Details and Transcript

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Timestamps

  • 00:00 - Introduction

  • 01:45 - Segment 1: Social Media (Communication Topic)

  • 30:05 - Segment 2: Talk With Pooja Bhatti (Guest Interview)

References

Theme Music​

Transcript

To my brilliant family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 25th and special mid season episode of the Metaphorigins podcast.

 

Now, to show support if you like this sort of content, please make sure to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting most of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. As a reminder, I am holding another draw on my 30th episode for the super-fly, butterfly-printed, custom Metaphorigins shirt, so do follow the Instagram page to be placed in the draw.

 

A little bit a grateful cheese. Based on the current statistical trends, this season has raked in a lot of new listeners, consistently averaging close to 50 downloads a week (comin’ for you Joe!). Honestly, even without considering these statistics, it’s been such as blast coming up with ridiculous stories to fit the metaphor intro, brainstorming audio essays regarding communication topics in science and elsewhere, as well as talking with inspiring current and recent graduate students doing amazing work both through academia and their extracurriculars. Thank you to all those who have joined me on the podcast thus far, and to listeners who not only provide useful feedback, but make this personal project even more worthwhile. I’ll put this out there publicly, if you’re passionate about something and work hard in doing what brings you that passion, I would love to collaborate with you and discuss those topics.

 

Okay. So for today’s episode, again, it’s a special one, I want to pause on metaphorical origins and talk broadly about a concept every living person has either encountered, promoted or complained about. Despite your opinions, the idea has a startling impact on all of us through direct and indirect means, with positive and negative consequences. A science communication tool every scientist needs to be aware of. And that topic, is social media.

 

Sorry, was just checking my Twitterfeed real quick. Okay. Oh wait hold on, I forgot to upload a picture of the podcast setup on my Insta. Alright. Actually, just got gotta reply to this Facebook messenger group chat aaaannnnnddddd, nice! What were we talking about again?

 

I’ve written about social media many times, sometimes via ironic, meta means on social media platforms themselves. I’ve written a short story published in the Heath Science Inquiry Journal called Blue Elephant, describing the micro-stresses all of us pile on top of ourselves when coasting from one platform to the next. I’ve performed a spoken word in the Canadian Science Grand Slam on the impact technologies like social media had on myself growing up in the 90s and early 2000s. And if we’ve shared some meal time together at a restaurant, clinked beer mugs at a pub, or overlooked some natural or man-made beauty on a walk, you know I have some solidified opinions about social media.

 

Let’s take a quick tangent into my personal life. In fact, I feel this podcast, like the initial act of writing short stories or poetry and publishing them on my website, has been an additional window into the foundation of my psyche. A platform, whether it is considered part of social media or not, that hones my thoughts into organized pieces, and spotlights the main message of my ideals and morals. My introduction to social media began when I saw my brother using MySpace on the family computer. This was probably during the mid-2000s. Remember those years? Remember MySpace at all? From it’s Wikipedia page, between 2005-2008, it was the largest networking site in the world, and in June 2006 even surpassed Yahoo and Google as the most visited website in the United States. How unthinkable that is now. However, towards the middle of 2008, and I remember this like it was yesterday, my brother invited me to make a Facebook account. I was reluctant at first because not only did I not have many friends (most of my friends were still my elementary school friends, to which we had a graduating class of around 8 students), but I mainly used my computer to play those Disney-related video games you get when you buy certain breakfast cereals (which, on their own are an interesting topic for discussion some other day). Why I remember it so vividly is because after making an account, and garnering a friends list of people who I just knew at my high school, I quickly recruited other friends of mine to join the social networking site as well. It was a snowball effect I never truly understood until, honestly, very recent.

 

Think about what it was like at the beginning stages of social media, to kids who are striving to collect any sort of confidence boost. With this revolutionary idea, there wasn’t this unsaid hierarchy of social groups at school, you could visually see who was connected to who, and who you wanted to be connected with because of who they were connected with. To be part of the ongoing updates of your peers, around the same time fear of missing out, or FOMO, was just coined. To this day, we’ve laid the neuronal wiring to forage for this level of connectivity, without thinking about it strenuously from the very beginning. If social media were a drug, like it has been associated with by professionals in both big Pharma and big Tech, it is regulated as if the drug was marketed well before it has even reached Phase I clinical trials. And sure, perhaps the creators of these platforms never would have imagined the colossal integration of their ideas in the modern world. Take Facebook for example. If David Fincher’s The Social Network has taught me anything other than the glorification of tech giant CEOs, its that the original idea of Facebook was to rate Harvard college students on their “hotness”. Yet, we forget that, right? When we see how useful it is to remind us of family and friend’s birthdays, plan events and react to posts or pictures on people’s profiles.

