Day 323. Science and social media: a case study

In July 2013 on July 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm


More and more scientists are embracing social media.

Many are on twitter and Facebook, others write blogs and share images using Instagram and flickr.

But what value does this have? Are there any rewards or positive outcomes to be gained by scientists through delving into these relatively new and sometimes scary online platforms?

Dave Hawkes says yes. I’m delighted to present his guest post to explain a little further:

Science is a collaborative process. We meet other scientists through the labs we work in, or conferences, or even by making contact after reading some of their research. I have been fortunate to have a number of great collaborators both in Australia and overseas (which has meant trips to the UK, Spain and France to meet them in person).

Recently I formed a new collaboration through a slightly unusual means.

I am a virologist who now works in creating viral vectors to understand the anatomy and function of neurons associated with a neuropeptide system, relaxin-3. Outside of the lab I have been involved in trying to combat misinformation about vaccination for about the last four years. Through these activities I have become involved in a Facebook page called Stop the AVN. During a conversation with two other people associated with this page – an epidemiologist from Adelaide (Candice Lea) and a data modeller from Wollongong (Dr Matthew Berryman) – we agreed that there seemed to be a lot of people asking questions about the recently (2007) introduced vaccine against HPV.

We decided to write a paper answering some of the most common questions about this vaccine.

This paper has now been published and is freely available for anyone who wants to have a read. From experience we know that while people may be interested in a topic they might be intimidated by a paper in a scientific journal, so we produced a layman’s summary and a companion article about the paper.

Another advantage we have discovered is that by having active online networks – particularly those with a specific focus (in this case health) – we have been able to promote this paper through both twitter and Facebook to a much wider audience. We have also been very lucky that prominent health tweeters such as @DoctorKarl and @DoctorChristian have been supportive and retweeted our paper with strong recommendations.

I that this whole experience has taught me a number of things:

    • If you make collaborations with people who are passionate about a topic, things happen much faster;
    • People generally respond to tweets much faster than emails; and
    • The number of people who follow a particular tweeter is not necessarily a good measure of the impact these people can have.

I will finish with a recommendation to scientists: social media is a way to get your science out of the lab and into public forums which will result in more people reading and understanding your work.

Thanks to Dave for suggesting this post idea, and putting it together over the weekend.

Calling all scientists and non-scientists: if you’ve got an idea and would like to write a guest blog post for ScienceforLife.365, please let me know via @sciencesarah or

[image thanks to malias on flickr]

  1. Great post. Hopefully Dave’s week on @WeAreAustralia will only expand the reach of this message.

  2. Thanks Dr Yobbo. Will be following @WeAreAustralia to see what Dave gets up to…

  3. […] Science and social media: a case study by David Hawkes […]

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