use to find “your people” — people that you don’t know exist yet but that share your passions?

Finding relevant tweets to a topic using hashtags

I love lab experiments. #FlumeFriday is a hashtag used on Fridays to mark posts that show some kind of experiment in a flume (a channel filled with water; in oceanography labs typically used to generate waves in or to have a stretch of controlled flow; both often combined with experiments on sediment transport, coastal protection, flows under different conditions). So in short: #FlumeFriday is super exciting for me! And it’s a hashtag that I both follow (because it’s so cool! Also I am always looking to learn more about tank experiments, what people work on in that area, what techniques they use, what their experiences are, …) and actively use (because I know that people following that hashtag are interested in tank experiments, even though mine are usually a lot more small-scale than most other people’s).

Another example of hashtags I follow are conference hashtags, whether I am there or not. For example #OSM20, the hashtag of the Ocean Sciences Meeting 2020,y is one that I will definitely follow since I wish I could be there!

Are there topics for which you would like to be notified each time someone tweets about them? What hashtags would people use for those topics?

Curating a collection of tweets using hashtags

There are two hashtags that I use with my work all the time: #KitchenOceanography (which was actually first used by my friend Geli at a time when I really didn’t know how to use Twitter well) and #FriendlyWaves. Both are super specific. #KitchenOceanography is about the oceanography-related experiments that you can do using only household items (check out posts about that here). #FriendlyWaves are posts in which I explain pictures of waves that my friends sent me.

Over the last months, pretty much all uses of those two hashtags were somehow related to me and my work. Which is really awesome: People who now look at those hashtags because they are curious what exactly is hidden behind those two terms find two projects that I am really passionate about, and also see that I am dominating those hashtags. So in a really positive way, I use those hashtags to “mark my territory”. And if someone else should start using them more frequently, I know there is a great new friendship in the making!

What hashtag is so super specific to your interests and work that you can make it your own, make it part of “your brand”?

What’s in Mirjam’s bag? #SciCommChall

My friend Nena has taken over #SciCommChall and gives us super fun monthly challenges to practice our scicomm muscles and try out new things. I love a good challenge, and for me this is really a great way to expand my scicomm portfolio and skills. Check it out!

This month, she’s given us the “what’s in your bag?” challenge. I am excited! Some of my stuff might actually be specific to my #wavewatching and #kitchenoceanography obsessions (even in the tiny handbag I am wearing in the picture below!).

Or they might not be, you tell me: What’s in YOUR bag and why? What’s specific to the science you are excited about?

In any case, here we go with mine:

  1. This is my absolute favourite handbag of all times! It’s always stuffed, but I love it! I carry this on me wherever I go, and my work bag comes in addition to this (give me a shout if you would want to see that one, too). All the stuff around it in the picture usually lives inside
  2. Not so surprising: A little card holder with all the cards I need to carry
  3. And a little coin pouch
  4. Emergency tea. Can’t get caught anywhere without some. Clearly have to restock, this is my least favourite of the favourites I usually carry with me. Also great as dye tracer in a pickle
  5. A spork. Because no single-use plastic! Also for stirring, measuring, that kind of stuff in experiments (we use food dyes, no worries…)
  6. I carry some minerals to prevent (or quickly counteract) cramps. No oceanography connection there
  7. Seem to have skipped no 7 on the picture! Probably to make up for something not pictured, because I was working with it when I decided to accept this challenge and it therefore wasn’t in my handbag: My (tiny) bullet journal. But it’s actually in the picture above, so that’s proof that I really always carry it with me!
  8. Pens! Several. One waterproof, because #kitchenoceanography. Where is my pencil? Seems to have gotten lost
  9. Sticky notes! Always need them
  10. My battery bank for my phone, because my phone holds my life. And I need it to take pictures and movies, to write notes, to do Social Media with it or blog on it. The battery bank is heavy, but for me totally worth always carrying it with me
  11. Headphones, charging cables for my phone & battery bank, that kinda stuff
  12. Oh, now it’s getting interesting! A selfie stick and a microphone for my phone to do wave watching selfie videos with, after I realized how horrible the sound quality was when I was on a Swedish research ship a couple of months ago
  13. A fabric bag because I always end up having to carry stuff somewhere and, as you see, the handbag is tiny
  14. Ziploc bags. Because you always find cool stuff at the beach… At least I do :-)
  15. Emergency cash and emergency plasters
  16. The pouch where the plasters are supposed to be, together with some emergency stuff against headaches, a tiny pocket knife (which I use SO MUCH! Hello, unboxing new rotating table & tanks!) and the very much undervalued lip balm. Which has saved tank experiments several tanks when something was leaking, everybody was freaking out, and I was just like “let me get my lip balm from my hand bag…”
  17. Paint swatches that I got when my nieces and I went to the crafts store because we had the deal that everybody could get three and only three, and I decided that “everybody” should include me ;-) Also I love the colors.
  18. A small scarf and wooly hat, because wave watching happens outside and I like my throat and ears to be warm
  19. A measuring tape. Because knitting, and then I forgot it was there. Came in really useful when we were unboxing our new rotating table and tanks and were cataloguing the inserts and stuff — measured everything right away to know what we are dealing with!

