Blogging the Truth about Research

Introduction

Listen to Peter Gill’s talk for “Engage: Social Media Michaelmas” on the University of Oxford podcasts website.

Peter Gill, DPhil candidate at the Centre for Evidence-based Medical Research at the Department of Primary Care, is a regular contributor to the blog trusttheevidence.net. This site was set up by Carl Heneghan and Ami Banerjee, who met as PhD students in the OXVASC research programme at the University of Oxford. The blog aims to ensure dissemination of the truth behind medical research to the wider community and to broader lay audience. Peter Gill began contributing a few years ago.

Challenge

The blog is an excellent forum for explaining glossed over findings and debunking commonly published myths. Normally response to articles would have to be through the very slow academic formalised process. Through the blog response can be almost instantaneous. But it can be challenging to track these myths in the first place as they are propagated in papers and articles. It is also vital to ensure that the blog’s response is accessible to a wide audience. For this that the trusttheevidence team find social media invaluable.

Innovation

Whilst blogging is a core part of communication strategy at the Centre for Evidence-based Medical Research, social media is also a vital tool, particularly Twitter. Peter defines social media as a decentralised, non-hierarchical community rather an audience. It can therefore be used both as a vast amplifying forum for dissemination and as a fertile source of information. Hours of reading can be saved by using Twitter, as other scientifically-engaged users go beyond press releases to post and retweet links to original findings, or conduct their own analysis of articles and tweet the results. This wide-scale remote participation increases open access to medical research worldwide, and also allows Peter and the other trusttheevidence bloggers to source their materials quickly.

Feedback

This blog has had meaningful impact in the way that some medical findings have been presented in the media. Carl’s twitter-disseminated critique of a recent Wellcome Trust autism diagnosis study led to an invitation to write a Guardian article on the topic. The Wellcome Trust responded by reissuing a clarified press release and emending misleading material. This process took a matter of days; a sharp contrast to the time-scale for more traditional academic publishing.

Top Tips for Success

  1. Be consistent with your message and divide your different social media accounts to use for different audiences.
  2. Be aware of the importance of timing for tweeting. An American study recently suggested between noon and 5pm is an optimal time. Nonetheless, sometimes it is about luck.
  3. Use as many avenues as possible, taking advantage of different forums to reach different audiences.
  4. Think about who you can help to distribute their message and build a helpful network for yourself.
  5. Use tools like Tweetdeck, which will you to create unique lists feeds for you to sort your twitter feed to prevent information overload. Pocket (formerly Read It Later) is also a useful tool to archive tweets, particularly now the MLA has confirmed that Tweets are now citable.

Further Information

Listen to Peter Gill’s talk for “Engage: Social Media Michaelmas”  on the University of Oxford podcasts website. Listen to other “Engage” talks Visit the trusttheevidence blog Follow trusttheevidence on Twitter  Sign Up for IT Services courses: Security and Privacy Online: Social Media Twitter for Academia

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