Microblogging Science: Methodology

3.1 Introduction

The purpose of this study is to examine why scientists use a micro-blogging to communicate their research. For the purposes of the study it was decided to limit the research to a curated account on the microblogging platform Twitter. This decision was made for several reasons. Twitter is one of the most active and popular microblogging platforms currently in operation. According to Twitter there are currently 271 million active users with 500 million tweets sent per day.

Due to the large volume of data, this study is limited to analysing the Twitter account @RealScientists. The account (@RealScientists) is curated.  Researchers, Scientists, science writers, communicators and artists take turns managing the account for one week at a time. Since it started in February 2013 it has hosted curators across a multitude of disciplines and from across the world. Curators from Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, America, Canada, The US and Sweden have taken part. 


3.2 Approach

Given the complexity of analysing a platform as large as twitter, the researcher concluded that selecting one account, the @RealScientists account, for an in-depth study was appropriate. A mixed method approach was taken to analyse the @RealScientists Twitter account. The quantitative tradition follows that social science is no different to any other science and as such can be measured. This is most often achieved by conducting experiments, thereby generating your own data or analysing data already in existence. In contrast, the qualitative tradition allows for an inductive analysis of data. The researcher is encouraged to explore the subjects of their study with greater depth, and at a closer degree than in the quantitative tradition. Mixed methodology is becoming more common in Social Science research. According to Zina O’Leary it can help capitalise “…on the best of both traditions and overcome many of their shortcomings.” (O'Leary 2010, Chapter 8) This ability to draw on both research traditions can add depth and meaning to quantitative data.

The researcher conducted a quantitative analysis of the @RealScientists’ account archive from the 9th February 2013 to the 2nd March 2014. This was comprised of 55 separate curators and circe 25,000 tweets. Twenty curators were selected for a qualitative analysis of their tweets. Interviews were conducted with individual curators & one of the account administrators. Finally a survey of the account’s followers was conducted.

3.3 The Archive

Twitter provides access to a comprehensive archive of users’ tweets upon request. The archive is delivered in both .csv and .js form and details the time, location and content of each tweet including retweets for the history of an account. The administrators of the @RealScientists account provided the archive for research in May 2014. It contained all the data from the account since it began in February 2013, including all tweets, retweets, links and photographs sent throughout this period. As the @RealScientists account has been in operation for more than a year, it was decided to quantitatively analyse the data from inception until the 2nd March 2014 (13 months). This comprised of 55 separate curators. From within that dataset 20 curators were selected for a more detailed qualitative analysis. These were chosen at random using a lottery system.

3.4 Quantitative analysis

People on the micro-blogging platform, Twitter, have developed particular stylistic norms in conversational tweeting. For example, hashtags are employed to join in a larger discussion around an event or news story and are indicated by using the # symbol, i.e. #ScienceCommunication.

At the beginning of the analysis the following criteria were determined:

-          @username at the beginning of a tweet indicates a direct, but public, response to someone on Twitter.

-          RT indicates a retweet.

-          @username, MT or RT in the middle of a tweet indicates engagement and/or comment on the original tweet.

Java et al (2007) determined that there were four distinct categories in Twitter communication: Conversations, Information sharing, news reporting, and daily chatter. For the purposes of the quantitative analysis, the following categorisation was applied:


Conversation with other Twitter user – Intimate information sharing


Broadcast conversation – non-intimate information sharing


Retweet – information broadcasting

____ RT/MT

Modified retweet – information broadcast with commentary.


Information sharing/requesting


The database from 12th February 2013 to 2nd March 2014 was reviewed to determine the number of original stand-alone tweets, @username engagements and RTs on the account as a whole. In order to ensure that only tweets by the curators were captured, all tweets beginning with [ADMIN] were removed prior to analysis. Each curator was then separated and a similar analysis was done on an individual basis.

The curators were then sorted into groups according to their field of research or employment. A comparison was done between fields to determine:

-          Which field was more active on the account

-          Which field tweeted more

-          What types of links were tweeted for which field of research

-          Who had conversations versus who tweeted directly

As the Twitter archive includes a breakdown of links sent by an account the research looked at the following:

-          How many links were sent

-          How many of the links were photographs (TwitPic, Twitter, Instagram)

-          How many of the links were videos (YouTube, Vimeo, TED)

-          In the links tweeted, was there a dominant source

3.5 Qualitative analysis

In order to get a richer understanding of the @RealScientists account a qualitative analysis was conducted on twenty curators selected from within the dataset. These were:

-          Dr Rachel Dunlop                             (@DrRachie)

-          Dr Cameron Webb                           (@Mozziebites)

-          Dr Paul Willis                                    (@FossilCrox)

-          Dr Helen Maynard-Casely                 (@Dr_HelenMC)

-          Dr Kristin Alford                                (@Kristinalford)

-          Phil Torres                                          (@phil_torres)

-          Mia Cobb & Julie Hecht                     (@DoUBelieveInDog)

-          Eva Amsen                                         (@easternblot)

-          Marisa Wikramanayake                     (@mwikramanayake)

-          Dr David Hawkes                               (@mrhawkes)

-          James Hutson                                    (@jameshutson)

-          Dr James Smith                                 (@theotherdrsmith)

-          Ethan Perlstein                                   (@eperlste)

-          Luis Quevedo                                      (@Luis_quevedo)

-          Dr Katherine Mack                              (@Astrokatie)

-          Dr Helena Ledmyr                             (@Helena_LB)

-          Dr Darren Saunders                          (@whereisdaz)

-          David Winter                                     (@TheAtavism)

-          Dr Will Grant                                     (@willozap)

-          Michelle Bannister                             (@astrokiwi)


The archive for each curator was separated out and initially analysed for content, style, pictures, links, and discussion topics. The researcher allowed themes to emerge organically as the analysis progressed. Additional categories were added to the as they occurred in the text.

3.6 Interviews

The twenty curators selected were approached for interviews. Four responded positively, one of whom was the account administrator. Due to time zones and locations, these interviews were conducted by Skype and email. The Skype interviews lasted for approximately 20 minutes each. These were recorded and then transcribed. While a number of the questions remained the same for each interview, several were based off the interviewee’s week in control of the Twitter account. The week of tweets was assessed and questions tailored to the individual interviewee were added to the general questions. The interviews were semi-open. There was room for the interviewees to develop on their answers and to offer insights on their time in charge of the account. 

The data from the interviews was used to allow for a more in depth understanding of how these curators approached the task of managing the account for a week, their expectations in advance of hosting and the effects or lack thereof following their week curating.


While the focus of this thesis is on the researchers and their reasons to communicate on twitter, it was considered important to assess the possible motives to follow a curated science account. To investigate this aspect, the researcher developed a survey on Google docs. The link to the survey was tweeted by the administrators of the @Realscientists account. As of 30th June 2014 date 60 followers had responded. The researcher asked the following questions:

-          Age

-          Gender

-          Location

-          How long have they been on Twitter

-          Are they a scientist or involved with research

-          How did they find out about the account

-          Have they interacted with the curators

-          Have they considered applying to be a curator

-          Have they learned anything from the curators

-          Do they follow any other science based twitter accounts

The results from this were analysed quantitatively.