And what’s in your bag?

#SciCommSunday: The reason why I choose to post selfies on my #SciComm Social Media

“I don’t want my face on the internet!”, “My science should speak for itself, it shouldn’t matter who I am as a person!”, “I just don’t like what I look like in pictures!”, “People won’t perceive me as professional when I include selfies in my science communication work!”: There are many reasons for not posting selfies on the internet, and I sympathise with many of them. However, I have chosen (and continue to choose) to post the occasional selfie. Why is that?

My main goal I am trying to achieve with my scicomm Instagram @fascinocean_kiel is to show that exciting science (specifically ocean physics) can be discovered EVERYWHERE if you are open to seeing it. This means that I post pictures of water that I take on walks along any kind of river, lake, ocean, but also in puddles, sinks, or tea cups, pretty much daily.

#ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike

But in order to make my Insta relatable to other people, I find it important to put these pictures in the context of my life. Yes, I live on the Baltic Sea coast and therefore have the opportunity to see “the ocean” (well, kinda) on an almost daily basis, which is reflected in my Insta. But I commute to work in Hamburg (where I see Elbe river and the Port of Hamburg, which you also see quite a lot), and I travel a lot throughout Germany and beyond. Some days I’m on the train — on those days you’ll often see pictures of water taken from the train window. Or if I am giving workshops in locations with fancy taps, you will see those. My point is: You can discover oceanography everywhere. If you choose to look for it.

But then who does get this excited about this kind of stuff? Well, I do. And this is where #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike comes in. I’m not wearing a lab coat, and I am not even observing this science as part of my job. I’m not even employed as a scientist any more, nor do I want to be. But I didn’t loose my identity as a scientist when I decided to stop pursuing an academic career. That was a huge fear I had when I was in the process of wanting out of academia — that I would be a failed scientist if I left, even if I left because I would rather be somewhere else. So for me, showing that I am still a scientist even if that’s not my day job anymore is my way of offering myself as the role model that I wish I had during that time, showing that leaving academia doesn’t make you any less of a scientist.

Of course, #ThisIsWhatAScientistLooksLike also includes other aspects, for example making women or other minorities in science more visible. Or showing that there is no one “correct” way of being a scientist. For example the clothes you wear or how much effort you put into looking put together are in no way correlated to how serious you are about your science. Contributing to spreading that message is a nice side effect for me.

But does posting selfies do anything to how people perceive scientists?

#ScientistsWhoSelfie

There is a 2019 study by Jarreau et al. that looked at this. They compared different kinds of Instagram posts, some showing selfies of scientists, some showing only lab equipment or other pictures of the work only. And they found that posting selfies does actually have an impact on how scientists are perceived.

Scientists posting selfies (as opposed to those only posting “work stuff”) were perceived as significantly warmer. Appearing warm is definitely desirable in this context, as warmth is a component of trustworthiness. Obviously, as a scientist we want to be, but also be perceived as, trustworthy. This perception is created in this study when selfies were used.

Another finding is that posting selfies does not result in scientists being perceived as less competent, both for male and female scientists. So here goes the fear mentioned above that posting selfies will make you appear less serious about your work! Or does it? Note that of course this study does not guarantee that nobody ever will think less of you because you are posting selfies. Of course there might be people you are working with, or more generally, that see your selfies online and think any number of weird things. In general, this does not appear to be the case. But you know your bosses, your community, your life best, so ultimately if this is a concern you have, you need to weigh the potential benefits of posting selfies against that risk. In my case, I have decided that I can totally live with what some people might think about me posting selfies because I know that the people who matter to me don’t think less of me because of it. Additionally, I have gotten a lot of feedback that people actually enjoy seeing selfies on my Insta occasionally, because it does make it more relatable.

