you're reading...

Science Communication

The Emergence of Science Twitter: 140 characters of facts and…fun?

I started my personal Twitter account back in 2009 when it was a new player in a fast-growing social media scene. I joined as part of an assignment for an ornithology class I was taking as an undergraduate student. Being a class about birds, my professor thought it was a fun idea to task us with creating an account to tweet about bird behaviors we observed over the course of the semester. At the time, I went along with it and put in the work I needed to in order to meet my requirement. After that semester, my account went largely ignored. It wasn’t until I became a graduate student and began to see the importance of science communication that I realized how useful Twitter could be for scientists.

Admittedly, my re-entry into the world of science Twitter was self-serving and narrowly focused. I would use it to connect with people in my field and folks at conferences I was attending, as well as shamelessly promote my own publications. Recently, however, Twitter has also emerged as a way for scientists to to connect and communicate with a broader audience.

In an age of “alternative facts” and future policies potentially ignoring scientific facts, it has become critical for scientists to step out of the shadow, climb down from the ivory tower, and broaden their reach beyond publications in obscure journals. One of the challenges in engaging a broader audience come from the fact that many people can’t name a scientist (perhaps aside from Neil deGrasse Tyson). This prompted wildlife biologist, and the “Best Biologist on Twitter,” Dr. David Steen to tweet the following:

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 2.00.55 PM








Soon after tweeting this, the hashtag #actuallivingscientist started blowing up on Twitter. Scientists from around the world started tweeting out pictures of themselves and their work, introducing themselves to the Twitterverse. This is an important step for scientists looking to communicate. It shows that they are just like everyone else. In addition to the #actuallivingscientist tag, others from underrepresented groups in the sciences promoted their diversity (see #womeninscience, #pocinscience, and #LGBTscientist among others). The success of this thread also prompted science educators to bring this into their classrooms, creating bulletin board material for their students (Fig. 1). Here, young students get a real look at who and what scientists are, allowing them to see themselves in a future STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) career.

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 2.02.25 PM

Fig. 1: Educators have caught on with #actuallivingscientist and are promoting it in classrooms.

Twitter can be a useful tool for any scientists looking to make public engagement a lot easier. Anyone with an account can follow what the best and brightest minds in any STEM field are doing and can engage with them directly through the platform.

But science Twitter is at its best when scientists aren’t just tweeting dry facts or links to their papers. Scientists on Twitter have recently been engaging in “hashtag games,” sharing photos or moments that show a more humorous side, ultimately humanizing them. Below are some of the best hashtag threads started by scientists.

  1. #FieldworkFail: perhaps one of the first scientist “hashtag games,” scientists share stories of SNAFUs and mishaps when working outside of the lab and in the field (Fig. 2).
Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 12.06.24 PM

Fig. 2: Many scientists have had their share of #fieldworkfails.

  1. #BestCarcass: biologists started sharing photos of dead creatures they came across, but soon non-scientists started contributing to the thread. These photos get pretty wild and include everything from a fox frozen in a block of ice to beached whales. (Note: must have a strong stomach to survive this thread, Fig. 3)
Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 12.07.50 PM

Fig. 3: #bestcarcass might not be uplifting, but it is interesting!

  1. #DoesItFart: scientists took to Twitter to ask the really important question of which animals can fart. This Twitter thread was also linked to a google doc where experts on certain organisms could chime in on whether certain animals could pass gas (Fig. 4). Of course, if a scientist claimed an animal could fart, they supported it with a publication!
Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 12.11.11 PM

Fig. 4: #Doesitfart answers the question you didn’t know you wanted to ask.

  1. #Cuteoff: Many biologists have an almost parent-like bias for their study species. This prompted the #Cuteoff, where scientists shared photos of their study species that they felt were particularly cute (Fig. 5).
Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 12.13.58 PM

Fig. 5: Everyone always thinks THEIR species is the cutest.

  1. #Junkoff: well, life does ultimately boil down to reproduction, but many off us probably don’t know how many species breed or what their reproductive organs look like. Once again, biologists on Twitter stepped their game up and started tweeting pictures of the reproductive parts of their study organisms and had a #Junkoff (Fig. 6).
Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 12.18.59 PM

Fig. 6: #Junkoff, presented without comment.

*Check out this recent piece published in American Scientist for more science hashtag games.

Now, more than ever, Twitter has become a place for scientists to rally and to let their voices be heard. Through Twitter, scientists have begun to stand up for science and facts (#USofScience), as well as respond en masse to absurd critiques (#dresslikeawoman, #distractinglysexy). This social media platform even provided the foundation for a worldwide movement (#MarchforScience).

