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