Should we use social media for our research?

25 06 2012

My abstract “Should we use social media for our research?” has been accepted for presentation at the “Co-production of Knowledge: Social media, STS and…”Symposium which will take place from 18-20 July 2012 at the University of York. Further information about the conference is available at:

The abstract is as below:

Should we use social media for our research?

The globalisation of internet development has eliminated constraints of time and space and this breakthrough has led to many changes in the way people communicate with each other (Hewitt, 1998). These changes have also made their way into science and scholarly communication. While scholars used to depend on browsing the most relevant published papers to stay current with research in their field, or meeting face-to-face in meetings and conferences to exchange newest information and latest research findings, the adoption of online social media, such as academic blogs, Twitter, wikis and discussion forums has enabled a real-time communication and dissemination of scientific content (Maron and Smith, 2008, Neylon and Wu, 2009, Procter et al., 2010, Gu and Widén-Wulff, 2011).  However, the traditional practice of science is based on academic reward system that emphasis the priority of discovery (Merton, 1957). Would the use of blogs and micro-blogs compromise or even sabotage the academic reward system? Some scholars have criticized scientist bloggers who blog their research rather than waiting to publish their final result, as not fair on collaborators by leaking result and as to circumvent peer review process (Cox and Forshaw, 2011). Others praised web blog and social media to have provided great opportunities for a lively and stimulating scientific debate reaching beyond the research community which are valuable to the general public (Kendrew, 2011). This raises question that how to discuss new scientific findings which have not yet been peer-reviewed in an online public place. Should academic researchers use social media for research? If yes, how to adopt it properly?


This paper is based on pilot interviews with UK academic researchers, and the findings will be developed into survey questionnaires to get a representative sample. Around four to six qualitative interviews with UK academic researchers who use blogs and Twitter in their daily research life will be conducted to explore how they use social media to find information, getting ideas about their work, find peers to co-operate in a research project or co-write a paper, and disseminate scientific knowledge to a wider audience.  The findings determine to identify the pros and cons—the benefits and the problems of scholarly use of social media, predominately blogs and micro-blogs, and researchers’ concerns towards ownership and appropriate use of their online content. The study also explores the strategy that scholars use to make the adoption of social media benefit their work to the maximum. 

Another six to eight interviews with researchers who have not adopted social media tend to explore the reason of resistance and investigate possible strategies to enhance their trust of social media and the confidence that the benefits of using social media outrace the efforts. Understanding why some academics choose not to adopt social media is an important part of a critical approach in identifying the boundaries and difficulties of social media as a medium for scholarly communication. Novel forms of science practice have challenged the traditional norm of science and only a majority acknowledgement of these new forms will lead to the shift of the whole system. More empirical research need to be done to test the feasibility of full adoption of social media and set regulation for the new practice.




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