 

I’ll draw the line here, and stop lamenting on how disappointed I am with how social media has shaped my life and the lives of those around me. Disappointed not because I think me or others could have changed its course in any way, but because we were all selected to be part of this worldwide experiment without even being aware of it. I shit on this topic quite often. And you could easily, by a quick google search and brief look at my online footprint, call me out as a hypocrite. I have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, Reddit, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Slack, Discord, Personal Blog, and those are just the general accounts. I could argue that I have disciplined myself to limit my time on social media. For example, literally limiting my access to social media throughout the day, or deciding on my purpose for being on certain platforms, but that doesn’t change the fact that despite this awareness I still continue to use social media. This is absolutely correct and perhaps I’ve dug myself into an even deeper hole than most.

 

But for now, I want to focus on purpose, as this might be the only silver lining I see with social media. Why do we use social media? In a 2018 article published on the very meta-named WERSM (which stands for we are social media), they summarize Global Web Index’s 2017 findings with the top 10 reasons why people use social media listed in ascending order starting at Number 10: to meet new people, to research new products to buy, to share opinions, to share photos or videos, because friends are on them, to network, to find entertaining content, to fill up spare time, to stay up to date, and at number one, to stay in touch with family and friends. The pathos of this list is the realization of how what’s tooted as the benefits of social media are mostly at the bottom half of that list. In my view, and the essential question to which I’ve tackled this mental dilemma of mine, is what if we actively flipped that list upside down? Techniques to do this, discussed more in detail later this episode, would be to either habitually perform the bottom of the list’s functions (most could be categorized as engage with your social network), or ferociously counter the urges of the top list (like to waste spare time). Staying in touch with family and friends is certainly important, but you don’t have to be doing that 24/7, or with family and friends you wouldn’t normally just call or meet for a hangout.

 

The most successful technique I’ve implemented to support me in this regard, is to define your purpose on social media. And yes, here, I will finally tie everything back to the overall idea of this podcast episode. I want to use social media to share my passions and inspire those to work on their own. Specifically, I want to communicate science in ways that are creative and eye-catching, ways that capture your attention in both the topic scope and in the method of delivery. I want to use social media to meet people that inspire, to share opinions, modify them if need be, and provide up-to-date entertaining scientific content. That’s what this episode will encompass, using social media to communicate science to those in the scientific community and those in the general public. I will reiterate the general hindrances scientists have when talking about science, opinions of researchers who use or choose not to use social media in their work, and certain platforms believed to be the best at science communication. Towards the end, I have invited a special guest who uses various social media platforms to spread her own passion of science communication via creative organizations with innovative ideas. 

 

Social media might actually be best summed up through words uttered by the great T. S. Eliot in 1936, well before the time of social media and the internet, “distracted from distraction by distraction; filled with fancies and empty of meaning.” We correctly have funnelled our attention to some virtual entity when the current moment is deemed too boring, or even on the other extreme, too overwhelming, to be present for. Instead of being distracted by the distractions stopping us from reaching out fullest potential, with distractions that only provide negative consequences, let’s choose to distract ourselves with distractions that might allow us to learn more about why we are distracted, and how exactly to distract others in more useful ways. Are you with me?

 

*Theme Music*

 

 

Most of this information was obtained from many articles and videos discussing the role social media plays in every day life and in science communication. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

When you hear the words communication, science and media, what thoughts race into your mind? Visual stills of Bill Nye the Science Guy’s TV show watched via VHS tapes in every North American elementary school? How about YouTube channels like Kuzgesagt (Kuhtz-gez-zat) and any SciShow variation? Twitter accounts of outspoken physicists or evolutionary biologists? The surge of scientifically-related Tik Toks by graduate students or even faculty professors from distinguished institutions? An endless sea of podcasts on general topics like Science Versus, those hosted by scientific journals, or those specializing in scientific fields? Personal blogs like Tim Urban’s Wait But Why with ridiculous premises? Comics like XKCD illustrating the non-intuitive coolness of scientific concepts? I could continue but I think you see the picture. All of these constitute a vast web of SciComm ideas that inundate our social media feeds.

