The world heard scientists on Twitter, but were they understood?

Last week scientists on Twitter answered the call from one of their peers, an Alabama ecologist named David Steen, and introduced themselves to Twitterverse using the hashtag #actuallivingscientist. It was a delightful sight to see for a science enthusiast like me. The hashtag ended up trending, earned it’s own Moment on Twitter, and inspired passionate responses by non-scientist Twitter users. This Twitter campaign also became the subject of many articles, like this and this, helping to expand the reach of this online real-scientist campaign well outside of Twitter.  Later social scientists joined this effort using the hashtag #actualsocialscientist.

Scientists on Twitter must be heard and understood
Cartoon made on ToonDoo

I was so excited about this development on Twitter that I started retweeting content from the #actuallivingscientist stream to my Twitter followers, many of whom are not scientists, or probably do not know an actual living scientist in person. While doing my part to introduce scientists and their work to the world, I noticed something about most of scientists’ tweets: while images included were engaging, the words used to describe the research were full of scientific jargon.

I thought to myself,

“these words need translation so the relevance of the work is understood and remembered, especially for publicly funded research”

This self-dialogue drove me to translate the words of these scientists while retweeting their status updates. In doing so, I was also hoping to nudge the scientific community to reflect on the accessibility of the way they described their research. I am not sure if I was able to ignite this self reflection, but at least I did my part to help make these status updates accessible to my followers.

Below is a sample of original tweets by scientists on Twitter, and how I tried to translate their words so they are more understandable. I also aimed at showing how these scientists’ work are relevant to our every day lives:

Original Tweet

Translation

Jargon demystified: Eutrophication


Original Tweet

Translation

Jargon demystified: Forest pathology


Original Tweet

Translation

Jargon demystified: paleodiet and geoarcheology


Original Tweet

Translation

Jargon demystified: biochemical phenomenas


Original Tweet

Translation

Jargon demystified: planetary atmospheres


Original Tweet

Translation

Jargon demystified: #dryland ecosystem


The advent of online communication and tools of social media has armed scientists with powerful tools to communicate with the public.  But part of their arsenal should include a solid understanding of effective communication, otherwise their words and the significance of their work will not be fully understood.

Did you catch the #actuallivingscientist campaign on Twitter? What did you think?

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