While a lot of science remains inaccessible to the general public, whether due to the lack of open access (free) papers or whether you’d need an advanced degree to decipher the field-specific jargon contained in them, Twitter is helping make science accessible and fun. The beauty of Twitter lies in its required brevity (it’s hard to use jargon when you only have 140 characters!) and its ability to create direct connections with scientists. In an age where science communication is critical, Twitter provides scientists with a platform to communicate, share their research, and let them be themselves.


No comments yet.

Post a Comment


  • by oceanbites 3 months ago
    Happy Earth Day! Take some time today to do something for the planet and appreciate the ocean, which covers 71% of the Earth’s surface.  #EarthDay   #OceanAppreciation   #Oceanbites   #CoastalVibes   #CoastalRI 
  • by oceanbites 4 months ago
    Not all outdoor science is fieldwork. Some of the best days in the lab can be setting up experiments, especially when you get to do it outdoors. It’s an exciting mix of problem solving, precision, preparation, and teamwork. Here is
  • by oceanbites 5 months ago
    Being on a research cruise is a unique experience with the open water, 12-hour working shifts, and close quarters, but there are some familiar practices too. Here Diana is filtering seawater to gather chlorophyll for analysis, the same process on
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #oceanbites  we are featuring Hannah Collins  @hannahh_irene  Hannah works with marine suspension feeding bivalves and microplastics, investigating whether ingesting microplastics causes changes to the gut microbial community or gut tissues. She hopes to keep working
  • by oceanbites 6 months ago
    Leveling up - did you know that crabs have a larval phase? These are both porcelain crabs, but the one on the right is the earlier stage. It’s massive spine makes it both difficult to eat and quite conspicuous in
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Cierra Braga. Cierra works ultraviolet c (UVC) to discover how this light can be used to combat biofouling, or the growth of living things, on the hulls of ships. Here, you
  • by oceanbites 7 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Elena Gadoutsis  @haysailor  These photos feature her “favorite marine research so far: From surveying tropical coral reefs, photographing dolphins and whales, and growing my own algae to expose it to different
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on Oceanbites we are featuring Eliza Oldach. According to Ellie, “I study coastal communities, and try to understand the policies and decisions and interactions and adaptations that communities use to navigate an ever-changing world. Most of
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Jiwoon Park with a little photographic help from Ryan Tabata at the University of Hawaii. When asked about her research, Jiwoon wrote “Just like we need vitamins and minerals to stay
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  on  #Oceanbites  we are featuring  @riley_henning  According to Riley, ”I am interested in studying small things that make a big impact in the ocean. Right now for my master's research at the University of San Diego,
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Gabby Stedman. Gabby is interested in interested in understanding how many species of small-bodied animals there are in the deep-sea and where they live so we can better protect them from
  • by oceanbites 8 months ago
    This week for  #WriterWednesday  at  #Oceanbites  we are featuring Shawn Wang! Shawn is “an oceanographer that studies ocean conditions of the past. I use everything from microfossils to complex computer models to understand how climate has changed in the past
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Today we are highlighting some of our awesome new authors for  #WriterWednesday  Today we have Daniel Speer! He says, “I am driven to investigate the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics, asking questions about how organisms or biological systems respond
  • by oceanbites 9 months ago
    Here at Oceanbites we love long-term datasets. So much happens in the ocean that sometimes it can be hard to tell if a trend is a part of a natural cycle or actually an anomaly, but as we gather more
  • by oceanbites 10 months ago
    Have you ever seen a lobster molt? Because lobsters have exoskeletons, every time they grow they have to climb out of their old shell, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a few days until their new shell hardens. Young, small
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    A lot of zooplankton are translucent, making it much easier to hide from predators. This juvenile mantis shrimp was almost impossible to spot floating in the water, but under a dissecting scope it’s features really come into view. See the
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    This is a clump of Dead Man’s Fingers, scientific name Codium fragile. It’s native to the Pacific Ocean and is invasive where I found it on the east coast of the US. It’s a bit velvety, and the coolest thing
  • by oceanbites 11 months ago
    You’ve probably heard of jellyfish, but have you heard of salps? These gelatinous sea creatures band together to form long chains, but they can also fall apart and will wash up onshore like tiny gemstones that squish. Have you seen
  • by oceanbites 12 months ago
    Check out what’s happening on a cool summer research cruise! On the  #neslter  summer transect cruise, we deployed a tow sled called the In Situ Icthyoplankton Imaging System. This can take pictures of gelatinous zooplankton (like jellyfish) that would be
  • by oceanbites 1 year ago
    Did you know horseshoe crabs have more than just two eyes? In these juveniles you can see another set in the middle of the shell. Check out our website to learn about some awesome horseshoe crab research.  #oceanbites   #plankton   #horseshoecrabs 
WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com