WEDNESDAY, 16 SEPTEMBER 2020Disclaimer: The contents of this article represent opinions and views shared on Twitter, and do not necessarily constitute peer reviewed scientific research.
Science Twitter can be an incredible platform for sharing resources, advice, opinions and entertainment within the scope of the scientific world. However, like most social media spheres, it can also be used to cause harm, and traditional issues associated with academia are sadly reflected on Science Twitter too. The early part of August saw many of these problems take shape in the form of a fake Twitter account for a Native American anthropologist, created by a former neuroscientist and well-established social activist, which was used to harass people – for more information on this issue, see this article.
Throughout the rest of August, however, much of what is to be loved about the platform came back to the fore. We saw more friendly advice on data visualisation and graphing, more quips about the absurdity of the scientific profession, and more advice on how to handle being a PhD student truly embracing academia for the first time.
Simple message: Don't make bar plots. Show us the actual data and effort that went into it. pic.twitter.com/pmpB2Qksei
— Thomas Krueger (@CoralTKrueger) August 20, 2020
Science is just people moving really small volumes of liquid (tbh, mostly water with some goodies in it) from one place to another over and over again until someone writes it down and puts it in a magazine-thing. 😂
— PhD Diaries is on Discord 💬 (@thoughtsofaphd) August 28, 2020
As a bright bright eyed batch of graduate students are set to start, here are the top 11 pieces of advice NO ONE gave me when i started grad school that I wished they did: 1. ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS. No one will think any less of you, I've never regretted asking too many questions.
— Tanentzapf Lab (@TanentzapfLab) August 29, 2020
Twitter’s strength, and occasionally its weakness, is in how it facilitates debates and discussions between people from different backgrounds. On Science Twitter, passionate voices in all walks of science have debated issues ranging from the validity of a recent paper, to the serious issues within academia. During August, at the eve of a new academic year, we saw discourses on the nature and biases of the PhD degree, which element of scientific technology represents the biggest scam, and which scientific technique still ‘seems a bit like magic’.
Name a popular scam that most Scientists believe. I'll go: the pippette cook book
— 👩🏽🔬👑 Mother of Astrocytes🧬🧠 (@Ti_Enjoli) August 12, 2020
I disagree with this, though prior experience is no doubt helps. Grad school shouldn’t be about pumping out results using techniques learned before grad school, it’s about learning new things, IMO. Goal is independence, but mentorship (not necessarily formal didactics) is key.
— Ben Reisman (@BenjaminReisman) August 30, 2020
What's something that you technically understand, but still seems a bit like magic?
I'll start: pulleys.
— Celeste Labedz (@celestelabedz) August 18, 2020
More specific to Science Twitter is the use of the site by academics to muse colloquially about topics related to their research or their interest. It must be noted that nothing expressed on Twitter has been through the classic peer review pathway that regulates much academic research, but it is still interesting to note an opinion. For example, scientist and Director of the European Bioinformatics Institute Prof Ewan Birney discussed misconceptions surrounding genetics and ethnicity, indicating that whilst differences in skin colour represent genetic differences, ethnic groups do not represent divergence for the vast majority of human genetic traits. Prof. Birney believes that the ‘box ticking’ exercise of ethnicity should not be used to separate out genetic characters in the population, which is actually a messy mix of traits.
People's intuition about how "human genetics" works (how DNA variation is distributed around people around the world) and how it relates to "ethnicity" (the boxes people tick when asked to self identify in different societies) is really off beam.
— Ewan Birney (@ewanbirney) August 19, 2020
Lastly, as would be expected from any form of social media, Science Twitter offers its fair share of quirky, smile-inducing content – but instead of being centred on cat videos, much of it is instead centred on cells. Let’s hope for more of the same in the following months when it comes to cell videos!
Feeling overwhelmed by Twitter? Take a break from the hysteria and watch these cancer cells die. I personally find the end where they “pop” quite relaxing.#CellBiology #microscopy pic.twitter.com/tFGTvJj9dC
— Dylan Burnette (@MAG2ART) August 5, 2020
Adiyant Lamba is a developmental biology PhD student and news editor at BlueSci