Microblogging Science: Reviewing the Literature

2.1 Scientists and Communication

As stated in the previous chapter, the prevailing theory in the mid-twentieth century was that the public’s fear and distrust of science was largely caused by a lack of knowledge. By providing the relevant information to the public, or decreasing their “knowledge-deficit” then this fear would disappear. This view is largely focused on the shortcomings of the non-scientific public, while putting the onus on scientists to fix it. In Davies’ (2008) paper Constructing Communication: Talking to Scientists about talking to the public she looks at how scientists view communication with the public. Using purely qualitative research involving group discussions and interviews with scientists about the topic, she concludes that science communication and outreach are done on an ad hoc basis by individuals, with a focus being in big science ideas rather than intricate data. Many of the scientists interviewed had a goal of inspiring others to join the field, rather than purely to communicate the science they were involved with. It appears that there is little interest in dialogue and mutual learning.

It seems important to note an overarching framework that encompasses all the ideas I have discussed. This is that in all the talk I have described – whether it is the need for relevance or recruitment as a desired effect – communication is constructed as a one-way transfer of information. (Davies 2008, p. 420)

This is not necessarily indicative of science as a whole - she used a small pool of researchers (no more than 70) and many worked within the same lab. In addition Davies noted that the group with a closer connection to patients or charities had a more positive view towards communication. This is a useful piece of research as it looks at how and why scientists interact with the public in the first place.

Besley and Nisbet (2011) looked at the same subject from a slightly different angle in their 2011 paper How Scientists view the public, the media and the political process.  This was a meta-analysis of prior studies and surveys pertaining to the views of scientists regarding the public and the media.  In it they conclude that scientists view the public as generally scientifically uninformed and to a large extent, blame the media for stoking this ignorance.  

Several studies find that scientists view the public as non-rational an unsystematic in their thinking such that they rely on anecdotes and then overreact to minor risks. Others have found that scientists see the public as emotional, fear prone, overly focused on the sensational, self-interested and stubborn in the face of new evidence. (Besley and Nisbet 2011, p. 647)               

This supports Davies’ (2008) paper, in part, as it serves as an analysis on understanding how scientists see the public. They acknowledge that scientists understand the role they play in engaging in public debate, but it is more with an emphasis on ensuring policy makers make decisions in line with the scientists’ own preference.

Besley and Nisbet’s (2011) analysis of past studies was extensive and covered a number of important issues related to science communication. Data from two studies, “People, Science & Policy 2005” and “Pew Research Centre for People and the Press, in collaboration with AAAS 2009”, were used.  The authors proposed further study involving more qualitative research as they believe that the quantitative data is not picking up nuances in the opinions of scientists (Besley and Nisbet 2011).

Returning to the publics’ understanding of science, Martin Bauer (2009) looks at its evolution in his paper, The Evolution of Public Understanding of Science – Discourse and comparative evidence (Bauer 2009).  He concludes that the public may not necessarily understand science any more now than they did 30 years ago.  He argues that the methodology of evaluating the public’s understanding may have obscured the reality. Using data collected from multiple barometer studies he found that as societies increase in scientific knowledge there is a corresponding rise in scepticism about the field.

The survey evidence shows that the public understanding of science might be significantly different in an industrial-developing context and a knowledge-intensive developed context. In the latter, more knowledge does not bring more support for science. Rather, it brings in utilitarian scrutiny, and an end to widespread beliefs in ideology and myths of what science might be. (Bauer 2009, p. 236)

It should be noted that barometer studies can be inexact with methodologies varying from country to country. Even so, this paper poses two interesting questions: Do they want it and do they need it?  In an increasingly technological world, the argument is made, that regardless of whether they want to engage, the public needs to understand science in order to fully participate in society. However, this is not necessarily what is happening. The following paragraphs will address the issues surrounding the public’s apparent disinterest in science.

2.2 Science Communication and the Public

Quaranta (2007) notes, in Knowledge, responsibility and culture: food for thought on science communication that “…the most paradoxical feature of this process [of rapid scientific and technological development] is the growing divide between the increased importance science has acquired in economic and social life and a society persistently showing spreading signs of contempt, mistrust, and most of all, disinterest in research.”(Quaranta 2007, p. 1)

This disconnect, between the lay-public and scientists, has been of growing concern for many years. The House of Lords published a report in 2000 on the relationship between science and society. In it they note that “Public Confidence in scientific advice to government has been rocked by BSE; and many people are uneasy about the rapid advance of areas such as biotechnology and information technology.”(House of Lords: Science and Society Committee 2000)

In his comment piece, Quaranta (2007) argues that this disconnect comes from the prevailing view that there are experts and non-experts, rather than acknowledging that there are stakeholders, with different needs and ideas about science and technology. He proposes the idea that science communication should not be seen as the act of dispensing knowledge to a supine audience, but more that it should be an “…Inter-subjectification of science as a human enterprise in general, of which knowledge is only a facet”. (Quaranta 2007, p. 3) He states that the point of science communication is not necessarily to ensure people know who Galileo was, but that they know how research works here and now, in their own lives.

Dickson (2000), in his piece, Science and its Public: The need for a “Third Way” points out that the public’s issues with science are not necessarily unreasonable or unfounded. He argues that the public is not so much anti-science, but wary of the ways science and technology is applied outside the lab. He proposes that rather than engaging in one-way communication, there should be a genuine dialogue.

All this points to the need for a new type of dialogue, one that acknowledges the true nature of such disputes, and allows space for creative criticism and politically-based challenges, rather than dismissing all such criticism and challenges as a manifestation of a lack of public ‘awareness’ – or even a malaise (Dickson 2000, p920).

According to Maeseele (2007), in his paper Science and technology in a mediatized and democratized society, with the traditional method of science communication “…the public and the media are problematized, and not science: the public for being ignorant, and the sensationalist media for distorting a clear picture of science.”(Maeseele 2007, p. 3) This finding agrees with a number of the papers previously discussed. Maeseele notes that with an increasingly democratised society, official science communication has to compete with “rival framings, rival PR efforts and rival issues”. The scientific community is, according to Maeseele, struggling to deal with loss of control.

This competition of ideas is only going to increase as social media platforms become more dominant in public life and public communications.