As a women, I also find it important that I post selfies, because the study showed that this can contribute to making science be perceived less as “exclusively male”. The common stereotype of what a scientist looks like is still to this day an old white male (in a lab coat and with messy hair). Of course there are plenty of those around, but there are so many brilliant and inspiring women out there, too, that I’d like to see that stereotype change.

In total, results of the study are that showing selfies can potentially help change attitudes towards scientists towards the better. The study doesn’t explore the mechanisms through which this happens (so it might depend on, for example, facial expressions, features of the background, or tons of other things), so it is by no means guaranteed to work for every selfie being posted on the internet (and also how many selfies do people need to see for this effect to kick in, or what does the ratio to “science stuff only” pictures need to be? And how long does the effect last?). In any case, to me, this study is indication enough that me posting selfies might have all the intended consequences, and that’s reason enough for me to choose to post selfies. And I encourage you to check out the study and consider posting selfies, too!

P.S.: This picture is clearly not a selfie, it was taken by my brilliant colleague Sebi Berens (www.sebiberensphoto.com / @sebiberensphoto). Thank you, Sebi!

Literature:

Jarreau PB, Cancellare IA, Carmichael BJ, Porter L, Toker D, Yammine SZ (2019) Using selfies to challenge public stereotypes of scientists. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216625. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216625

Fastest way to read up on the science of science communication? This book!

(Werbung ohne Auftrag // This blogpost is not sponsored)

I strongly believe that all scicomm efforts should be grounded in the science of science communication. That means reading a lot of original literature, or … reading this book that I recently found. It’s a quick and fun overview over the current understanding of what works and why: “The Science of Communicating Science — The Ultimate Guide” by Craig Cormick.

The Science of Communicating Science

The book is structured in four parts: “The ground rules”, “communication tools”, “when things get hard”, and “science communication issues”. It is a really easy and enjoyable read. It’s full of funny stories and cute sketches that illustrate key concepts, and despite it being pretty much a review of the relevant literature, it’s written in a conversational style. The author brings in a lot of stories that make his points. For example to stress the importance of story telling, he talks about how every last tired student woke up in a lecture once he paused his usual lecturing and said “let me tell you a story!”. Very relatable.

“The ground rules”

This part provides a lot of the background knowledge on scicomm. Why do we need to communicate science? What makes science communication good science communication? What is it that the public knows and believes about science, and how much do they care about science? And is there even such a thing as “the public”? (Spoiler alert: of course not!)

It for example tackles one of the big problems I see in science communication: People believing that they will change other people’s minds with more information (and, it’s quite interesting that in my experience, those people’s minds usually aren’t changed by all the data that contradicts them on that).

This part of the book should definitely be required reading for anyone doing scicomm.

“Communication tools”

In this part, the author deals with many different ways to communicate with audiences, and what is known about them — both the communication tools themselves and what audiences might be reached with which tool. For example for social media, it is important to understand who for example has internet access and who is actually using what channel for what purpose, in order to find the best way to reach your specific audience. Or for TED talks, turns out that the gestures and way you present yourself are super important for how you are being perceived so that it basically doesn’t matter to the ratings whether people watch you with sound on or off. How scary is this?

This part of the book is definitely interesting to browse for an overview over many different tools, and looking at chances and challenges of each. And if you are planning to use, or already using, any of the tools described there, it will be super helpful to look into what the author has to say about it.

“When things get hard”

Now we are getting into the really difficult issues, like for example beliefs. Why do people believe what they believe? And  how can we respectfully and constructively deal with people who hold beliefs different from ours? (How) can we change beliefs?