 

But of course, I have to start with origins. Lexico.com defines social media as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”. Now, there are debates on how social media came about. Regarding the history of social media, some news sources like Small Business Trends speak about the invention of the telegraph, pneumatic posts, telephones and radio, implying that the ability to deliver messages from a sender to a recipient was the advent of social media. Additional news sites like Interesting Engineering also mentions the development of early versions of the internet, like CompuServe in the 60s, along with primitive versions of virtual communications like email through UseNet towards the 80s. Mass emailing via services like Listerserv, still used by individuals and institutes alike, was created around this time. The Palace, created in the mid 90s, permitted users to communicate in online chatrooms. This laid the foundation for the first social media website. Mentioned in an article published on Wondropolis, “The first social media site was Six Degrees, made by Andrew Weinreich in 1997.” To this day, it is still an active platform, and visiting the website, it almost feels like stepping into past with its simple web layout design. On its homepage, it laments the reasoning for its name, “Six degrees of separation is the idea that all living things and everything else in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other.” How beautiful a notion that anyone on this planet could be connected to people through a maximum of six friend-of-a-friend statements. This is different from the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which everyone in Hollywood could be linked through six connections or less to actor Kevin Bacon based on the movies and co-stars he’s acted with (though, as stated in the adorable Buzzfeed video of Bacon himself playing the connection game, most have a Bacon score of 2).

 

Summarizing the path elucidated on Interesting Engineering, towards the beginning of the new millennium, social sites emerged from the ether. Blogging began to catch on with sites like Live Journal, the ad-revenue social media model debuted with Lunarstorm in 2000, Friendster amassed a huge following after its creation in 2002, specialized social sites for music, like Last FM, and business, like LinkedIn, followed suit, general players in the social media pipeline like MySpace and Flickr appeared in 2003, YouTube opened its doors in 2005, thus leading to today’s model social giants like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and WeChat in China. With a saturation of businesses came platforms that we consider more controversial today, platforms integrating revolutionary privacy ideas like Minds, or doubling down on its belief of freedom of speech like Gab and Parler (the latter now kicked off Amazon’s Web Servers and tech giants Google and Apple’s mobile app stores due to its role in the January 6th US Capitol insurrection).

 

We went from an aching desire to communicate to our fellow human beings, to being connected to them for longer periods of our daily life, to discovering virtual communities where we could socialize with our friends and strangers, to organized violence due to information shared at lightning speed. How far we’ve journeyed to believing in the spread of information, to the debate about misinformation in parallel with the fight for preservation of speaking openly about ideas.

 

The system to which we’ve all co-signed our involvement in developing, that anyone has the right to provide information, to be informed and participate in these activities, has permitted this divisive attitude towards the role social media plays in society. Surely by now we’ve all watched the documentaries about the astonishing influence companies like Facebook have on entire countries such as the US or Myanmar, or the cases of doxxing in which personal information is publicized by opponents or anonymous users of platforms like Twitter and Reddit. And the solutions to these issues? Censorship. Removing posts that are obviously incorrect or unsafe to spotlight pieces of information that are safe and backed by evidence. I won’t debate here on whether this tactic directly solves the underlying issue, or is just a temporary fix, in the heterogenous mixture of thinking we observe among the global community of people.

 

Science finds itself at the front lines of this redundant battle over facts. Proponents for science repeat time and time again, in unison, the almost unanimous conclusions of experiments conducted to study the universe, while opponents cherry pick the studies that fit their underlying motives. You see this in the discussion about the seriousness of climate change, the effectiveness of vaccines, and even the shape of the Earth. Organized through social media features and multiplied via word of mouth, these echo chambers on both sides become just as polarized as political beliefs. How do experts and non-experts reach a civilized resolution to debates that seem to be never-ending?

