Social media platforms, such as Twitter, have revolutionised the ability of scientists to communicate and engage with the public and, indeed, also amongst themselves.
It’s quite staggering and indeed wonderful to see how many scientists (new tweeps) are jumping on board each week. Twitter now supports a massive on-line community of researchers with ‘member’ numbers that dwarf even the biggest of professional and more traditional societies. Viva la revolución! And if you’re still not convinced social media is for you, just take a look at this infographic as further evidence why you should be.
One question I’m often asked about Twitter is: where do I start? It is indeed a deep, deep ocean of conversations and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by this. So where are the people and discussions you want to know about as opposed to the ones it’s best to avoid? Well, one of the great features of Twitter is hashtags. Hashtags serve as permanent and searchable records; ‘libraries’ of topics of interest. So if you want to know the answer to that burning question: what’s the difference between a pigeon and a dove, than you might do best to check out and post your own message on #ornithology. Of course having said that I’m yet to hear a convincing answer for that question! But it is remarkable how quickly questions on Twitter are answered, often it’s a matter of seconds, and in my humble opinion it’s now approaching being a more powerful and reliable source of information than Wikipedia. Indeed questions and their answers are often subject to a form of rigorous, real-time peer review. But if you care not for birds, and statistics is what really gets you out of bed each day, take a look at #rstats. Personally, I think one of the best features of hashtags is their ability to establish ongoing support groups. So if for instance you’re struggling with your PhD and need a little advice or just a friendly pep talk consider jumping on #phdchat.
So having sold the virtues of Twitter and the use of hashtags, here are some of the most common ones I know of, grouped into broad themes. I haven’t explained in detail what each one is as diving in and exploring for yourself is part of the fun. My list is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it in any particular order of importance or popularity, so please post any good ones I’ve undoubtedly missed in the comments section. Having said that, please only suggest ones that are science-related. I’ll then collate and update my hashtag list and post it on my blog at a later date.
Biodiversity, ecological and environmental themes
Environmental policy discussions
Help with statistics and geographic information system (GIS)
Science communication and public outreach
Wildlife photography and natural history
And to finish with and prove that scientists are not boring people, but instead very witty and even at times charming, romantic people, check these out!