2.3 Science and Web 2.0

With a focus on Public Engagement with Science and the rise of a user-generated, community based, social web there is an opportunity to reframe science communication. In her paper, Social Media and the production of knowledge: A return to little science? Lievrouw (2010) discusses the impact of Web 2.0 on science:

Wikis, blogs, social network sites and computer-linked research collaboratories, tagging and bookmarking, forums, gateways, and real-time conferencing and chat are being employed in ways that may have important consequences for scientific and scholarly communication, transforming it from a relatively straightforward process of gatekeeping, publishing, and targeted search and retrieval, in to a multi-layered, thoroughly socialised arena of commentary amendment, collaboration, critique, argumentation, recombination, and recommendation. In a very real sense, social media are helping to change people’s expectations about the sources, availability and uses of information in all its forms, both in society at large and in the practice of science (Lievrow 2010, pp. 220-221).     

Lievrow (2010) notes that with this relaxation of boundaries, there are opportunities to create spaces for science communication to “combine relational qualities of immediacy, trust and creditability, argumentation and debate” (Lievrow 2010, p. 221). However she raises the point that the science community has to first acknowledge what they mean by science communication: Is it with the public, or with fellow researchers.

Puschmann (2014), in his article (Micro)blogging Science? Notes on the potentials and constraints of new forms of scholarly communication, found that while “…technologies make it easier, cheaper, and quicker for scientists to exchange information with peers around the globe; they also have the potential to blur the line between internal communication among researchers and communication with the wider public.”(Puschmann 2014, p. 91) This can have wider implications as with the increasing use of social media the scientists private life will become more publicly intertwined with their science. This potential side effect of the social web was of concern to Besley and Nesbit (2011) as they felt it may lead to scientists censoring themselves, particularly if they held political, policy or public engagement views that were contrary to the norm.

In addition to the above, Puschmann (2014) also discusses the reality that researchers are often not that concerned with getting their own research to the widest possible audience, instead focusing on others in their field. High impact journals still have a significant influence on those who work within the scientific community. Peer review is the dominant way of proving one’s work to the community and this governs the perception of social media – both advantages and disadvantages – for many scientists (Puschmann 2014). If the institution or company that a researcher or scientist works for, or aspires to, frowns upon social media, then the researcher is unlikely to use it. However, the ability to network via social media can positively affect the career of a scientist.

Micro-Blogging, as mentioned above by Puschmann (2014), is blogging in short form. According to Kaplan and Haenlein (2011) micro-blogs are “halfway between traditional blogs and social networking sites. They are characterised by a high degree of self-presentation/self-disclosure.” (Kaplan and Haenlein 2011) One of the main differences between micro-blogging and long-form blogging is the social space they inhabit. A micro-blog usually (with some exceptions[1]) exists in a more public, networked environment (Ji et al. 2013).

Micro-blogging sites are rapidly increasing, but only a few dominate the market: Twitter is the best known platform outside of China. As it is banned in China, the Chinese platform Wiebo has market control. According to Twitter’s own about page, its aim is to “help you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers” (Twitter 2014).

This ability to share ideas rapidly across multiple contents creates an opportunity to communicate science that is at once intimate, one-to-one, and at the same time, public and open for all to see. According to Honeycutt and Herring in their paper Beyond Microblogging: Conversation and Collaboration via Twitter, it has the “potential to be used for sharing ideas and co-ordinating activities, similar to instant messaging, yet more dynamic.” (Honeycutt and Herring 2009, p. 1)

2.4 Science, Communication, and the Online Community

In 2009, researchers at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI)[2] undertook a study of how Twitter was used to spread scientific messages at three separate conferences. In addition to the study, they used a comprehensive survey to gather information from scientists on how they use the web to interact with others. (Letierce et al. 2010)

This study shares the same limitations as the research conducted by Davies (2008). The sample size for the survey was small, with only 61 completed answers. The respondents were drawn from a limited group: Researchers active on five mailing lists or interacting with the institute’s blog, Facebook or Twitter account. In addition, the data captured at the three conferences related only to the official conference hashtags[3]. Conversations without the official hashtag were not captured. The study also focused on Twitter, rather than other social networking sites, such as Facebook.

The authors concluded that scientists with authority at an event have the greatest impact online. They acknowledge this representation is restricted as there may have been speakers at the events who were not active on Twitter. They also found that most scientists considered only their own personal circle when communicating online. The possibility of other people seeing the interactions were not considered. This is an interesting conclusion as it implies that scientists do not see the social web as a means of communicating with publics, but rather as a way of talking within their own community. (Letierce et al. 2010)

In addition to the above, they found that while researchers active on micro-blogging sites tended to share more information than before, they updated their personal blog less. They raised the possibility of further research in this area: Has Web 2.0 changed the way scientific information is transmitted and consumed?

In their paper I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience Marwick and boyd[4] (2011) study how content producers deal with the intersection between imagined and real audiences.

We present ourselves differently based on who we are talking to and where the conversation takes place – social contexts like a job interview, trivia night at a bar, or a dinner with a partner differ in their norms and expectations. The same goes for socialising online. (Marwick and boyd 2011, p. 1)

Using both interviews and open-ended surveys, Marwick and boyd investigated how twitterers[5] assess their impact and audience. They note “as with blogs, nearly all tweets are read by relatively few people – but most Twitterers don’t know which few people. Without knowing the audience, participants imagine it.” (Marwick and boyd 2011, p. 4)

Their research showed that people assumed their audiences were by turn themselves, their IRL[6] friends, or situational – depending on the topic being covered. People were uncomfortable labelling followers as an audience, or as the authors put it, “consciously speaking to an audience is perceived as inauthentic.” (Marwick and boyd 2011, p. 6)

Marwick and boyd (2011) conclude that while users may not name them, they are aware of audiences, and that the way they present themselves depends on the size of the audience. The larger the number of followers, the more conservatively they tweeted. Users invoked elements of self-censorship, particularly if their brand was considered important enough not to risk.

This conclusion is vital in understanding how scientists might communicate across the social web. If there is fear of loss-of-face or of potentially losing out on work, scientists may be reluctant to share.

Stafford (2010), in his Science Masterclass for Nature Science in the Digital Age, traces the history of science from handwriting to Twitter. This development in communication technology has simultaneously allowed for science to progress at a faster pace. Researchers no longer need to wait for a letter to be delivered or to attend a conference in order to collaborate with colleagues at other institutions. Stafford states that this new immediacy may lead to an element of ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ within science, increasing the pressure to be seen to be doing well (Stafford 2010). He does point out that, even though the ways of communicating within science are multiplying exponentially, there is still a need for in-person contact. Quoting Jane Maienschien, “People are connected through quick-fix email. But this does not lend itself to thoughtful or deeply reflective exchanges.”(Stafford 2010, p. 20)

This is somewhat supported by André, Bernstein and Luther (2012) in their evaluation of microblog content: Who gives a tweet? They created a site that allowed users to gain anonymous feedback from both strangers and their own followers on the content of their tweets. The sample pool was limited to whoever discovered the site (via push traffic from other sources). From the data collected, the authors confirmed that tweets that were boring or repeating old news were the least valued.

