Welcome to my first blog post and to Science Sunday!

Science Sunday is where I am going to write about science-related topics of interest to me. Sometimes, this will be a paper that caught my attention, an issue I see in scientific research, or anything else related to science. Being a postdoc, I hope I can bring a unique take on science that both scientists and non-scientists can enjoy!

The first topic of Science Sunday is the use of social media, blogging, and other online tools in scientific research. Specifically, how scientists use these tools to connect with each other. Over the past decade, the use of the Internet and social media has transformed how scientists present their results and interact. Today, I am going to discuss interactions between scientists. Next week, I will focus on the interactions between non-scientists and scientists.

Many view the research scientist as a lonely figure, spending their time alone in the lab completing their experiments. Before the Internet, that may have been the case. The only interactions they had with other scientists were largely with those in their labs, departments, and institutions. Maybe they had colleagues they discussed science with, largely at annual conferences. Now, scientists can and do regularly interact with others across the country and globe with ease.

Here are some of the ways scientists talk with each other:

  1. Collaboration

The most obvious way to talk with other scientists is by direct collaboration or consultation. Now, what do I mean by collaboration. Collaboration entails independent groups at scientists, usually at different institutions, working together to accomplish a common goal. These researchers have different expertise or resources that make new insights and advances possible.

Collaboration in the past, perhaps requiring in person meetings or phone calls, required quite a bit of time and effort. Now, finding and establishing collaborations can be done quickly and easily. A quick google or pubmed search and email can start the collaboration process. Just scanning author lists now, particularly in human genetics, they now can run in the 100s, demonstrating the need and ease (and hopefully desire) for increased collaboration. The increase in collaboration will hopefully increase the productivity and innovation of science.

  1. Highlight interesting research

Many bloggers (like me!) use these sorts of sites to highlight research that they find particularly interesting. These posts present a brief summary or headline of the study, and then discuss his or her thoughts on the implications of the work. Scientific manuscripts are typically dense and require a nuanced knowledge of the specific field and techniques. In fact, scientists within fields or in other closely related fields struggle in interpreting manuscripts. They require more time and effort than non-scientists may think. As the number of journals and published scientific manuscripts continues to grow, these sites become more and more useful in scanning the literature and learning of new and interesting studies.

  1. Post-publication review

Recently, researchers have begun to use the Internet as a venue for post-publication review and discussion. These forums become virtual journal clubs, where discussion and questions are raised. In fact, there are fairly formal venues for this, including PubMed Commons, PubPeer, and comments sections on journal websites (e.g. PLoS One). Other researchers use blogs or twitter posts to evaluate research and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of manuscripts. Most published manuscripts are only reviewed by a handful of reviewers and editors before being accepted. These venues allow for further dissection and discussion of these papers. Researchers can examine the methods used, put the findings into context within the field, and discuss what remains to be deciphered. The intriguing part is that the researcher who completed the research can participate in these discussions and clarify anything of interest for readers.

Take home messages

The Internet and social media is making scientific research more interactive among scientists and revolutionize the sharing of results. This is incredibly exciting! Science is no longer limited to research groups/departments and print publications. We all can connect directly or indirectly online in a sort of virtual science lab.

However, there are a few final caveats for scientists participating in online science-related activities:

  1. Make your own conclusions. Everyone writing or talking about science online is biased by his or her experiences and opinions. Read from multiple sources (even from the primary literature) and decide for yourself!
  1. Be careful with how you communicate with others. If you critique or question the findings of a colleague openly online, it is important to be mindful of the manner in which you discuss another’s research. Imagine how you would feel if someone harshly and aggressively tore apart your work. Many papers encompass work that has occurred over a number of years, and scientists are fiercely protective of it. Things online never disappear, and you never know when you will run into or need that individual.
  1. Read often! Science and technology is a large, rapidly changing beast. New things are learned everyday, whether it is published or seen under a microscope. You never know what is going to come next. Keep checking a variety of literature, blog posts, and twitter!

Thank you all for reading my first Science Sunday post! I hope you all enjoyed it! If you did, please like and share with your family, friends, and colleagues.

What do you all think about the use of social media and other online tools among scientists? Comment below or on twitter @DrFsThoughts! I’m interested to see how others see it. Next Science Sunday we will continue our discussion of social media and online tools. This time though we will focus on the interaction of scientists and non-scientists.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and see you on Trainee Tuesday!

-Dr. F