Debating social media in the Norwegian mountains.


Upsete, Norway: Not a bad place for a debate (photo: Mathew Stiller-Reeve)

Early last week, climate PhD students from the Nordic countries met in Upsete, deep in the Norwegian mountains. Surrounded by gushing rivers and glacial landscapes, the participants had the perfect opportunity to make new friends, exchange ideas and discuss research. In one of the sessions, the participants discussed a hot topic in climate research. And without mobile reception or internet access, what better place to discuss the hot topic of social media? The exact question the participants were given to discuss was:

To tweet or not tweet: Should early career scientists use social media more actively?

The participants split into discussion groups of between five and seven. The discussion began with each participant introducing themselves and their initial opinion about the topic. From there, they had 30 minutes to debate in more depth, letting the discussion flow naturally in any direction. In the end, each group got 10 minutes to summarise their discussions into 1-2 sentences, and read them out aloud. Now that we have descended from the mountains and returned to our interconnected society, we can use the power of blogging and social media to tell everyone about the debates. So here’s how the 5 different groups responded to the topic:


Group 1:

-We don’t feel obliged to tweet, but think it is a good idea to cooperate with science communicators that are experts in making our science accessible to the general pubic and also willing to spend time the energy on it.

-In this way, science is more likely communicated in a more “careful” way than if every scientist just blogs stuff off the top of his head.

-Twitter/Instagram etc are great for redirecting to other website where research is explained in more depth.

-Social media is perhaps too vague and oversimplified due to it’s format.


Group 2:

-Scientists should not be forced to tweet. That should be a full-time job for somebody at university.

-Twitter can be useful for a scientist, but we should be aware of the downsides, i.e that it could skip/surpass the peer review process.

-A better alternative might be a more closed social media for the scientific community.

-The scientific community should also make sure not to be too conservative and “miss the boat” when it comes to social media.


Group 3:

-We believe social media is a useful channel for bridging the gap between scientists and the general public.

-Social media is a good way to give back to the tax payer who pays for our research.

-Being active on social media should be voluntary.

-Would be great to have communicators hired for only this purpose. That would make the flow of information smoother and probably more appropriate. This will also take off the pressure from scientists themselves.

-Would be good to know if being more active on social networks really pays off. Some people said they wouldn’t mind doing it if they were sure it pays off.

-It is a good way not just to reach public but also to get valuable feedback and discuss problems.


Group 4:

-Social media is helpful in the jungle of information to find information and make yourself visible

-We have not invested a lot of time on social media outreach because we did not prioritise it because lack of time, lack of motivation, fear of negative comments.


Group 5:

-Science should not been seen as a popularity contest.

-We should be careful of “actual” science competing with spectacular or incorrect “clickbait”.

-Using social media can be good but should be funded/credited.


The participants at the Nordic Phd conference deep in discussion about social media and science (photo: Mathew Stiller-Reeve).

The participants at the Nordic Phd conference deep in discussion about social media and science (photo: Mathew Stiller-Reeve).

One thing that came up a few times was that early career scientists should not be forced to use social media. They feel that it would be better to have professionals to communicate via social media for research groups or institutes. These communicators would likely have better training and be more careful about how they communicate scientific messages.

The majority of the discussions focused on science communication outward to the general public. It was clear that the topic I had chosen was too wide to consider all aspects of social media. Without further nudges, the debates understandably drifted quickly towards using social media to communicate science rather than other goals. During the post-debate discussion, the participants also considered the importance of social media as a learning- and networking-tool.

Readers may agree of disagree with the points that the Nordic PhD-students brought up. At least, this process gave a voice to everyone at the conference. We decided to post the results online to give a foundation for the further debate on this topic in the future.

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Mathew Stiller-Reeve

I am a postdoc researcher at NORCE Climate and the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research. I research the monsoon in Bangladesh and I am the founder of ClimateSnack; a community that hopes to give all young and early career climate scientists an opportunity to practice and improve their scientific communication skills.

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