 

It is my belief that scientists, both old and young, both seasoned in the workings of academia or not, were never ready for the supernova expansion of social media. The act of figuring out what engages with the general public about science through this online medium. The realization that, no matter what profession you have, no matter what subject you study, no matter what social status you have in your networks, people are genuinely interested in the discoveries of science.

 

Science has the capability of content creation and “going viral”, just like cultural memes or cat videos. Sure, the communicators that come to mind are the archetypical scientists I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this segment, video creators of YouTube, TED speakers, scientists who appear on the Joe Rogan Experience like those part of the Intellectual Dark Web, but they don’t have to be. I probably follow over 500 researchers or academics who I happen to come across doing interesting work. These include people like Darrion Nguyen dubbing cultural references to known scientific concepts on @labshenannigans, to science communicators in public domains such as Toronto intersections like Samantha Yasmine a.k.a Science Sam, to audio masters like Jesse Lupini (Lou-pin-y) for podcasts on Avo Media. They come in all genders, races, experiences, short-form or long-form formats. pushing the idea that science is interesting and here’s a clear reason why.

 

Science needs people to communicate effectively to non-scientists. And yet, I guarantee that all these people did not get trained on how to communicate science to the general public through their studies. In fact, any techniques learned in higher-level education seem to specialize more and more, increasing jargon instead of expanding on the more simplified vernacular. It pushes public discourse to divisive thinking and makes them feel inadequate in participating in the discussion, not to voice whether some theory is correct like academics rightfully do, but to probe questions to help them understand the theory itself. Now, this mentality seems to be changing. The American Association for the Advancement of Science dedicates itself to enhance communication among scientists and the public. In it’s workshop on Science Communication and Public Engagement, speaker Mary Longshore stresses 3 fundamental strategies to participate on social media: 1) what is your goal? 2) who is your audience, and 3) what is your message?. These three questions should be in the back of every scientist’s mind when posting on social media.

 

Regarding goals, in a 2020 blog post on the journal publisher Hindawi, Director of Science Communication at LifeOmic Dr. Paige Jarreau states the common goals that scientists have for using social media, “I want to advance my scientific career and have impact in my field; I want to become a better science communicator; I want to inspire future scientists. I want more people to understand what it looks like to be a scientist in my field; [and lastly] I want to help non-experts make better decisions in their lives, based on science”. Whatever your goal may be, it’s important to ensure you’ve clearly identified what that is before turning on the media machine.

 

Your audience may be what defines how you use social media. For more general science communication, the public would likely be the most desired audience, seeing as they have the power to spread your message and even affect policy. Governments are catching on to the importance of science communication via online means in actively changing public opinion. A 2016 report published in the European Commission as part of the Science for Environmental Policy’s Thematic Issue titled, “Creating ‘buzz’ for impact: Twitter and new-media science communication”, policy advisors sent a survey to 241 scientists working on nanoparticles to determine if there were noticeable differences in the amount of public engagement and the impact of their work. “The boundaries that have traditionally separated scientists, journalists and the public are becoming blurred, and scientists should adapt to this new landscape in order for their work to be understood, and for it ultimately to have meaningful impact for society.”

 

Some researchers began collecting more and more opinions from their peers about the effective usage of social media regarding science communication. One 2016 study published in PLOS One titled, “How Are Scientists Using Social Media in the Workplace?” Surveyed 587 scientists from various academic disciplines on how they used social media both privately among their peers and publicly. Among the respondents, the most used social media platforms were the following: Twitter (at 88%), Facebook (at 82%) and LinkedIn (at 66%). This was vastly different from the results obtained from the general public, who reported using Facebook (at 93%), Youtube (at 62%), Twitter (at 36%). This certainly makes sense as to the function of these sorts of platforms, since while Twitter and LinkedIn are more associated with news updates and networking, Facebook is predominately used to keep in touch with family and friends. Also mentioned in this study, “when queried specifically about their use of blogs as a form of social media, the majority of scientists (92%) indicated that they read science blogs, and many reported they have shared blog posts with professional colleagues (84%). While only half (50%) had authored a blog themselves, the majority (89%) indicated that they believed that blogs do a good job explaining science to the public.” Authors do note a predominance in responses from those in life sciences.

