At the recent Association for Psychological Science annual convention, I co-chaired a symposium on “Social Media as a Catalyst for Psychologist Science.” In my next post I will give some context to the entire session, but first, here is my presentation, in blog form. This presentation is also available as a pdf: Riener – Social Media as a Catalyst for Psychological Science
I begin the motivation for using social media to spread psychological science with this chart, from the New York Times Innovation Report, a leaked internal document explaining the external challenges, internal struggles, and plans for the future for the New York Times to continue to be a successful media outlet. This chart illustrates how social media is coming to dominate the web, even “official” or “old media” sites like the New York Times, and how this is a very recent change (notice the years are from 2011 to 2013). This chart shows how visits to the NYT homepage have gone from 160 million a month to less than 80. People are finding the articles they want to read through social media.
These charts to the right (also from the same report) reinforce that point, but looking at the whole web. Visits to home pages are declining while social media referrals are climbing, all over the internet. People have changed the way they access the web, and shifting to getting referred from social sites.
Why communicate science online? I begin with how to be a scientist on social media by referencing an excellent primer by the biologists Holly Bik and Miriam Goldstein. Their Figure 2 shows the different scientific purposes and time commitments of various social media activities. For this presentation, I will focus on twitter.
As Bik and Goldstein note, different social media are well suited for different purposes. However, one thing that they note in the article that is not clear from the figure, is that these interact. Twitter can help spread a blog post, and a conversation on a blog post can spill out into twitter and facebook. But this is a good framework for how to see the social media landscape and science. For this talk I will be focusing on twitter, which is my preferred social media network.
For how to think of twitter, I turn to Liz Neeley, who succinctly frames twitter as a cocktail party at a conference. It isn’t only a presentation, or a poster session (where people are only strictly business) but it also isn’t just your friends who are interested in everything personal. The way I approach it, scientists on twitter shouldn’t be afraid of sharing a few personal details here and there, but most of the people who follow you will do so because of what your professional expertise or interests are, not personal reasons. This of course varies, but I recommend starting out thinking of twitter this way, curating your friends this way, and putting that kind of filter on your communication.
This is a brief snapshot of who I am, what I tweet about, and what I am interested in. So on twitter I will follow people in each of these spheres. I follow other teachers of General and Intro Psychology, historians of psychology (and some historians), perception researchers, teachers, and other people involved in higher education policy debates and faculty governance.
With gratitude to Raul Pacheco, who has listed five things he thinks twitter is useful for in academic contexts, I decided on four for the few minutes I have with you today.
Here are 4 things I’ll talk about today that I find twitter useful for: news and discovery, building scholarly networks, quick help, and giving psychological science away.
News and Discovery
First, as a personalized newspaper. Here are some examples of things I found interesting and useful that came across my twitter feed recently, that I would have not seen otherwise. Alex Holcombe, a fellow perception researcher, came across a fact about the evolution of the retina (in a Nature Reviews Genetics article, a journal I do not read or track) that non-visual cells evolved into visual cells, and visual cells evolved into non-visual. Cool!
Jay Van Bavel, a social psychologist at Columbia, tweeted a picture of Chris Crew giving a presentation (with Kenneth and Mamie Clark pictured on a slide in the background) and noted Crew was the first African American man to earn a Ph.D. in psych from Columbia since Kenneth Clark. Interesting (and sad) fact that I remember and pass on to my history of psychology class.
Building Scholarly Networks
I also use twitter to build scholarly networks. As a cognitive psychologist in a small school, in a small town in Virginia, we don’t have frequent psychology journal clubs or symposia. So I use twitter to connect with psychologists I would not otherwise be able to have a conversation with. Here I am having a brief conversation with Hal Pashler. I will also say that I think twitter often acts as a leveler. If you are a junior faculty or graduate student, you can still have a conversation with a senior faculty member, and the mediated nature of the communication can sometimes reduce some of the cues to power and status that are often present in real world contexts.
I also like twitter to broaden and diversify my scholarly network, beyond the academy, and beyond my areas of interest and research. Sanjay Srivastava is a social psychologist, Audrey Watters is a education journalist who is an excellent (and respected) voice on educational technology, Mark Changizi is a perception researcher who has left academia, but remains quite active in applying perception research to real life problems through his company 2AI labs. Bashir9ist is a pseudonym for a graduate student in neuroscience who I have had a number of conversations with about neuroscience, graduate training in psychology, and other shared interests over the course of a year or two. As he went on the job market, I came to do some informal mentoring and advice. He may not have needed it exactly, (he got an excellent job) but he has not been the only person who I have served in this role. For me, building this scholarly network is not just what I can take from my network, but what I can give back.
Another example, though it may seem trivial, is the quick, non-google-able answer to a question. I am thinking about training myself up on R this summer, but I am a bit daunted, and it was helpful to discover that Jonathan Goya, a computational biologist in my network, is willing to help. Another biologist friend, Jeremia Ory (of the perfect twitter name: DrLabRatOry), chimed in to agree that Jonathan was very helpful.
Giving Psychological Science Away
My final example of using twitter is to spread psychological science and interact with non-scientists about psychological science. This might be in interacting with a science journalist (as I did here with Maria Konnikova, who is actually a scientist herself so perhaps not a perfect example) or a fellow academic in another related field (Brendan Nyhan is a political scientist who studies false beliefs in politics), but it also might be hosting a chat session with teachers. In the case on the left I hosted a #psychat session and asked AP psychology teachers about how much writing their students did. I also shared some of my conceptions of college readiness.
I’ll close with what many people might think is the first reason to use social media as a psychological science: to spread their own work. My article on learning styles, attempting to translate some of the basic findings in cognitive psychology to show that learning styles are not educationally useful, was spread very widely on social media, and I can track when it is spread and encourage people to ask questions, or answer concerns. I will also add that the other ways that I use twitter contribute to this final use. Because I have built my scholarly networks, asked and provided quick help, interacted with science journalists, the people in my network are more likely to read and spread my science.
That observation bears repeating, that each of the many uses of twitter (and you will certainly find some more yourself) interact with each other. Promotion helps you build your network, and robust networks help you more effectively promote. Offering quick help builds up good will, but sometimes, so does asking for it. Sometimes someone else in your network had that same question and didn’t think to ask. Curating interesting news and discovering things you find cool often means you spread that stuff to your network, and you come to be trusted and respected for your unique perspective.
Finally, I’ll close by saying that twitter and social media have a built in “baby pool.” Jump in, follow ten people, spend ten minutes a day checking it, and let your network grow organically. Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Thank you for your time, and I hope to see you on the twitters!