What does Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) think of social media for science communication?

smcMost people working with science communication will probably have heard about Britain’s Science Media Centre (SMC) and perhaps also about its front woman Fiona Fox. In case you’ve never heard of it or can’t really remember what it is about the scientific journal ‘Nature’ recently published a news feature on SMC and Fiona Fox which gives a good overview of the centre, its concept and the critic it faces.

Science Media Centre (SMC) is an independent press office that works to get scientific voices into media coverage and policy debates. By doing so the aim is to improve the accuracy with which science is presented to the public. The Centre works with:

  • journalists by providing them with information about science and its related disciplines; and putting them in contact with relevant scientists
  • scientists, engineers and other experts by supporting them in engaging with the media and by creating more opportunities for them to get their voices.
  • Press officers by supporting them when they are working on complex science, health and environment stories.

In addition, the SMC provides expert advice and evidence on issues relating to science in the media.

I won’t repeat the background or work of SMC further on this blog but instead refer to the Nature article or their Science Media Centre website. 

Social media and SMC?

Reading the Nature article with the interview with Fiona Fox and looking at SMC’s website it strikes me how reflections on the use of social media for science communication seems completely absent. It is not mentioned once in the article and on the website they link to their own Twitter account and Fiona Fox’s blog, but other than that there is no reference to social media as a tool or as medium for science communication.

Even in their Top tips for media work to help scientists to work with the media social media is not mentioned with a word, despite the fact that social media provides an excellent opportunity for scientists to communicate their research. Neither is it mentioned in their 10 best practice guidelines for reporting science & health stories. Of course these two guidelines are meant to be a tool on how to prepare for meeting the scientist/journalist and interpret correctly what information they are looking for or sit with, but none the less social media is only growing in influence also among scientists, so advice on checking out if the researcher is blogging about his or her field or using other social media could be worth including. As could advice to scientists on using social media to communicate themselves and use this communication channel as a resource to guide journalists too.

In the Nature article, Fiona Fox says that the part of her job in which she takes the most pride, is convincing once-timid scientists to join the SMC database and speak out. “A real triumph for us is getting a scientist who has worked for 30 years on a really controversial issue and has never spoken to the media,” she says. I wonder if she also encourages them to take communication into their own hands and start communicating through social media as well or if she mainly thinks of them talking to journalists who then do the communication or sign up on the SMC scientist roster….. All in all, I guess I’m quite unclear about what SMC and Fiona Fox thinks of social media for science communication.

Social media – a tool to strengthen health systems and research collaboration in developing countries?

Having worked with public health issues in developing countries and even specifically with health systems, I just had to share this article, which I came across yesterday.

Use Social Media to Strengthen Health Systems by Alexander E. T. Finlayson, Katherine E.M. Hudson and Faisal R. Ali draws attention to the huge potential for researchers in developing countries to communicate and cooperate through social media.

Building research capacity in developing countries has been and still is a challenge and perhaps something that has been neglected. According to the authors strengthening research capacity is however increasingly becoming an aim in itself in efforts to improve health systems in developing countries. And one way to do that could be to take advantage of the possibilities in social media. In Nature Alexander E. T. Finlayson and his colleagues have recently for example argued for the use of Twitter to enhance collaboration between researchers in developing countries.

In general the authors draw attention to the mobile-phone revolution, which has taken place in developing countries, and literally bypassed fixed-line telephone and internet connections. Taking off from this revolution provides an opportunity to think creatively in terms of establishing collaboration not only between researchers but also in providing public health services to the people.

As is pointed out both in the article and in some of the comments on the article, social media will not be a magic fix and there are lots of challenges to take into account, but its potential in contributing to improving health systems as well as other public health issues in developing countries should not be disregarded.

Encouraging you to read the full article, here are however a few passages from the article, I find interesting

On the mobile revolution:

“With more than five billion subscriptions, mobile phones are now indispensable across the world. Mobile technology promises to transform global healthcare, especially in remote areas, by enabling direct interaction with patients, helping remote training of healthcare workers, and supporting the education of scientists.”

“… just as many African countries have bypassed fixed telephone lines to embrace mobile-phone networks, so healthcare systems can skip having paper records.It is highly likely that scientists in countries with limited resources will follow this pattern, perhaps bypassing traditional, and at times ineffective, research methodologies for more progressive approaches — including the use of social media — to addressing local priorities for biomedical research.”

On crowdsourcing:

“Unnecessary duplication of research is widespread in Western science, and competition for funds and publications risks breeding a culture of secrecy between scientists eager to protect their ideas. This is potentially problematic. But in developing countries, where resources are scarcer and research results are more critical to saving human lives, there should be even greater demand for a streamlined model of scientific cooperation.”

On the use of Twitter:

“… by leveraging the global nature of media such as Twitter, with a large audience and well-defined interest groups, individual scientists could find local collaborators working on similar problems with greater experience in specific areas of their work. By eliminating reams of redundancy from the scientific process, scientists in developing countries may be able to conduct research that is faster, better targeted to real problems, and has less duplication. And in the end, they could disseminate their results more efficiently.”