If you are among the growing number of scientists who tweet, facebook, insta or link-in then you need to read this… Russ Swan has some sage advice…
In these troubled times, this new age of endarkenment, it is more important than ever to present science and scientists as not only competent but also benign.
The voices of reason, of objective scrutiny, and evidence-based policy must be heard over the clamour of the narcissistic nihilists who would sell the very air you breathe just to inflate their own importance.
But, I hear you ask, just how can we do that? We’re stuck on the lab bench, titrating aliquots and chain-reacting polymerases. What can we do to redress the shouty stupidity of the legions of loudmouthed graduates of Dunning-Kruger University?
Part of the answer may be in social media, and the way scientists present themselves and their work.
If you talk about your own work, or any science, on social media you will doubtless attract the attention of some fruitcakes. Become an #ImmodestScientist and stave off some of the bigots
Social media is of course a cesspit of misinformation and prejudice, enlightened by the occasional jewel of insight and humour. Its strength is spontaneity, as evidenced by the wave of women scientists who have recently been more forthright about their qualifications.
The #ImmodestWoman movement encourages the inclusion of titles and honorifics such as Dr or BSc in social media handles, to convey a sense of the scientist’s authority and as a riposte to the trolling mansplainers who plague Twitter, Instagram, and the rest.
But why should women have all the fun? If you talk about your own work, or any science, on social media you will doubtless attract the attention of some fruitcakes. Become an #ImmodestScientist and stave off some of the bigots.
One thing we sometimes struggle with is perceived personality, and the stereotypes (read ‘prejudices’) applied by the masses. It’s interesting the see that the much-discredited Myers Briggs personality profiling system is still used by many employers who really ought to know better.
The system analyses answers to dozens of questions to compile a psychological profile in terms of four dichotomies: extrovert or introvert, thinking or feeling, sensing or intuitive, and judging or perceiving. The result is a four-letter code that, apparently, determines what sort of person you really are.
Just for the record, scientists are supposed to be INTJ, meaning introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging.
It’s all bollocks of course, and just the sort of pseudoscientific claptrap that’s likely to get people irate on Twitter. “You would say that, you’re ISTP” is about as convincing as “You would say that, you’re Aries”.
I did a Myers Briggs test, as an experiment, but I’m afraid the four-letter word for my personality is not reproducible in a respectable publication like this.
A bit chilly?
There is one further thing that might make a difference, if research published last month is to be believed. Apparently scientists who post selfies on their social feeds are more likely to foster trust than those who do not.
Social psychologist Professor Susan Fiske says scientists win public respect but not trust, and that trust depends on perceptions of competence and warmth. Perhaps scientists are too cool to be warm, but it seems we are seen as only about as friendly as a bus driver.
In this latest study, Dr Becky Carmichael found that participants who saw social media images including a scientist’s smiling face evaluated them as significantly warmer than pictures of laboratories or equipment without a person. The perception of warmth was prominent among images featuring a female scientist’s face, who also enjoyed a slight increase in perceived competence. Cues such as lab coats and equipment are also thought to help.
So this is how we fight back. Use selfies, look competent, and adopt the hashtags #ScientistsWhoSelfie and #ImmodestScientist so we can find each other online. It isn’t the answer, but it’s a start.