Because Twitter emphasizes real-time information, tweeting old information lead to Boring responses like ‘Yes I saw that first thing this morning’ or ‘I’ve read this same tweet so many times’. (André, Bernstein and Luther 2012, p. 3)

In addition, they noted that users found tweets with little context, such as links with no explanation, to be irritating. However, contrasting with Maienschein’s quote above, André, Bernstein and Luther (2012) discovered that the most liked category of tweets were Questions to Followers, Information Sharing and Self-Promotion, suggesting that the “…Twitter ecosystem values learning about new content.” (André, Bernstein and Luther 2012, p. 3) 

It’s clear from the research that there are conflicting opinions on communicating science via the social web. This thesis attempts to engage with the various opinions and through looking at how scientists are using the curated Twitter account, address how they communicate with the public. The research also looks at what the primary public is for these curators and whether their time in control of the account had any effects, positive or negative.

[1] Exceptions are generally user selected within a platform’s privacy setting.

[2] A web science research institute which looks to interlink technologies, information and people. http://www.deri.ie/

[3] Hashtag: a way of indexing tweets with a common theme.

[4] danah boyd is always referenced in lower case.

[5] Twitterer:  A user of the microblogging site Twitter.

[6] IRL: In Real Life.

Microblogging Science: Introduction

This thesis wouldn't have been possibly without Upulie and all the folks involved with @Realscientists. The research itself is based on the first year of the @realscientists twitter account. If you are involved in science in anyway, whether through work or love, you should follow the account. 

I'm breaking the thesis up into sections, and hopefully it's interesting to some people. It was to me :)


1.1 Background

While the social/semantic web is a relatively new area of study, the field of science communication has been under review for many decades. It is important that the evolution of science communication is considered when discussing and analysing its current and future state.  The argument is not focused solely on whether or not science should be communicated, but rather, how best to do so.

Towards the end of the last century there was a movement away from the prevailing scientific discovery paradigm to a more inclusive one of knowledge production. The old paradigm, referred to as Mode-1 science, consisted largely of autonomous scientists, their institutions and universities, all set at a distance from the wider community. Scientists and researchers were seen as existing in Ivory Towers, with their work unavailable for public consumption.  The new paradigm, or Mode-2 science, was considered to be inter-disciplinary, socially distributed and accountable to actors outside the field (Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons 2003).

With this paradigm shift in how science was conducted, came a similar shift in how science was communicated.  Bauer (2009) noted that there were three distinct stages of science communication: Science literacy, public understanding and science-in-society.  From the 1960’s to the early 1980’s the non-science public were deemed to have insufficient knowledge to engage with discussions around scientific policy. To counter this ‘knowledge deficit’ in the public, programmes were designed to encourage scientific literacy, focusing on factual knowledge, rather than the scientific method. Information was delivered from the expert to the public, as a one-way system (Bauer 2009)

Bauer (2009) states that in the 1980s there was a realisation that knowledge alone would not lead to rise in public appreciation for science. It was believed that trust could be gained by increasing the public understanding of science in tandem with increasing scientific literacy. This change was largely influenced by the 1985 Royal Society of London report which stated that as science and technology play a significant role in most aspects of day to day life, from vaccines to work safety, it was imperative that everyone should have some understanding of science, and of its limitations (Royal Society of London 1985, p6). Following this report, researchers began to look at attitudes towards science, rather than knowledge of science. This new approach began to be referred to as Public Understanding of Science (PUS). Similarly to the earlier scientific literacy period, PUS determined that the public was not sufficiently educated in matters of science and technology and maintained the traditional deficit model approach to communicating science. That of an expert translating science to a lay audience in order to increase acceptance of that science in society (Schafer 2009).

The emphasis on the expert and the dismissal of the public’s fears and distrust of science led to a breakdown of trust, aggravated by a series of scandals from the BSE crisis in the 1990s to the MMR controversy of the early 2000s. Policy makers and science communicators began looking at the deficit model differently. As Bauer (2009) notes, rather than the public’s lack of knowledge, policy makers began to focus on scientific institutions that had lost the public’s trust. This new approach, known as Science-in-Society or Public Engagement with Science, also acknowledged that there were many publics and that the role of expert or lay-person would change depending on the dialogue taking place (Ziman 1991).

1.2 The Internet, communication and communicators

The internet allows for a greater engagement with both experts and non-experts. At its inception the internet was used by scientists to communicate with each other. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, created the web as a method of indexing and sharing data on experiments at CERN (CERN 2014). Researchers have used the internet ever since as a way of communicating with colleagues in other institutions and countries. Journals – both the traditional subscription ones and the newer open access ones – have a presence online, with peer reviews and editing happening via email (Trench 2008). However, while initially conceived as a tool for research, the web has since been integrated with society as a whole. From banking to phone-calls, the offline and online worlds have never been more united. This integration has implications for the communication of science – With the rise of the internet there has been a similar rise of the ‘New Expert’.

As stated above, traditionally experts were seen as somewhat separate from society. Those employed to communicate science to the wider public often had social capital, not just in their field of expertise, but also in other areas. In the offline world science is communicated to the general public via the medium of TV, radio, newspapers and books. Access to these platforms of communication is restricted to those with certain privileges. There are many physicists, for example, but not all of them are telegenic, and very few have been members of a chart topping pop band. This is not to say that Brian Cox should not be involved with communicating science, but more that, the internet, and social media in particular, has the potential to level the playing field and allow for experts to arise from areas outside the traditional collegiate or media landscape.

Bourdieu & Wacquant (1992) discuss how social structures are set up in ‘fields’ that are “…a network, or configuration, of objective relations between positions.” Positions are “objectively defined in their existence and in the determinations they impose upon their occupants.”(Bourdieu and Waquant 1992, p97) Bourdieu contends that intellectuals are defined by the positions they hold within their chosen field. His argument is that there is an ongoing struggle between the establishment and the challengers (Swartz 1997, p225).  Communicating outside of the approved channels has not been encouraged or supported in the past. Poliakoff & Webb (2007) found that a significant proportion of the scientists in their study saw no career benefit to participating in public engagement (Poliakoff and Webb 2007). Researchers are supposed to research. Time spent engaging with the public is time spent away from the lab.

1.3 Research Aims

Instead of seeing these networks as socially isolating, many argued that the internet created a new space for social interaction and democratic participation, establishing some of the basis for claims about the internet as an empowering medium. For others, this online or virtual construction of social spaces was reminiscent of what Ray Oldenburg had described as ‘great good places’ or ‘third places’. Such places that exist outside the home and work and are places where conversation is the main activity, positions are levelled and the mood is generally playful. (Hinton and Hjorth 2013, p37)

As social media become more integrated with the daily lives of researchers and scientists, the traditional lines of communication are blurring. There is a softening of the edges between work and home life. People frequently update Facebook or Twitter while at work. Indeed, these social networks are becoming more prominent in traditionally offline environments such as conferences, with people arranging meet-ups in advance and engaging in dialogue on the social web while at the physical event. Indeed, those who are unable to attend such events are frequently able to keep up with them via the social web.


