Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why you (a scientist) should use Twitter in your work

Postgrads are people that have gone back to uni to do an advanced degree. We're not paid much, and we're nerds. Outside of our work at Uni, I like to think that we all have friends and family that aren't academics... or know one or two non-scientists, at the very least.

Despite this, we show an amazing divorce from mainstream culture, and especially from the way most people communicate with one another. Most of the postgrad students that work next to me are Generation Y. You'd never know it though - one is an avid fan of Radio National, another does craft in her spare time, and out of the twenty or so that I see most regularly, exactly one has a Twitter account that she opened without being paid to do so.

WHY? That's the question. There's no point in finding a cure for cancer if you don't tell anyone about it! In the Vet Faculty, where we work on animal health, it seems especially strange that we don't usually use mainstream communication channels to let animal lovers know what we've found.

Unfortunately, there's a very strong culture in science that drives home the message "If you can't prove it, don't say anything". This is a very damaging point of view, because it contrasts so strongly with the way the rest of our Western culture works. Earlier today, I read about some Patti Smith - or somelike her at least - you know, very cool and not, on the face of it at least, a complete idiot - getting injections of black sheep fetus to make herself look younger. WTF??? There was some deranged quote about how she thought it made sense that injecting young tissue would make her look younger. (Leaving my main topic on a tangent, but why did she not go on to think that it's going to make her black, or look like a sheep, or cause her to grow wool??? Maybe she really has done too much blow.)

Science has to compete with the fraudulent clinic that sold poor Patti this stuff. That means we can't wait until we're sure! We need to loudly and constantly declare "SCIENTISTS SAY: To the best of our knowledge, injecting yourself with sheep fetus is IDIOTIC and probably DOWNRIGHT DANGEROUS!". If, by some twist of fate, this turns out to be AOK, it's perfectly OK to update the message: "SCIENCE ADVANCES! Injecting yourself with sheep fetus is just fine and it DOES make you look younger!!!"

So, to answer the questions in the title directly:

Twitter: with messages of just 140 characters, young scientists can learn to keep it short and sweet. A laboratory Twitter channel would be the perfect place to put updates about equipment condition, who's around and who's away, new primers, that a protocol did or didn't work, that you found a piece of the puzzle, had mysterious results, or even that you've just got a paper published in a scientific journal...

REMEMBER: there's no point in doing science if you don't tell people what you found!!!

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