Or another example that I found really interesting because I hadn’t thought about it before, or at least not in those terms, was communicating risk. For risk communication, there are different strategies recommended for audiences that are defined depending on how much they are concerned about a specific risk on the one hand, and how much they are affected by that risk on the other. People in the low concern & low affected corner are an audience that can be communicated with in the way you would normally do scicomm. However, as soon as there is high concern or high risk, things change. For audiences that are highly concerned despite not being highly affected, listening is the key, both to make them feel understood as well as to understand what exactly their concerns are so that you can eventually help them see that despite the concerns they might not be as much as risk as they think they are. But then for people with low levels of concerns but high risk, a completely different approach is needed, one that educates people about the risks they are at. Lastly, people who are both highly concerned and highly at risk are the group that you need to engage with the most. And there are a lot of pointers for how to do that in the book, that I can’t all spill here ;-)

Another chapter in this part of the book that I found really interesting is on changing people’s behaviours. In a nutshell, you don’t change people’s behaviours by changing what they think they should be doing, you change behaviours first and that will lead to a change in attitudes towards the behaviour they are now employing. It’s all about cognitive dissonance and how we are trying to avoid a mismatch between what we say we want to do and what we actually do — usually by changing our attitudes, not our behaviours. So make it easy for people to behave in the way you want them to behave and their attitudes will follow (one of the reasons why I think taxing and fines as tools to influence behaviours should be used a lot more; attitudes will follow…).

This part of the book then concludes with chapters on “communicating controversies” (lots of helpful strategies for if/when you get caught in a shit storm!) and “debunking bunkum” about dealing with pseudoscience.

“Science communication issues”

I really loved this part of the book, because here issues get addressed that we don’t talk about enough, like ethics of scicomm. When we talk about “what works in scicomm”, in a way it’s fair to say that we are talking about ways of manipulating people. We do this with the best intentions, but still, we are basically employing and sharing techniques to make people believe what we believe and act in ways that we think are the right ones. And once in a while it’s good to stop and think about what exactly it is that we are doing there and if we want to adopt existing or develop new guidelines or a code of conduct.

Then there is a chapter on all the caveats of scicomm research. How valid is all the stuff that we think we know about how scicomm works? Very important read!

And lastly, the author ends with an appeal to scicomm researchers to make their findings accessible to practitioners, and for practitioners to dig around if there might already be research available on their formats and topics. To sum it up: “Go and do brilliant things”!

Post scriptum

In my old job in scicomm research, I had the time to read a lot of scientific articles as well as reports, blog posts, etc, and go to workshops, watch youtube, browse social media, etc, to inform myself about the cutting edge science and practice of scicomm. And that’s pretty much a full-time job. Now, with my current job, I still try to keep up to date, but I am really glad I have this foundation of two years full-time focus on scicomm research & practice to fall back on. So I am very much aware of how much there is to learn about scicomm, and how difficult it is to do when that isn’t your primary focus.

I received this book last year, two days before giving an introductory scicomm workshop, and binge-read it to make sure I wasn’t missing anything super important in my workshop. Turns out that the first part of this book, “the ground rules”, is a very good match with what I chose to include as a foundation for my workshop, citing many of the same articles and focusing on very similar topics. If you can’t spend a huge amount of time on diving into the science of scicomm (or attend one of my workshops, obviously ;-)), reading this book is really the best way to get started that I am aware of, and I highly highly recommend reading it! And even if you think you know all there is to know, it’s really refreshing to get a new perspective on things. Still go read the book! :-)

P.S.: A quick overview over the main message of the book (and including some of the fun sketches!) is also given here, by the author himself. So go check that out, too!

P.P.S.: Looking for more to read? Another book I liked a lot and recommended on here about a year ago (when it had just come out): Communicating Climate Change by Armstrong, Krasny & Schuldt.

Literature

“The Science of Communicating Science — The Ultimate Guide” by C. Cormick (2019).

Communicating Climate Change” by A. K. Armstrong, M. E. Krasny, J. P. Schuldt (2018).

Why “But I don’t have anything interesting to say, I am just teaching a block course right now” is not a good excuse for not tweeting

Sometimes I feel like I have pressured all my friends into using social media for their science communication. Today I was talking to Kristin, who was apologetic about not having tweeted in a while and tried to excuse that by saying that she didn’t have anything interesting to tweet about right now because she is currently teaching a block course.

Of course I came up with a dozen interesting things she could tweet about if she wanted to, that I would actually love to read and respond to! Here is the blog post that sums up what she could tweet, sorted by for what purpose she might actually want to do it (other than getting me off her back, of course ;-)).