With this in mind, this research looks at a curated Twitter account whose primary purpose is to communicate science. In looking at this account the research asks:

1.       Why these scientists choose Twitter to communicate their work?

2.       How do they use it?

3.       Who are they communicating with?

4.       Is there any benefit to using Twitter as a scientists or researcher?



Increasing Public Engagement with Science

“We in Ireland we are proud of our reputation for creativity, for originality and for our unique and imaginative view of the world.”(Higgins, 2012)

This summer Ireland hosted the Euroscience Open Forum. This science conference had speakers from all aspects of the scientific community. From those who study the basic structure of the Universe, like Rolf-Dieter Heuer, to food specialists such as Hervé This. It is this diverse nature of science we need to communicate to the public. 

Ireland has a strong tradition in art and literature, which is championed both by citizens living at home and the diaspora living in many countries around the world. We have a number of theatres in Dublin dedicated to showing the works of Irish playwrights. The work of W.B. Yeats is taught to everyone from the age of twelve upwards, but, as President Michael D. Higgins said in the opening ceremony of ESOF 2012, not many people “would mention prominent parts of the Irish intellectual achievement such as Bell’s Theorem, or the development of fibre optics in communication, or the splitting of the atom, or the Beaufort Scale, or the effectiveness of the mariner’s compass or the many other inventive and forward thinking achievements which owe their success to the innovation, creativity and original thinking of talented Irish scientists”. (Higgins, 2012)   


It is vitally important, to the future of Ireland, that our citizens equally understand the role and position of science within our society as they do the role of the arts.

Firstly, we should understand our place in the history of Science and its development. To this end I would put forward the following proposals:

-          Set up a Science Museum to showcase the inventions and discoveries of the Irish science communities: This may be initially set up within the environment of the National Museum and, if successful, spun out into its own location.

-          Commission radio, television and web series that detail the history of Irish science: RTE have stated in their latest Public Service Statement that it ”will reflect and nurture traditional and contemporary Irish cultural expression and seek to inform a greater understanding of the wider world.” (RTE, 2010). A series showing the history of Irish science would fall under this policy. 

-          Create local points of historical scientific interest in each county: Recruit people to fully research and explain the history, geology and science of the county. This can be done by working in conjunction with companies already in operation, like Ingenious Ireland. 

Following on from this, we should encourage the public to engage with science. I would propose the following:

-          Family-friendly astronomy nights:  Organize astronomy sessions around events like the Perseid meteor showers. Have science communicators available to explain the stars/meteors and planets that are visible in the sky. In order to appeal to families have the area well staked out, have hot drinks available and communicators that specialize in teaching children. 

-          Expand the Science Gallery: I would propose that the gallery exhibitions tour the major cities. Gallery spaces can be located in each city and procured for a short time to showcase the exhibits. This would allow more people to see a more immediate, practical science. 

-          Expand Science & Math week: I propose having two weeks a year dedicated to Science & Math. One in the spring and one in the autumn. In addition to the activities aimed at children, there should be adult science-based events, perhaps commissioning science-literate comedians/playwrights etc. to produce programming.  

-          Lectures: A series of public lectures should be organized with the current top Irish scientists and held at each university. If possible, these should be recorded and made available as a web series.


This country contributed greatly to the progression of science, with many of the set theories coming from Irish people.  Our future lies in the technology and scientific field.    

It is important that we engage with all elements of the public, from the very young to the very old, in order to progress the understanding of science, and its place, in this country.

I believe the best way to do this is through the above policy of education and active engagement. 

Works Cited:
Higgins, M. D. (2012, July 11). Opening Ceremony of the Euroscience Open Forum Conference. Euroscience Open Forum, 1. Dublin, Ireland.

RTE. (2010). Public Service Statement. Dublin: RTE.

PR in science.. Essay on @MarsCuriosity #scicomm

Without doubt the best known science-related public relations initiative of the last few years was NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars. 

In recent years NASA has faced shrinking budgets, which in turn has led to a cessation of manned spaceflight within the US. Their focus has been on robotic missions to nearby planets, Messenger to Mercury, Juno to Jupiter and of course the three main Martian rover missions, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. 

Curiosity had an initial launch-date of September 2009 however, due to the late delivery of components, NASA delayed the launch (NASA 2011). This may have proved to be a boon in PR terms, as Curiosity was able to ride a zeitgeist of social media when it eventually landed in 2012.

The publicity campaign began properly in 2009 when NASA gave the public the opportunity to have their names etched into a silicon chip that would be sent to Mars (NASA n.d.). They also launched a competition inviting young people from across America to come up with a name for the Rover. This competition was conducted in partnership with Pixar, who provided WALL-e related prizes for the finalists (NASA 2009). 

People have a tendency to connect with objects that have been humanised (or anthropomorphised). In linking it to WALL-e, NASA made Curiosity more than just a mechanical exploration device, and helped to capture the imagination of the public.  

Image ©NASA

Image ©NASA

Image ©Disney/Pixar

Image ©Disney/Pixar

NASA allowed people follow the progress of curiosity. In 2008 they had set up a twitter account for the rover (@MarsCuriosity). While tweets from the account are written by people working on the MSL (Mars Science Lab) team, the point of view is from the rover. Followers have been able to connect with the robot and as a result feel more attached to the project. The NASA team let ordinary people into their world. Curiosity frequently answers questions from the public via the account.  

This was essential in bridging the gap between regular space enthusiasts and the general public. By opening up avenues of communication directly with the team the public, and in turn the news agencies, got more interested.  

In the run-up to launch-date NASA ramped up the access with live-broadcast briefings and Q&A sessions. Videos of Curiosity, its flight plan and landing mechanism were issued to news shows and web-based newspapers like the Huffington post (Stenovec 2011).   

The next stage of Curiosity’s life would be spent hurtling through space. The only major news during this stage was the course correction needed in early January. Once again @MarsCuriosity led the way in informing people about how this would be done and why it was needed. In fact, throughout the 9 month trip, the twitter account kept a running commentary of everything it was doing or seeing, from monitoring solar flares to being nominated for shorty awards (Shorty Awards 2013).

This constant stream of information meant that Curiosity never quite fully left the public’s consciousness. There are now over 1.3 million people following @MarsCuriosity (to compare,the other NASA account for Spirit and Opportunity, @MarsRovers, has 192k followers). 

In June 2012, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (the unit behind the rovers) released a YouTube video entitled:Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror (NASA JPL 2012). In it the engineers involved with the project detailed the difficulties with a Mars landing and the very precise nature of getting Curiosity to the ground. Within a fortnight the YouTube video had racked up over half a million views and was cited in the New York Times (Chang 2012). 

It was, in some ways, a work of genius. First NASA encouraged us to care about this machine; the voice of the twitter account is genuine and funny. The public were able to watch the launch and follow its journey through space. And now, in the final stages, NASA introduces danger into the mix. This little robot may burn up on entry.

