Monday, February 8, 2016

Social media and science

I rarely write anything on "controversial" topics. A few days ago, I saw this interview was mentioned here and there. I usually don't read young scientists' interviews since I don't think I can learn much from them. How much experience they have anyway? Let's see what people especially didn't like about this interview:

- Do you think there is an increased need for scientists to market themselves and their science as a brand? 
I think the idea that scientists need to operate more like a business is becoming a major problem in science recently. There is science and there is business — they are different and should be fundamentally driven by different goals: one, the pure and unadulterated desire for greater knowledge and the other, monetary gain. Branding science puts focus on making your research appealing, which is extremely limiting, and — dare I say? — corrupts the scientifi c process. There is a lot of fundamental research that needs to be conducted that is not ‘sexy’. Such ‘science branding’ has not yet affected the Chinese Academy of Sciences and for that I’m grateful.

- What’s your view on social media and science?
For example, the role of science blogs in critiquing published papers? Those who can, publish. Those who can’t, blog. I understand that blogs can be useful in affording the general public insights into current science, but it often seems those who criticize or spend large amounts of time blogging are also those who don’t generate much publications themselves. If there were any valid criticisms to be made, the correct venue for these comments would be in a similar, peer-reviewed and citable published form. The internet is unchecked and the public often forgets that. They forget or are unaware that a published paper passed rigorous review by experts, which carries more validity than the opinion of some disgruntled scientist or amateur on the internet. Thus, I find that criticism in social media is damaging to science, as it is to most aspects of our culture.

I completely agree with the first paragraph. At least for me, fundamental science is much more important than anything that you can think of (money, fame, 10000 followers etc.). People who know me in real life witness this pretty much every day. It's also clear that some people use social media to market their names and research. While I understand most of the reasons, I don't accept it.

When it comes to second paragraph, I can't say I totally agree. Yes, it's true there are a lot of people whose sole purpose is to criticize ANYONE and they usually do this as a group of like minded "scientists." But, if I were the scientist being criticized, I'd just ignore and let them talk. Would I ever answer? No. So, I think scientists shouldn't care what others say about them. After all, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?"

Finally, it's partly true that "Those who can, publish. Those who can’t, blog." I applaud Jingmai O’Connor for being honest. We need more people like her who can say what they think.


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