I am posting example tweets below, but for readability imagine that, wherever possible, she’s pointing out that she’s currently teaching a block course (and she’s doing that for the second time, so clearly she’s doing well enough that people wanted her back! Doesn’t hurt to broadcast that), on what topic (because that’s where she is a renowned expert, establishing her expertise online by providing insights that are helpful to others), the university that the course is happening at (tagging it on Twitter so they can retweet and give her more visibility).

1) Tweeting to get input to improve teaching or save prep time

Tweeting can actually be a great time saver when prepping teaching. Need a good graphic to illustrate a phenomenon, interesting reading assignments for your students, an intriguing application of some dry theory? Yes, all this stuff is perfectly fine to ask for on Twitter! Chances are that someone in your network has taught a similar course and has suggestions that might be really helpful

“Calling all your sea level specialists. How do you visualize that melting sea ice doesn’t contribute to sea level rise?” (Of course, she does have an experiment in her repertoire, this is just an example)

“Is there any graphic out there that does give a good representation of the upwelling part of the Great Conveyor Belt?” (This I am seriously considering Tweeting right now because I am wondering myself)

2) Tweeting to get advice or answers

Struggling with a student question or need advice on a teaching method? Ask on Twitter!

“Today, someone in my class on x asked y. Do you have any ideas where to even start finding answers to that question?”

“I would like to get some feedback on my class while I can still change things. Does anyone have any ideas how to do that?” (Yes — Continue, Start, Stop!)

“My students are having a hard time coming to terms with concept x. Any ideas how I can support their learning here?”

3) Tweeting to spark interesting discussions on a topic

When prepping a course, you usually come across interesting articles related to the field that you feel everybody should know about. Why not share interesting finds on Twitter? Other people might be grateful, and it might lead to discussions with people interested in the same topics as you are

“How did I not know about the article x by y at al.? They show how z is influencing sea level rise! [link to article]”

“I read up on topic x for my class and the article by y et al. is super fascinating!”

4) Tweeting to establish yourself as authority on your field, spreading interesting information

Sometimes, some of the interesting literature on your topic might actually be your own work. No harm in sharing how it relates to the topic you are teaching right now and how you integrate it!

“Today students read my article x on y as assignment during class and they prepared these summary posters! [Pictures of posters]”

“The project students worked on during my class today directly relates to my Research: they plotted x and discussed y! Here are some results [pictures]”

5) Tweeting to establish yourself as authority on teaching your topic, spreading interesting ideas

Surely she has come up with new and interesting teaching ideas specific to her topic, or maybe some that are transferrable to other topics. Share them on Twitter helps others and builds her credibility as a teacher!

“To help students understand x, I asked them to do y in class today, and here is a picture of their result!”

“Using method x, we investigated y in class and it went super well! Next time, I would only change z”

Or, an example that Kristin posted herself (see? It’s working! :-))

Click image to get to the original tweet

6) Tweeting to let people know you are around

If you are visiting a place to teach your topic, there are probably other people somewhere close by who might be interested in catching up with you. You might not even know they are around until you tweet that you are, they read it and respond!

“Bremen people — I will be teaching a class on sea level rise in May! Who’s around and wants to grab a coffee?”

 

So here you have it. Tons of interesting tweets related to her teaching, all of them actually contributing to interesting exchanges of knowledge and ideas on Twitter, none of them “just bragging”. Do you have more ideas what Kristin should be tweeting about that you would be interested in reading? Let us know in the comments below!

Communicating Climate Change — a book you should definitely know about!

In a presentation about science communication I gave on Monday, I recommended a couple of resources for scientists interested in science communication. For example the amazing climatevisuals.org for advice on which images to use to communicate about climate change (plus lots of images that even come with explanations for what purpose they work well, and why!). And of course my #scicommchall to get people inspired to try out a new micro scicomm format every month.

But here is an (open access!) book I wish I had known about then already but only came across two days after my presentation: “Communicating Climate Change” by A. K. Armstrong, M. E. Krasny, J. P. Schuldt (2018).

This is a book aimed at educators who want to communicate climate change in a literature-based and effective manner. It consists of four parts: A background, the psychology of climate change, communication, and stories from the field, which I will briefly review below (and you should definitely check out the real thing!). It’s nice and easy to read, and there are “bottom line for educators” at the end of each chapter as well as recaps at the end of each part, making it easy to get a quick overview even if you might not have the time to read the whole thing in detail.