To add to the anticipation of the entry sequence, mid-July, NASA released a game for the XBOX Kinect called ‘Mars Rover Landing’ allowing people to attempt their own landing (McGlaun 2012). The game was outside the comfort zone of NASA, as it was the first time they released anything for the console market.

The stage and mood were set. The rover was nearing Mars. And on the 6th of August at 6.25am, Curiosity entered the Martian atmosphere and the seven minutes of terror started. Over a thousand people watched the descent in New York’s Times Square (Space.com 2012). Thousands watched the NASA feed from different countries around the world. More followed Curiosity’s dive on twitter. 

The tweet that announced a safe landing “I’m safely on the surface of Mars. GALE CRATER I AM IN YOU!!! #MSL” was retweeted 70,635 times. 14,641 people favourited it.

Image ©twitter

Image ©twitter

NASA’S aim with Curiosity’s PR was to increase knowledge of the rover, the work that NASA do outside of manned space flight and to show the people responsible for their budget that there was still an appetite for endeavours in space. While we cannot yet know if there will be an increase in money made available for NASA, we can say with some certainty that the public’s imagination is still captured by space, and by the possibilities of travel to another planet. 

MSC Science Communication - Essay

The below essay is in response to the following question:

(Fair warning: this is a long post)

It has been argued that contemporary science is socially (re)contextualised, with porous boundaries between institutions of science and those of wider society, and open to public dialogue. Describe how these claims apply to two of the five issues below and assess how the prevailing social conditions of science affect scientists' performance on those selected issues:

  • call for improved integrity and accountability systems to reduce scientific misconduct 
  • claims that science is losing public trust and needs to work harder to regain and maintain i


Within the last century science has moved from the world of elite institutions and into everyday life. This is largely due to the success of scientific endeavor  We regularly use items that, as Brian Cox has said, in 1912 would have been considered the cusp of magic. (Cox & Ince, 2012) 

While it may be said that science has been re-contextualised to reflect our contemporary society, it is unclear if the scientific community has followed. In this essay I will argue that in order for science, and the communication of it, to evolve it must embrace the technology it invented. 

I will look at the issues surrounding peer review, scientific misconduct and the current systems for accountability. I will look at the pressure on scientists to publish and how this is being challenged from within the scientific community. I will also look into the falling trust in scientific institutions, how science communication affects this, and what measures are being taken to counter it. 

Improved integrity and accountability systems to reduce scientific misconduct:

It can be argued that with the formation of the Royal Society in the 1600’s, modern “peer” review began. Robert Boyle’s insistence on repeat experimentation and the recording of all results, both successful and unsuccessful, created the blueprint for scientific research used to this day. 

Indeed, Science continues to rely upon peer review to bestow legitimacy. When Emmanuel Priori and Robert Conrad were asked, in 1946, to decide how the federal (US) government could best support university research without impacting academic freedom they advocated peer review. According to D. Allan Bromley, President Truman found this difficult to accept. He believed this could create a situation “where the pigs decided who gets into the trough”. (Bromley, 2002)

While peer review is the current best system for evaluating science, Truman had a point. Not all peers are equal.

For example, in a recent study on the effect of GM corn on rats published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that female mortality was 2–3 times increased, mostly due to large mammary tumours and disabled pituitary. It also found that males had liver congestions, necrosis, severe kidney nephropathies and large palpable tumours. (Séralinia, 2012). 

As the results were released to the press under embargo, journalists were unable to verify the data with other scientists before the news conference. However, within hours of the study being published, scientists and science enthusiasts from around the world had dissected the paper and discovered many troubling problems with it: Most notably that some of the GM test groups were healthier than the controls. 

The Séralinia study passed peer review and remains un-retracted at Food and Chemical Toxicity, despite journals such as New Scientist detailing the problems with the paper and linking to other more comprehensive studies (MacKenzie, 2012). It has been referenced by numerous newspapers and anti-GM groups to back up their assertions that GM causes cancer. 

This is not the first time that those outside the traditional system have found problems with peer-reviewed papers. In December 2010 The journal Science published a NASA research article online: “A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus“. (Wolfe-Simon, 2011) 

Within days the study had been ripped apart. Rosie Redfield, in her analysis of the paper on her website RRReasearch, concluded, “I don't know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they're unscrupulously pushing NASA's 'There's life in outer space!' agenda.  I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science's editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.” (Redfield, 2010) 

Redfield highlights one of the main issues with peer review. In the rush to publish a headline-grabbing paper, scientific accuracy was sacrificed.

In both of the cited cases, science bloggers analysed the journal reviewed papers and detailed the problems with them. However, in the case of Wolfe-Simon et al’s paper, Wolfe-Simon refused to engage in dialogue outside peer-reviewed system. She has been quoted on the topic as saying, "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner." (Zimmer, 2010). 

This insistence that journal peer-review is superior to all other forms of review is under pressure. Websites, such as Retraction Watch, now monitor papers post-publication for retractions. Ivan Oransky strongly believes that with technology today, any time you find the original piece of content, you should be able to find the correction or the retraction. (Hoppenhaus, 2012)

Currently, if a paper is retracted, there is negligible impact. In a preliminary analysis of 1,112 retracted papers from 1997-2009, John Budd (School of Education, University of Missouri) found that the papers were still cited, with only 4% of the citations mentioning the retractions (Noorden, 2011) . 

Retractions and corrections lie at the heart of science. Scientists are human and, consequently, make mistakes. There should be no stigma attached to notifying journals that further investigation has yielded different results and the original paper should be amended to reflect this new information. 

However, there is heavy competition between academics to secure tenure and funding, with the battle being fought on the field of publish or perish. The pressure can lead to secrecy and misconduct within the scientific profession. Daniele Fanelli (Universtiy of Edinburgh) studies research misconduct and believes forms of indecency and sabotage are likely to be common, from vindictive peer review and dishonest reference letters to withholding key aspects of protocols from colleagues or competitors (Maher, 2010).

If Fanelli is correct and these forms of misconduct are common, then science ultimately suffers as a result. An atmosphere where you cannot trust your peers to assist or support you is not conducive to acknowledging when mistakes have been made.

Academic success relies on high-impact publications, rather than on a continuous stream of high quality research (Harley & Acord, 2011). This may change with the increasing influence of the internet. If journals lose their grip on disseminating data, the need to secure high-profile publications may diminish. 

There is a growing movement calling for open-access to data. There have been incidents of academic piracy already. The late Aaron Swartz was arrested in July 2011 for downloading over 4 million articles from JSTOR. While he denied any involvement, it precipitated the release in September 2011 of JSTOR’s public-domain content. 

