Are you a Twitter Science Superstar?

by Brainleaf Communications

In the beginning, there was Neil Hall’s tone deaf “Kardashian Index”. Then there was Science Magazine’s list of 50 Twitter science superstars. Combined they painted a pretty clear picture that being active on social media was only considered a desirable characteristic in a thin slice of the population – you know, white dudes.

Hall did so by mocking young scientists who are active and effective on social media. Science Magazine did so by featuring very few women or people of color in their list.

PZ Myers, who did make Science Magazine’s list, takes them, particularly the editors, to task:

Isn’t it weird how invisible people suddenly become apparent if you just look for them?

In doing so, PZ reminded me of a Blues Brothers themed piece I wrote a few years ago for Nature’s Soapbox Science about finding audiences where they are on social media. Rather than fighting over the niche audience of science fans, we need to be convincing people to be science fans – much like Jake and Elwood convinced people to like the Blues.

The methodology used by Science Magazine involved looking at the accounts being followed by obvious science superstars, like Neil deGrasse Tyson. A problem with this method is that Tyson, for example, followed less than 50 accounts at the time, and those accounts were not particularly diverse.What the methodology of the list demonstrated above all else is that our most famous science advocates need to follow a more diverse set of people.

Not only are such lists biased against women and minorities, they are biased against anyone who is not inheriting a following from other media, such as television, books, or magazines.

The phenomena are related.

Having been excluded from traditional methods of building an audience, women and minorities have taken to newer media and social media. While their audiences may not be as large, those audiences are hard earned. They are based on the quality of content produced. They are engaged – and they are fiercely loyal, as Science Magazine has discovered.

In the spirit of lemonade, one upshot of this mess is that it has brought attention to several excellent lists of female and minority advocates for science*:

Laura Keeney – “Women Tweet Science Too”

Paige Brown Jurreau – “Awesome Women Scientist Tweeters”

Erika Check Hayden – “Women Scientists” on Twitter

Victoria Herridge – “Women in Science” on Twitter

PZ Myers – “Women and Science on YouTube”

Katie Mack – “Women in Astro/Phys/etc”

Stephani Page – “BLACKandSTEM”

Joanne Manaster – “10 Women Scientists You Should Follow on Twitter”

*This list cannot possible be exhaustive. Feel free to add ones I’ve missed in the comments.

Author: Josh Witten

3 thoughts on “Are you a Twitter Science Superstar?”

  1. The Science list method was truly flawed. In the case of Neil Tyson he doesn’t follow a lot of people, but also seems to not interact on Twitter a whole lot (he tweets his musings/observations, but doesn’t engage as much as some, which I think is the reason he doesn’t follow many people; it’s not a conversational medium for him). I can’t speak for other Twitter science superstars, but we do have to be careful when parsing a list of people someone follows as being absolutely reflective of how pro/anti-diversity they are. It just means Dr. Tyson is not particularly diversely interactive on Twitter…not that he isn’t anywhere else. That may be nitpicking; your larger point is quite valid though.

    1. I agree that a list of one’s Twitter followers does not necessarily reflect one’s conscious attitudes towards diversity (I don’t think the text implies anything else). Those who are to be lauded for their social media savvy, like Tyson, should be aware of how their following list is used and should make sure that it reflects their goals.

      1. Agreed. I noticed a lot of the people he follows were also guests/co-hosts on his Startalk Radio show/podcast; could be how he decides who to follow, but I agree those in the public eye need to carefully curate their social media presence (or find someone to do it for them). I don’t know how I’d do if my list of people I follow were audited..I don’t think about it that much. I follow those who seem interesting to me. Of course, I am not yet (nor am I likely to be) a twitter superstar.

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