Background

This part of the book begins with an introduction to climate change science, reporting state-of-the-art science on climate, greenhouse gases, evidence for climate change, and climate impacts. It then moves to how climate change can be addressed: by mitigating or adapting to its effects, how it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and how that can be achieved both on an individual level and by collective action. It ends with a “bottom line for educators” summary that stresses that climate change is real, that misinformation campaigns are an unfortunate reality, and that educators can contribute to solving the problem.

The next chapter then deals with what is known on attitudes and knowledge about climate change in different audiences internationally and at different ages, explaining that attitudes are actually a pretty bad predictor for behaviour, but nevertheless important to know about if you are an educator! For example, if you want teens to be concerned about climate change, a useful approach might be to involve their parents along with them, since what family and friends believe about climate change is very important to what an individual teenager believes, as is how often they discuss climate topics with their friends and family. Again, the “bottom line for educators” breaks this down into advice, for example to focus on different topics depending on how concerned about climate change a given audience already is, or to focus on areas in which a common ground between them and their audiences exists in order to generate a constructive and positive dialogue even though there might still be areas in which they do not agree with their audiences (which they should think about beforehand, hence the importance to know about the audience’s attitudes).

The next chapter suggests possible outcomes for climate change education — how do we know if a climate change communication activity was successful? — and stresses the importance of defining these goals in the first place. Outcomes can be defined on the level of individuals, of communities, of the environment, or of resilience of all of the above. For individuals, outcomes could for example be literacy (understanding essential principles, knowledge of how to assess scientifically credible information, ability to communicate, ability to make informed and responsible decisions) of climate change, or attitudes and emotions, the feeling of confidence that you can reach your goals, or environmentally friendly behaviour. For communities, outcomes could be positive development of youth, building of social capital (e.g. trust or positive action), the belief that the community can reach a goal together, or action taken together by the whole community. Focussing on the environment, an outcome could be adaptation to, or mitigation of, climate change.

The next chapter then presents three climate change vignettes — three examples of how different educators address different audiences in different settings — and a discussion of why they chose to design their activity a certain way and react to questions or comments the way they did.

The psychology of climate change

This part of the book presents psychology research on why knowledge about climate change is not sufficient to actually change behaviours.

Identity research especially is very helpful, as it explains how in order to feel like you are part of a group (something that we as humans are hard-wired to crave) we tend to conform with our group’s norms and values. We might be part of different groups at different times as well as simultaneously (for example our family as one and our colleagues as another, or inhabitant of a city, or student of oceanography), and contexts trigger specific identities that might even not be completely congruent with each other. When new information is presented, we interpret it in a way that does not threaten our identity in the context the information is presented in. Therefore, in order to not threaten anybody’s identity and making it impossible for them to take on our message, it is important to make sure that climate change is not communicated as something polarising or political, but rather choose to trigger identities that are inclusive, like for example “inhabitant of place x”, and focus on outcomes that benefit that community independent of what other identities might exist, by for example protecting a local beach.

Psychological distance is another lens through which climate change communication can be viewed. The more distant a problem seems, the less important it is perceived. Therefore focussing on local relevance rather than global, on places that are important to people, on communities they care about, might in some cases be helpful — although not always; the results of the research on this are not conclusive yet.

Then a few other relevant psychological research areas are discussed, like for example “terror management theory”. This leads to the recommendation to avoid “doom and gloom” presentations of climate change that might kick people into a defence mechanism of ignoring the topic to protect their emotional well-being in the moment, and to focus on hope and positive action instead. Then there is the “cognitive dissonance theory”, according to which we try to ignore information that conflicts with what we think we already know or threatens other goals we might have. The recommendation here is to give people ideas of easy things they can do to combat climate change to combat cognitive dissonance.

Communication

This part of the book presents three aspects of communicating climate change: How we frame it, which analogies and metaphors we use, and how we, as a messenger, can build trust.

“Framing” is about how a message is featured in a story line to help the audience interpret it in a certain way, by making certain aspects of it especially visible, for example economic aspects or tipping points. When thinking about framing a climate change message, it is important to think about audiences and their identities and to avoid wording that will trigger identities which make it difficult to accept the message. Depending on the desired outcomes, climate change communications could, for example, be framed for solutions, hope, or values. There are ways to build entire climate change communication programs around those frames, and there are several examples given for how this might be done.

