I am taking a summer course on teaching, The College Classroom, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Delta Program that so far has been a wonderful introduction into the practice and theory of teaching and learning. As part of an assignment to “mircoteach” to my class for 15 minutes, I have complied this selection of resources and links on using social media for science communication. Enjoy!

The “Science” of Science Communication
In May of this year the National Academy of Sciences sponsored a two day conference on “The Science of Science Communication,” part of the Arthur M. Sackler Colloquia series (view the video archives here). The event brought together more than 500 researchers, science communicators and policymakers with the goal of increasing understanding of the dynamics of the scientific community’s relation to broader publics and to foster dialogue on the growing field of science communication research.

In a recent commentary in The Scientist, Matthew C. Nisbet and Dietram A. Scheufele reflect on science communication myths. On science journalism they write:

“Rather than dying, however, the nature of science journalism is rapidly evolving.  As one of us (Nisbet) described in a recent co-authored study, journalists are often no longer the source for breaking news about science; scientist bloggers and university news services have taken a much larger role in that regard.  But science journalists do remain the main sources for synthesis and interpretation of complex areas of research, especially as science relates to policy.”

Mass media help to shape public perception of science and participation (for an overview see Anderson, Brossard, Scheufele, & Xenos, 2012). As previously argued by leading scholars in the field (e.g. Nisbet & Scheufele, 2009), science communication needs to be based on empirical research, in order to move beyond move beyond what Nisbet and Scheufele have called the “false premise” that science illiteracy is the driving factor in contention over science, i.e. the “deficit” model (2009, p. 1767). They write, “[A]ny science communication efforts need to be based on a systematic empirical understanding of an intended audience’s existing values, knowledge, and attitudes, their interpersonal and social contexts, and their preferred media sources and communication channels” (ibid).

Some key concepts:
Deliberative democracy. Underpinning notions of public participation in science are ideals of deliberative democracy and learning, that by coming together in forums such as consensus conferences and discussing social or political issues individuals will become more informed, engaged citizens (see Anderson et al., 2012; Muhlberger & Weber, 2006; Nisbet & Scheufele, 2009).

Framing. Having both cognitive (e.g. interpretive schema) and sociological (media frames) elements, science is “framed” or meaning is constructed by stakeholders engaged dialogue on scientific policy issues (for seminal literature on framing, see for example the work of sociologists William Gamson and Erving Goffman).

The “social context” of science. How people in the United States get news is evolving. According to the State of the News Media 2012 report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, 9% of U.S. adults who are digital news consumers get news through Facebook or Twitter recommendations (see here). Interestingly, the two social media platforms function differently, with Facebook users relying more on family and friends (see below).

A notable difference shown in the Project for Excellence in Journalism research is that Facebook users are more likely to feel that the news they do get through Facebook is information they could have gotten through other sources, while with Twitter “there was more sense that the news they encountered this way expanded knowledge or source list. Twitter users were nearly split between the sense that they would get this news elsewhere (43%) and that they would not (39%).”

Additionally, according to another Pew report, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, adoption of Twitter is “steady,” at 15% of online U.S. adults as of February 2012, while the number reporting using the platform on a “typical day” is increasing, to 8%. African Americans, young adults and urban/suburban dwellers (as opposed to rural residents) use Twitter at higher rates (see here).  Not surprisingly, the report also showed that Twitter use is “highly correlated with the use of mobile technologies, especially smartphones,” with one in five of those with smartphones using Twitter.

In short, as Anderson et al. (2012) point out, mainstream media news coverage is increasingly mediated within a “social context” of user-generated content in the new media ecology.

For more on the field of science communication, visit the International Network on Public Communication of Science (PCST) here.

So How do I do that exactly?
Some Twitter Examples


I hope by now I have heightened your interest in using social media as outreach and educational tools to communication about the sciences to broader publics. Below are links to new media tools that will help you to get started.

You CAN say a lot in 140 characters or less:


You can organize who you follow with topical lists:


Index your content with “hashtags”:


What could be better about the following tweet?


If you’re interested in analysis of how hashtag indexing enables information flows, check out the work of Gilad Lotan, of Social Flow, here and on his blog here.

If you start a tweet with an @mention that tweet will only appear in the news feeds of Twitter users who follow both you and the user you @mention.


But, if you put a period before the @mention, the tweet will be seen by all of your followers.


Remember to shorten links. A few of the numerous link shorteners, which also allow you to track click-through rates, are:
Google Url Shortener
goUW (for UW-Madison users)

The medium is interactive so make the most of it:

Promote publications.



Retweets and Mentions. Klout: An example of using Klout to measure you “influence.” Storify:
Storify is an online platform to curate social content.

Tools, Time-saving Tricks of the Trade and Training Resources
22 tools and apps every journalism student should know about. Journalism.co.uk (August 17, 2012).

Ten technical Twitter tips for journalists. Journalism.co.uk (November 10, 2011).

Poynter Institute. News on industry trends and online training resources.

National Association of Science Writers. Founded in 1934, the NASW “fights for the free flow of science news” and has more than 2,000 members.

Anderson, A. A., Brossard, D., Scheufele, D. A., & Xenos, M. A. (2012, forthcoming). Online talk: How exposure to disagreement in online comments affects beliefs in the promise of controversial science. In L. Phillips, A. Carvalho, & J. Doyle, Citizen voices: Performing public participation in science and environment communication. Intellect Books: European Communication Research and Education Association.

Muhlberger, P. & Weber, L. M. (2006). Lessons from the virtual Agora Project: The effect of agency, identity, information, and deliberation on political knowledge. Journal of Public Deliberation, 2(1).

Nisbet, M.C. & Scheufele, D.A. (2009). What’s Next for Science Communication? Promising Directions and Lingering Distractions. American Journal of Botany, 96(10), 1767–1778.

Thanks to Ashley Anderson and Don Stanley for suggestions on this topic.