Discussing and communicating science
There are a few ways to communicate science. Most scientists end up going to conferences and meetings where we give either oral or poster presentations. This approach allows for a more interactive way of science communication to our peers than the standard paper, although the price one pays is that there is usually less room for detail and nuance. Still, one does not need to chose between one format or the other as the expectation is that one can discuss ongoing research in a meeting/conference and refer to published work when certain details are required. Furthermore, meeting presentations let us tailor the message to a specific audience more precisely than one could do in a paper (although this is a matter of degree).
Whatever one might think of twitter (and I bet that you and I could both write several posts on this topic), the science community on twitter has proven to be a great resource to those of us working on mathematical oncology as well as other people working on other science fields. A recent trend of using twitter threads to describe the main elements of a recently published paper (or released pre-print) shows how eager many scientists are to describe their research in new ways. Lynn Chiu (@drlynnchiu) talks about this in a recent blog post. These threads allow one of the authors to show us a view of the paper that does not need to conform to the dry rigor and detail of the journal. It shows us a more personal view where one could see the challenges the authors had to face, the motivation and the main takeaways in plain language.
Could this all be achieved in the form of a blog post? I think so. But even if it is possible, not everybody thinks this would be a good idea. For instance, look at the tweet by Dan Quintana (@dsquintana) heading this post. I reached out to other people on Twitter and this point of view is not exceptional. Describing one’s paper on twitter is fun, fast and allows for take-home messages to be delivered in short snippets that can be easily shared individually. Finally twitter works like a central repository of all things mathonco: just go to one place and find out about EVERYTHING that is going on.
But blogs have a few advantages. Web access is more wide spread than twitter. Blog posts are less transient than twitter threads. They are also easier to find, edit, cite and link to from another webpage (I do usually link to them from my list of publications so that each paper refers to the post where I discuss the paper). Importantly, especially for those of us that at some point relied on a different corporation’s social network, that content is at the mercy of somebody else. Popular blogger Mike Elgan advocated Google+ as a better platform for blogging some time ago but good luck finding his excellent arguments on that precise point today!
Then there is the matter of context. While a twitter thread allows for certain messages to be easily shared (and liked), it also makes it real easy for certain statements to be shared without context, which is not a minor risk for some people in the science and science communication communities.
Ultimately, it is not my goal to tell other scientists what to use in order to communicate science to colleagues, other scientists, or even non-scientists. Good science communication does not depend on the platform used to distribute it and the more good science communication, the better for everybody. I just hope to see more of it in the form of blog posts.
EDIT (7/7/2019): Artem Kaznatcheev has an interesting take on this very topic which he has shared on his own blog.