By Will (guest blogger)
Last week the ANU played host to a panel of some of the most liked, viewed and shared people in the world. This probably sounds odd so allow me to elaborate. They are all science communicators who operate exclusively through social media.
The night itself was a chance for each guest to share their insights and experiences in science communication using social media. Each of these guests has built up an incredibly strong following for their particular content. This is interesting because of the challenges presented by social media; content can struggle to gain attention and you have to actively attract people to view it. The impact these communicators have is even more impressive considering the resources they have to work with. That and I’ve never got 40,000 likes on one of my Facebook posts…
So who are these social media science communicators, and more importantly how have they achieved so much success.
The first comes with a language warning.
Elise Andrew is the founder and sole poster on her Facebook page I F*cking Love Science, you can probably already guess how her page attracts so much attention. While a lot of her posts focus on the lighter side of science, she regularly posts a ‘This Week in Science’ section, highlighting some of the amazing discoveries in science of the past week. She commented that she reads multiple papers every day and rarely goes a few hours without checking her Facebook.
Phil Plait has been a prodigious blogger for more than a few years. His blog, called Bad Astronomy finds itself at home at slate.com. Phil, who holds a PhD in astrophysics, told on the night how he originally found success writing about end of the world (or even universe) scenarios, for example, ‘What would happen if a meteor hit the Earth?’, but with a particular focus on what the science tells us. He now writes on a wide range of topics but never strays too far from his original focus: physics.
The next few take their social media in the YouTube variety.
Henry Reich is the creator of the YouTube channels MinutePhysics and MinuteEarth. His videos feature simple yet concise explanations of different scientific theories, all with a backdrop of carefully drawn stick-figures. They are incredibly well researched yet very accessible – you don’t realise that some of the content is taught at a university level.
The next channel, AsapScience, was created by Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown. Their videos focus on using science to answer interesting questions that are more relevant to everyday life; like how to cure a hangover. But they further engage their watchers by encouraging them to ask questions, the best of which they answer in subsequent videos.
SmarterEveryDay was created by Destin Sandlin, an engineer by trade who carries out experiments during his videos to answer simple, everyday questions. One of my favourites is ‘Why do cats always land on their feet‘, something I suggest you all watch right away.
The final guest was Chris Cassella, Managing Director of ScienceAlert and the person responsible for bringing together such a wide range of guests. ScienceAlert reports on new scientific research and discoveries, particularly those from Australia and New Zealand. It is one of the easiest ways to keep up with contemporary science. They also have an especially large Facebook following, and also publish a ‘This week in science’ section, focussed on Australian scientific discoveries.
This evening wasn’t a how-to guide to science communication, it was a chance to hear some great success stories from people simply doing and sharing what they love. Each guest has developed their content because of the passion they share for science and it’s this that shows through most strongly in their work.
They further show that communicating science does not have to be formal because people are looking to engage with science in new ways. This means there are now opportunities to share a science, be it our own or not, through a variety of new mediums; Twitter, Facebook and for the videogenic, YouTube, just to name a few.
If there was sentiment these guests personified the most, it would be this. If you have an idea, whether it be related to science communication or not, the worst thing you can do is not give it a go. Mitchell Moffit said on the evening “We gave ourselves a year and we would see where [our channel] went”. Their work, like that of the other panellists, continues to attract followers, keen to engage with science.
If you know of any other great social media science outlets please link them below for others to see, after all, they are all about spreading and sharing information.