 

This is easy for those who have grown up during the expansion of social media. For others, there’s issues with the usage of social media for science at all. In a separate 2017 study published in the online journal First Monday titled, “Social Media, Science Communication and Academic Super Users in the UK”, authors do a fantastic job summarizing the literature on the debate about effective science communication through social media. Through in-person scoping interviews and a national survey of researchers in the UK, over 1800 responses were analyzed on the attitudes of using social media in research work. Interestingly, there’s a high percentage of researchers who agree that communicating research on social media benefits the public (at 54%), that social media promotes their professional profile (at 44%), and that social media helps find collaboration opportunities (at 39%). Results also indicate negative opinions, that research published on social media cannot be trusted (at 58%) and that communicating research on social media may result in plagiarism (at 45%). To me, these sorts of statements are interesting as they are framed in a way such that disagreeing with these statements just feels wrong. Of course one who journeyed through the academic gauntlet will want to review any claims or studies made in the public domain, and of course things mentioned in a public domain can be plagiarized or scooped (discussed in previous episodes of this podcast). The pros do seem to outweigh the cons, as mentioned in the article, “Even so it is likely that the number of academics using social media in their research will continue to increase. Some UK academics cited the number of Twitter followers they had in their 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) Impact Statements (REF 2014). The REF determines the allocation of much of the government funding for higher education in the UK.”

 

Now that we’ve talked about goals and audiences, what is your message? What is the key idea you want your audience to conceptualize and thus inch closer to your overall goal? This will certainly vary depending on your discipline or field of interest, and once decided will likely affect which platforms you choose to use, just like when deciding on an audience. Science blogger and PhD student at the University of Gothenburg Stina Borchers writes about how to choose the platform that best spreads your message. To summarize, Facebook has the largest potential audience and most freedom in delivering your message; Twitter is great for sharing eye-catching pieces of information with the retweet function surpassing the limits of how much followers an account has; Instagram is a good visual-based medium for well-designed infographics; and Tik Tok is a completely video-based platform for concise clips of information. Now, this only captures what I would consider short-form content, which might be appealing to not just the general population, but to scientists who might not have a lot of free time for long-form content like science blogging, YouTube videos, or podcasts like this one (although I do all those and lots of short-form content as well, maybe I have too much free time?). Really, I just recommend to try everything and see what best suits you based on your goals, target audience and key messages.

 

I bring us now, to the end of this segment. I found this was a lot more difficult to write than I anticipated, and that’s not because there’s not a whole lot of information for one to read/hear/watch about social media and the how science communication fits into the monstrous system. In fact, there might be too much, as I’m sure I missed some information that you may deem relevant. I guess I’ve come to the realization that there’s no one size fits all for everyone. Whether you like using social media or not will probably be your deciding factor on how large your online footprint will become. What’s interesting in devising this episode is that I have such negative thoughts about social media, and yet I definitely use it more than those who I know like using social media. And I think that’s only because I’ve understood the negative impact of its improper usage and only use it for a purpose, to share interesting information to people who might find it useful. I want the public to be inspired by the work researchers and content creators like you listening are doing, and communicate that passion you have in your work in an engaging way. To ignite the curiosity in everyone. Science can discover that, social media can deliver that, we just need to tell the story.

 

*Theme Music*

For today’s episode, I’ll be interviewing someone who has that unique perspective in using social media in effective ways to spread her passion for science communication, someone who has taken the time to reflect on how this tool has impacted her entire way of life.

 

She is the Social Media Coordinator for Science Slam Canada and the co-founder of the Science Networkers Podcast. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Physiology and Neuroscience as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management. She combines her educational and professional backgrounds in science and HR to build community projects and provide career resources and networking opportunities for those interested in pursuing science communication. Please welcome supremely gifted, Pooja Bhatti.

 

*Theme Music*

 

 

*INTERVIEW*

And thank you for listening to this special mid-season episode of the Metaphorigins podcast. For another update, I have officially moved into a more permanent residence in Dublin, so definitely check out the new makeshift podcast setup when I post a picture of it on the Instagram page. It will certainly demonstrate that you don’t need much to perform any similar project of yours. More updates will be given via bits and pieces throughout the season, so stay tuned, and hope you enjoy this exciting escapade. Remember to follow the Instagram page for these visual updates as well as to be entered into the draw for the custom, butterfly-printed Metaphorigins shirt which will be given out on the 30th episode. Until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

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