The next chapter focusses on analogies and metaphors. For example, “osteoporosis of the sea” (which I had never heard in use before) has been found to be a successful metaphor for ocean acidification. However, as all metaphors, it only highlights similarities between issues and neglects to mention the dissimilarities which makes them tricky to use because it’s hard to make sure people don’t take a metaphor so far that it breaks down. In fact, to address this problem, the authors recommend to explicitly talk about where the analogy or metaphor will break down.

Establishing trust in the climate change messengers: This is tricky as people tend to trust other people that hold values similar to their own. Therefore it is helpful to think about the messenger and to use trusted middle persons. [There is are actually some very interesting work on trust out there, for example by Hendriks, Kienhues and Bromme (2015) that isn’t mentioned in the book, but that I’d be happy to summarise for you if anyone is interested!]

Stories from the field

The book ends with a part called “stories from the field” in which examples of different climate change communication activities, focussing on different goals, audiences, messenges and happening in very different settings, are given and the design choices that were made explained in detail. Also for each of the story, an example is given how the message is phrased in actual interaction with the target audience. All of this is super interesting to read because all the theory the book provided in the previous chapters is applied to real world cases, which makes it easy to see how they might be applied to your own climate change communication activities. Also these best practice examples are inspiring to see and give me a sense of hope.

To sum up: I really enjoyed reading this book! So much so that continuing reading it was more important than getting a good Instagram pic of my latte while writing this blogpost. I would really recommend anyone interested in climate change communication to check it out! When I finished my talk on Monday, on my second to last slide I put the African proverb along the lines of “if you think you are too small to make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room”. I used this to talk about using messages of hope in climate change communication, and then also applied it to science communication — don’t think you are too small to make a difference there, either! And that’s a message that this book conveys really well, too, providing a good idea of what one could do and how one might go about it, and inspiring one — or at least me — to do so, too.

What you know about science is not necessarily what you believe about science

I’ve been working in science communication research for a good half a year now, and my views on outreach are constantly evolving. When I applied for this job, I was convinced that if only the public knew what we (the scientists) know, they would take better decisions. So all we need to do is inform the public, preferably using entertaining and engaging methods. However, I soon came to learn that this is known as the “deficit model” and that there is a lot of research saying that life isn’t that easy. Like, at all.

One article I really like makes it very clear that knowledge about what science says is not at all the same as believing in what science says. The article Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem by Kahan (2015) (btw, a really entertaining read!) describes how changing a question on a questionnaire from “Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” to “According to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals” has a big impact: While in the first case, religiosity of the respondents had a huge impact and even highly educated religious people are very likely to answer “no”, in the second case religious and non-religious people answer similarly correctly. So clearly the knowledge of what evolution theory says is there in both cases, but only in the latter case that knowledge becomes relevant in answering the question. In the first case, the respondents cultural identity dictates a different answer than in the second case, where the question is only about science comprehension, not about beliefs and identity. As the author says: a question about ““belief in” evolution measures “who one is” rather than “what one knows””.

The author then moves on to study knowledge and beliefs about climate change and finds the same thing: the relationship between science comprehension and belief in climate change depends on the respondents’ identities. The more concerned someone is about climate change due to their cultural background, the more concerned they become as their level of science comprehension increases. The more sceptical someone is, the more sceptical he becomes with increasing science comprehension: “Far from increasing the likelihood that individuals will agree that human activity is causing climate change, higher science comprehension just makes the response that a person gives to a “global- warming belief” item an even more reliable indicator of who he or she is.”

So knowledge (or lack thereof) clearly isn’t the problem we face in climate change communication — the problem is the entanglement of knowledge and identity. What can we do to disentangle the two? According to the article, it is most important to not reinforce the association of opposing positions with membership in competing groups. The higher-profile the communicators on the front lines, the more they force individuals to construe evidence that supports the claims of those high-profile members of their group in order to feel as part of that group and protect their identity. Which is pretty much the opposite of how climate science has been communicated in the last years. Stay tuned while we work on developing good alternatives, but don’t hold your breath just yet ;-)


Kahan, D. M. (2015). Climate-Science Communication and the Measurement Problem Political Psychology, 36, 1-43