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For decades the standard route from science to the public has been a follows. Scientist does research. Scientist writes a paper. Sometimes the scientist tells the press office at their university that they wrote a paper. If the press office thinks that the paper is pretty juicy they will interview the scientist to get some cool quotes, get a great picture, and slap a headline on it. They then send that out to all the news desks and editors around the country, who then decide to run it or not depending on how juicy that headline looks. The general public then gets informed of science.

This isn't necessarily a bad approach, but it is inefficient. And it does lend itself to a certain kind of bias. Editors and press officers and even the general public really like juicy headlines, whether they accurately represent the underlying science or not. Plus there are a lot of layers, a lot of filters between what the scientist thinks is important and what several other people think the public really wants to hear.

As with most things media related, the social world is turning everything upside down, if not outright destroying it. This is the case for science communication too.

Social media offers a brand new way for scientists to connect to the public, something unprecedented in the history of science and, well, the general public. Social media is a direct, unfiltered, unbiased connection. Any scientist in the world is free to say whatever they want about their research, their personal lives, or even their culinary interest. Anything.

Any scientist can simply open up the channel and start typing or recording a short video or whatever. If they choose to talk about their research, it can be research in progress, it can be research that seems promising, it can be results from a recently published paper, or it could even be things that they got wrong.

The directness of this approach and the lack of filters offers an amazing opportunity. No longer are there any layers between scientists and the public. There are no middlemen to decide what the public may or may not like. There are just scientists and their voices. That's it. And they can say whatever they want to say.

Now would most of the general public like to hear about the gory details of an ongoing research project? Maybe, maybe not. But a certain subset of the general population would lap it up. And due to the interconnected nature of social media, they will eventually find their way to this kind of content. The scientist who digs into the gory details will quickly find an audience interested in the same gory details. The people who enjoy that content can go on to tell their friends and families in a way that they think is appropriate and interesting to them, and so on.

In the end, whether through traditional methods or through new media, science must get out to the public. I prefer the direct approach. Why waste time?


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