These articles are only a few examples of the Most Popular in 2012-2013 in Medical News Today.
As New York Times writer Mary Ann Giordano recently said, “to put it in 140 characters or less, social media and science found each other in 2012.” She seems to be enormously pleased with this phenomena in her article New Frontier for Topics in Science: Social Media:
In surprising numbers, people posted, viewed and searched for science-related topics last year — sharing news from space and undersea, commenting on new discoveries and uploading photos and video in a full-out embrace of the ability to communicate with thousands of others about global subjects in real time.
Great. Shouldn’t we all be happy to know that proliferation of social media has such a positive effect on general population? People swap scientific information with one another, Liking, Following, Tweeting (or Twitting), re-posting and whatnot, thus becoming more informed, enlightened and scientifically astute. What is there not to like? I liked it to… until a few days ago, when I discovered that not everyone is equally ecstatic about such development, and now I understand WHY.
Edge organization, in the words of the novelist Ian McEwan, offers “open-minded, free ranging, intellectually playful … an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world … an ongoing and thrilling colloquium. Every year Edge offers a “yearly question” to the forum of its participants. The 2013 question is: WHAT *SHOULD* WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?
Now, back to Liking, Following etc. of science. Michael I. Norton, Associate Professor of Marketing, Harvard Business School is worried about what most of us, and the New York Times writer Mary Ann Giordano are so happy about — Science By (Social) Media, (underline is mine).
Check the “most emailed list” of websites for periodicals ranging from the New York Times to FoxNews.com and you’ll often see, sprinkled in with major world events and scandals, a story about a new scientific finding: “Red Wine Linked to Longevity” or “Climate Change Called into Question” or “Eating Dirt Is Good for You.”
While the increasing attention given to science by the media is primarily a positive development—surely we want a scientifically-literate population, and research appearing only in obscure journals will not help to achieve this goal—we should be worried about the exploding trend in “science by (social) media” …
…It is not clear that the best science is the science that gets known best. In one study that examined media coverage of research presented at a major scientific conference, fully 25% that appeared in the media never appeared in a scientific journal. That’s right: fully one quarter of the science that laypeople encountered was not solid enough to pass muster when reviewed by experts. This same trend was true for research that made the front page of major newspapers, the stories most likely to be read.
The problem is likely exacerbated by the rise of social media: even if we miss the initial coverage of some new scientific finding, we are now more likely to encounter it as a tweet, or a post on Facebook. Worse still, social media often encourages quick, superficial engagement. We see the title—“Red Wine Linked to Longevity“—without reading further to find out, for example, the amount of red wine that might have health benefits (one ounce a day? one gallon?) and for whom (everyone? only people with red hair?).
Speaking of red wine… Researcher Who Studied Benefits Of Red Wine Falsified Data Says University.
In a statement published on the university’s news website on Wednesday, the University of Connecticut (UConn) Health Center said the investigation has led them to inform 11 scientific journals that had published studies conducted by Dr Dipak K. Das, a professor in the university’s Department of Surgery and director of its Cardiovascular Research Center.
Now, back to Norton.
…In sum, the science that laypeople encounter will become increasingly unfiltered by scientific experts. And even when science has been vetted by experts, laypeople will increasingly make their own determination of the credibility of that science not by the quality of the research but by the media outlet in which that science appears.
In turn, this perceived credibility will determine laypeople’s subsequent likelihood of passing that science along to others via social media. Together, this “science by (social) media” raises the curious possibility of a general public that reads more and more science while becoming less and less scientifically literate.
General public that reads more and more science while becoming less and less scientifically literate… Scary thought. But then again, Tim Radford, until recently The Guardian’s science editor, admitted the following, “People do not like to be patronized; they don’t like to be lectured. People like to be thrilled.”
On that optimistic note, I’ll go and get myself a handful of dirt. Children who swap apples for dirt could actually be doing their stomach a favour, new research says. Then I chase it with a gallon of red wine. It might give me hiccups, but I know How To Get Rid Of Hiccups… Afterwards, when my hiccups subside, I’ll read yet another scientific article. Perhaps, this one: Facebook Addiction – New Psychological Scale.