Dr Ben Goldacre, a proponent of open access, launched a blistering critique of the issues in medical science in his recent book Bad Pharma. He argues in the book, that publication bias is endemic and dangerous. The main problem according to Goldacre is that negative results are rarely published, so as a result, “the entire medical and academic community, around the world, when we pool the evidence to get the best possible view of what works, we are completely mislead.” (Goldacre D. B., 2012) He is currently campaigning for pharmaceutical trials to be registered, so that negative data can be captured a long with positive results. 

There are some significant issues with open access. Goldacre himself, noted in a 2011 blog post on the JSTOR theft, “One major problem with the current publishing model is that it’s hard to give access for free to the motivated public, while still gathering income from institutions.” (Goldacre, 2011). 

While there are problems in the implementation of open access to data, leaving scientific knowledge hidden behind pay-walls is no longer acceptable to many in the industry. The Wellcome Trust, for example, will no longer give grants to researchers who fail to make their results freely available to the public. In addition to that it will discount non-open access publications when assessing potential grant awards. (Wellcome Trust, 2012)

As more scientific research moves into the public domain, and out from the need to be in designated “high-impact” journals, the pressure to massage data or falsify findings should decrease. 

Ivan Oransky believes that this move towards openness will also help raise the public’s trust in science. He is quoted in Nature as saying “What scientists should be doing is saying ‘In the course of what we do are errors, and among us are also people that commit misconduct or fraud. Look at how small that number is! And here is what we are doing to root it out’.” (Noorden, 2011)

Science is losing public trust and needs to work harder to regain and maintain it:

Science is a continuously evolving discipline. Each breakthrough builds upon the work of previous generations. Occasionally new knowledge will cause existing theories to be reassessed. When Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity it shifted the prevailing view of Newton’s theory of gravitation, not quite supplanting it but it allowed scientists to view the universe in a new way. 

While this may be common knowledge within the fields of science, the public often are unaware of it. Jane Maienshcein, in her paper Innocent Reflections on Science and Technology Policy, considered the plight of politicians, “They are neither stupid nor ignorant, but they do not understand the statistical, evolutionary, or community nature of much of the scientific process. They typically believe that when we know something, it should stay known and not give way to apparently contradictory results.” (Maienschein, 2002)

The public trusts science. It is scientists they are unsure about. In a Eurobarometer report on Science and Technology, 58% of respondents felt that “scientists cannot be trusted to tell the truth about controversial scientific and technological issues because they depend more and more on money from industry.” (Directorate-General, 2010)

This mistrust has its roots in the fallout of scientific or medical scandals. Over the last century, with each scientific breakthrough, there have been less savoury side effects. From nuclear energy to GM foods, the shadow of Frankenstein’s monster looms large in the public’s imagination. 

It is the responsibility of people working in science to communicate the risks and rewards of new scientific knowledge the public. Unfortunately in the same Eurobarometer report, a majority of European citizens felt that scientists did not put enough effort into informing the public about new developments in Science and technology. (Directorate-General, 2010)

This lack of ongoing and open communication is systemic. As Roland Jackson noted, in his rebuttal to Durodié’s paper on the Limitations of Public Dialogue in Science and the Rise of the New ‘Experts’, while there is increasing acknowledgement that two way communication is needed, there is little endorsement of it in reality. (JACKSON, et al., 2005)

Without dialogue fear of change, or the unknown, flourishes. Mark Lynas, a well-known environmental activist, spoke of his own early fears regarding GM in a recent lecture to the Oxford Farming conference, “Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.” (Lynas, 2013) 

The controversy surrounding GM foods stems from a fear that we, humanity, step above ourselves. The term “Playing God” is often used by anti-GM campaigners. These people care about the subject and are not stupid, but it can take years of research into the science behind GM food production to fully understand it. 

The public is not served by science engaging in heated debates behind closed doors, while exhibiting a consensus to the public. Inevitably the truth will come out. Daniel Sarewitz made the following point, “a claim of scientific consensus creates a public expectation of infallibility that, if undermined, can erode public confidence; And when expert consensus changes, as it has on health issues from the safety of hormone replacement therapy to nutritional standards, public trust in expert advice is also undermined.” (Sarewitz., 2011) 

This can be seen in the BSE crisis in the UK and, to a lesser extent, in the l’Aquila earthquake trial last year. 

The scientists involved with investigating the BSE crisis in the UK made markedly different statements in private to those made to the British public. A Scientific advisor was quoted in private as saying “"It would not be justified to state categorically that there was no risk to humans", while at the same time, in public the MAFF minister was saying “... clear scientific evidence that British beef is perfectly safe". (Millstone, et al., 2006)

When the scandal eventually broke, it took down the department of MAFF, and in the process degraded the public’s faith in government and the scientists associated with it. People felt they had been patronised by the institutions that should have been open and frank about the risks. (Millstone & Zwanenberg, 2000)

This failure to be honest about risk is not limited to the UK. In October 2012 six Italian scientists were jailed for failing to adequately warn of an earthquake in l’Aquila, Italy. The judge recently made his reasoning public. The six were not jailed for failing to predict an earthquake, as had been popularly reported. Instead, the judge stated, they were jailed for their complete failure to properly analyse, and explain, the threat posed by the swarm of tremors that preceded the main earthquake. “The deficient risk analysis was not limited to the omission of a single factor, but to the underestimation of many risk indicators and the correlations between those indicators." (Billi, 2013)

It may be that Judge Marco Billi is incorrect in his finding. The scientists are appealing the verdict. However, what lies at the heart of the case, like with the BSE scandal, is the perceived disregard for proper dialogue with the affected public by the scientists. People do not necessarily need their fears soothed by platitudes. Science and its communicators should respect the public enough to be open and honest about the upsides and downsides to modern science. 

“Unlike a pallid consensus, a vigorous disagreement between experts would provide decision-makers with well-reasoned alternatives that inform and enrich discussions as a controversy evolves, keeping ideas in play and options open.” (Sarewitz., 2011)


In the 21st century it is no longer practicable, or in fact possible, to hide knowledge behind expensive pay-walls. As the old media industries of film and music have found  out to their detriment. Information wants to be free. 

With pressure from funders, such as the Wellcome Trust, and high-profile journalists, like Ben Goldacre, open access to data will happen. It is up to people working in the field to make it work for science. The current peer-review system is proving ineffective in the information age. The flaws within the system (bias, delays and an inability to uncover misconduct) are being highlighted with increasing speed. (Benos, et al., 2006)

Misconduct will always exist in science, however, by opening up access, and reducing the power of the “high impact” journals to decide careers, the pressure to fake data in order to score points on the tenure ladder may decrease. 

It is by opening up science to the public for review, that we will get a chance to regain the trust lost in previous decades. In reviewing the case studies quoted, I noticed that the real issue was not that there was risk inherent in science, but that scientists did not take the time to adequately explain those risks; instead they gave simple platitudes to dampen panic. 

Trust is lost when it is not reciprocal. It is no longer feasible for scientists to communicate using solely the deficit model. Communication also involves listening. It is only by both sides being given a chance to explain their points of view that a genuine consensus can be reached. 

