Do academics have a duty to tweet?

twitter-pliktHere’s a translated and slightly edited version of my op. ed. in the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, 30 August 2013.

Knut Olav Åmås, science editor at Aftenposten, writes that academics need to be active on social media in order to fulfil their duty to spread new insights to society at large. Such calls can seem like moralizing armchair theory. Many researchers in Norway share my own experience: workdays are tied to specific projects and the production of results under pressure. There’s a long list of important things one ought to do on top of this. Being in the forefront of research is fun, but it also requires tough prioritizing.

That’s why it’s worthwhile listening to Kylie Soanes, an Australian PhD candidate who recently wrote the blog post «How social media helped my PhD.» I could recognize a lot of her points, even if I’m more senior and in an entirely different field. Kylie Soanes is not active on social media because someone has said it’s her duty, but because it in specific ways helps her reach the primary goal: completing the PhD.

There are to reasons why use social media despite the time pressure. First, like Kylie, I see that it can improve my research. For instance, writing for social media helps me write more reader-friendly academic articles. Second, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to be somewhat active on social media as an academic. One can easily get another impression: most academics are completely absent from social media while a few are so eager that one wonders what happens to their research (and family life). One great opportunity is to write the occasional blog post without ‘having a blog’. (This site, for instance, uses a WordPress platform designed for blogs, but I’ve deliberately put other content in the foreground, more like a personal website. Still, I can write occasional posts like this one. The other obvious possibility is two write for external multi-authored blogs.)

Åmås, the science editor, regrets that research communication is hardly given importance when positions are filled and funding is allocated. I agree, but hope that we’ll never see any points system here. A better starting point is to recognize that two-way communication about research can be valuable, and that social media can be a suitable platform.

My last project proposal to the Research Council of Norway included an ambitious communication strategy, with a Twitter account for the project and public seminars at various stages. This part of the proposal was rated ‘weak’ because communicating with the public before the results were ready was deemed ‘poorly considered’. Such evaluations are carried out by external consultants whose opinions are unpredictable, but, when challenged, the Research Council defended this assessment. The Research Council of Norway is, overall, a highly professional funding institution, so this was a startling experience.

I can register my op. ed. in CRIStin, the Norway’s national research information system. One of CRIStin’s aims is to guide the media and the public at large to research results. CRIStin allows me to register public lectures, radio interviews and many other things, but not blog posts. In other words, texts that are written for the web are a non-existing form of research ocmmunication for the Norwegian academic bureaucracy. (Immediately after my op. ed. was published, CRIStin’s manager contacted me to assure that they will look into this as part of a bigger overhaul.)

(See also my list of migration researchers on Twitter)

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