A Tsunami of Science Communications

The first time I really used the internet as a marketing tool was as Founding Department Head of Nutrition and Food Science at Texas A&M University. There, with the help of Gail Hyden, the Nutrition and Food Science website was created. Pictures were uploaded with the hope of attracting faculty, postdocs, graduate students, and undergraduates.

Today, it is part of my job at DSM Nutritional Products where I create, along with Julia Bird, TalkingNutrition.DSM.com, and share, tweet, and like science content on vitamins, carotenoids and other nutritional ingredients.

It took time for me to realize that EVERYONE is in marketing and sales. Research scientists are marketing their expertise, ideas, and productivity when they submit grants for review. Universities are marketing their reputations when they recruit students and postdocs. Companies are marketing products. And lines between for-profit and non-profit blur as scientists/universities submit patent applications, write books, and consult. This insight partially explains (rationalizes???) my career moves from academics to consumer-packaged goods companies to academics and now to an ingredient manufacturer.

However, I digress. The REAL reason for this blog is because I am trying to understand the impact of social media on science and its communication. The idea of a blog initially came into being last December when I saw media coverage of Felisa Wolfe-Simons’ paper in Science on bacteria using arsenic rather than phosphorous as a basis for DNA. The research was interesting but the transformative ACT in my mind was the extensive online discussion preceding submission of a formal letter to the Editor of Science by Dr Rosie Redfield, University of British Columbia.

Who from my generation would believe that online communications would prevail over the more traditional peer-reviewed journal publication? True, online communications can be more satisfying because they are immediate, rather than taking place over months. And, personal control over the send button is invigorating (vs waiting for a yes/no letter from the Editor). Still, the thought of using an online conversation to replace the CV citation (letter to the Editor, Journal X, vol Y:zz-zz) for year-end review with the Department Head is a game-changer.

And the frequency of these events seems to be happening more often. This may partly be explained by expectations. News today is history next week. Are traditional scientific journals missing out? Just this month, the Council for Responsible Nutrition chose to publish a response online to an article in JAMA, rather than submit a Letter to the Editor. What do you think of these developments?

I think Thomas L Friedman was right when he wrote “The World is Flat”. The computer chip has revolutionized communication and information exchange. The effect has been seen on print communications worldwide. The tsunami is soon to reach scientists, their professional associations, and traditional mechanisms of communicating science. What will be the impact on the tenure and promotion process at universities? Is it affecting you? How? What does the future look like?

I look forward to a conversation…..

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About Michael McBurney

Personal Blog | Nutrition science | Generally curious about impact of social media and open access journals on science communication. Employed by DSM.
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