Massimiano Bucchi has said “communication is not simply a technical tool functioning within a certain ideology of science and its role in economic development and social progress, but has to be recognised as one of the key dynamics at the core of those co-evolutionary processes, redefining the meanings of science and the public, knowledge and citizenship, expertise and democracy.” (Bucchi, 2008)

The issues surrounding integrity in science and public trust are the result of the same underlying problem. Scientists should able to properly discuss issues surrounding academic research without fear of losing their position or funding. Likewise scientists speaking about matters of importance to the public should not be afraid to be honest about the risks and benefits to any new or existing technology. 

It is only by encouraging open dialogue between scientists, journals, and the public that we can begin to solve these problems.


Benos, D. J., Bashari, E., Chaves, J. M., Gaggar, A., Kapoor, N., LaFrance, M., et al. (2006). The ups and downs of peer review. Advances in Physiology Education, 145-152.

Billi, J. M. (2013). L'Aquila Earthquake Trial.

Bromley, D. A. (2002). Science, Technology, and Politics. Technoloy in Society, 9-26.

Bucchi, M. (2008). OF DEFICITS, DEVIATIONS AND DIALOGUES. In Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (pp. 57-76). Abingdon: Routledge.

Cox, B., & Ince, R. (2012, 12 18). Politicians must not elevate mere opinion over science. Retrieved 12 28, 2012, from The New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/sci-tech/sci-tech/2012/12/brian-cox-and-robin-ince-politicians-must-not-elevate-mere-opinion-over-sc

Directorate-General, R. (2010). "Science and Technology" - Special EUROBAROMETER 340. European Commission.

Goldacre, D. B. (2011, 09 16). Academic papers are hidden from the public. Here’s some direct action. Retrieved 01 12, 2013, from http://www.badscience.net/: http://www.badscience.net/2011/09/academic-papers-are-hidden-from-the-public-heres-some-direct-action/

Goldacre, D. B. (2012). Bad Pharma. London: Fourth Estate.

Harley, D., & Acord, S. K. (2011). Peer Review in Academic Promotion and Publishing: Its Meaning, Locus, and Future. Berkeley: Research and Occasional Papers Series, Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley.

Hoppenhaus, K. (2012, 3 6). My Interview with Ivan Oransky at #scio12 - The Transcript. Retrieved 01 02, 2013, from Digitalgrip.fieldnotes: http://field-notes.digitalgrip.de/2012/03/06/my-interview-with-ivan-oransky-at-scio12-the-transcript/

JACKSON, R., BARBAGALLO, F., & HASTE, H. (2005). Strengths of Public Dialogue on. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 8(3), 349-358.

Lynas, M. (2013). Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference. Oxford.

MacKenzie, D. (2012, September 19). Study linking GM crops and cancer questioned. Retrieved December 29, 2012, from New Scientist: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22287-study-linking-gm-crops-and-cancer-questioned.html

Maher, B. (2010). Sabotage. Nature, 516-518.

Maienschein, J. (2002). Innocent Reflections on Science and Technology Policy. Technology in Society, 133-143.

Millstone, E., & Zwanenberg, P. v. (2000). A crisis of trust: for science, scientists or for institutions? Nature Medicine , 6, 1307-1308.

Millstone, E., Zwanenberg, P. v., Alvensleben, R. v., Dressel, K., Giglioli, P. P., Koivusalo, M., et al. (2006). Evolution and implications of public risk communication strategies on BSE. World Health Organisation.

Noorden, R. V. (2011). The Trouble with Retractions. Nature, 26-28.

Redfield, R. (2010, 12 04). Arsenic-associated bacteria (NASA's claims). Retrieved 12 30, 2012, from RRResearch: http://rrresearch.fieldofscience.com/2010/12/arsenic-associated-bacteria-nasas.html

Sarewitz., D. (2011). The voice of science: let’s agree to disagree. Nature, 478(7).

Séralinia, G.-E. (2012). Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 4221-4231.

Wellcome Trust. (2012). Wellcome Trust. Retrieved 1 2013, from http://www.wellcome.ac.uk: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/About-us/Policy/Spotlight-issues/Open-access/Policy/index.htm

Wolfe-Simon, F. (2011). A Bacterium That Can Grow by Using Arsenic Instead of Phosphorus. Science, 1163-1166.

Zimmer, C. (2010, 12 7). "This Paper Should Not Have Been Published". Retrieved 12 31, 2012, from Slate: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/12/this_paper_should_not_have_been_published.2.html


Science Policy.. mode 1 or mode 2

Amended from a mock policy paper assignment Oct 2012. 


Science, and the communication of science, is in a state of flux. People no longer listen solely to the traditional Expert Scientist. The internet allows a certain number of “sofa-experts”.

As budgets tighten, governments are hard pressed to justify spending significant amount of money on basic science research to voters. Funding is being funnelled into technology producing research where there is a definite product at the end. 

Most people know how to use their IPhone, they don’t understand quantum physics, or its application in their daily lives.

It is important to ensure that the public, and politicians, clearly understand the benefits that come from basic research. 

Michael Gibbons discussed the new social contract with science in Nature (Gibbons, 1999) “The old image of science working autonomously will no longer suffice. Rather, a reciprocity is required in which not only does the public understand how science works but, equally, science understands how its publics work

We need a mixture of mode-1 and mode-2 communication in science. People still want an expert, but they want to feel they know the expert. 

In developing policy in this era of communication I would suggest the following:


Firstly I think we need to adapt the traditional top down lecturing approach by more directly associating scientific research with everyday needs. 

For example, We could develop the following:

- A series of “What has science ever done for us?” leaflets for hospital or doctor waiting rooms linking medical breakthroughs with the science that lay the foundation. 

- Free lectures at convenient times for members of the public to attend, from subjects like “The Birth of the Universe” to “How the fruit fly influences genetics”. These lectures should be held in towns around Ireland and not just in the major cities.

- Weekly radio/TV/web series about science in the home (Perhaps specializing in gardening/cooking/brewing/farming)

In addition, training should be provided for local scientists and those in the technology sector in how to present their ideas and research in layman’s terms. 
It is important that they learn to communicate with all ages and all skill levels. 

The public should be able to engage with science in a more hands on way. In addition to Maths & Science week I would suggest the following:

- Comedy events centring around science - There are a number of highly educated, science-literate comedians from Ireland. We should use them. I'd like to see a science festival, similar to a comedy festival.  

- A Scientific Circus - Science communicators could tour Ireland, performing experiments, explaining science theories and hosting events like a public stargazing night. Local science teachers, chemists etc should be encouraged to get involved. 

   - Adult Practical Science - Teach the science of brewing/baking/gardening. 

All parts of society should be involved with science. Science needs to be commonplace and engaging. 


Gibbons, M. (1999, December 02). Science’s new social contract with Society. Nature, 402(02/12/1999), c83-c84.