Will podcasts and social media replace academic journals?

August 04, 2021 ResearchPod ft Prof Matthew Fox
Will podcasts and social media replace academic journals?
Show Notes Transcript

"Will Podcasting and Social Media Replace Journals and Traditional Science Communication? No, but..." is the perhaps controversially titled paper by Prof Matt Fox and a team at Boston University School for Public Health.  And, if the answer is no, what role can they play in the future?

In this episode, we talk about the current state of academic publishing, the risks and opportunities of social networks for science, and integrating digital outreach into scientific practice.

Listen to Matt on The Free Associations Podcast and Serious Epidemiology Podcast, or follow him on Twitter.

Original Article:

This transcript is automatically generated.

00:00:11 Will 

Hello, I'm will welcome to research pod. 

00:00:15 Will 

Will pod casting and social media replace journals and traditional science communication? No, but... 

00:00:24 Will 

That is the possibly provocative title of a paper by Doctor Matthew Fox and the team at Boston University School for Public Health and , to peak behind the curtain of things here at Research Pod. 

00:00:34 Will 

As soon as I saw it, I just had to speak to Matt and find out more about what he thinks over the future for online research communications. 

00:00:40 Will 

What kind of opportunities and risks there are for engaging with professional and public audiences through social media, and to what extent the future really is digital? 

00:00:53 Will 

Matt, hello. Thanks very much for joining us by way of introduction. Could you maybe tell me and everyone listening at home little bit about yourself? Some of your professional and podcast in background? 

00:01:06 Matt Fox 

Yeah, so I’m Matt fox. I'm a professor of epidemiology and global health that is epidemiology, particularly focused on HIV and issues around improving access to and and outcomes from HIV care in in South Africa and Sub Saharan Africa in general. But I also have a keen interest in epidemiology and opinion. 

Kids and it was through that, you know, desire to work on better communicating both in logic methods but just epidemiology in general, which has become such a such a hot topic. 

Now that we're in the Corona virus pandemic that got me into pod casting and social media and trying to use those to communicate, what you know I think are really interesting topics but can sometimes be fairly complex. 

And we try to break those down and make it simpler for. 

00:02:03 Will 

And when we say social media, that's a pretty big topic. What kind of channels, what networks are we talking about specifically here? 

00:02:11 Matt Fox 

Yeah, in terms of social media, it's really I'm really talking about Twitter, you know. I'm I use Facebook for for personal, but not for professional. 

And so it's it's really comes down to Twitter being the the main social media channel that I'm using and it's become. 

The go to medium for communicating about the pandemic and therefore you know it's the majority of where I spend my time. 

I started off using Twitter well before the pandemic and was using it largely to communicate with the the rest of the epidemiology community. 

But you know, once the pandemic took off, there became this interest in epidemiologists opinions on what to do about the pandemic, and so that sort of lead to. 

Trying to use the platform to try and counter some of the myths and dis information that's out there. 

00:03:09 Will 

And boy Howdy, has there been plenty of both? Now my personal background is in science, communication and digital media and it feels like this information is at an all time visibility peak. 

Whether it's an all time content peak, if there is more coming out rather than just more that's being louder, I'm not so sure. 

00:03:32 Matt Fox 

In terms of intentional misinformation, and Anne and strategising around, you know how to spread misinformation and disinformation. I I would certainly agree with you. 

I think it is because we haven't had the platform and the technology to be able to spread it, but I mean there is. 

There's ample evidence that the the groups that are anti vaccination have been intentionally using the current virus pandemic. 

As an opportunity to sow distrust in in all vaccines. 

I have been very very strategic about using social media to to do that, so I would certainly agree with you. I think we're at certainly at the the all time high in terms of intentional spread of misinformation. 

00:04:24 Will 

For the day to day, perspective of an epidemiologist. Perhaps listening to this. 

I have been wondering to what extent is the digital realm those social media interactions? What people are facing in the clinic actually dealing with human beings rather than, you know, the face of this Twitter icons. 

00:04:45 Matt Fox 

Yeah, I think this is a. It's a really interesting thing because the more time you spend on social media, the more you can be convinced that everything you see on social media is representative of the larger world that we live in and to a certain extent it certainly. 

It is, but I think we also a bit overestimate how much influence it has. You know you can see one post that contains misinformation and you can be led to believe that you know everything out. 

There is misinformation that everyone is seeing it and everyone is believing it, and that's probably not true. On the other hand, we certainly know that. 

You know when you know healthcare providers are interacting with. 

With their those in their care, they're certainly encountering much more of the I heard this on. You know, I heard on Twitter, I saw it on Facebook type responses to attempts to give people good information around the vaccines. 

Or, you know, social distancing, protecting yourself from Covid, and all those things, so it is definitely having an impact on actual behaviour. I just think we don't know exactly how much you. 

00:06:04 Will 

I remember seeing a statistic. This was a couple of years ago now, so it might not be as true as it was then. That only actually about 7% of the entire world is actually on Twitter and that really help kind of ground my own personal use of social media like this does not represent all of the world. 

00:06:22 Matt Fox 

I think there's some truth to that. Of course. I do think that you know, even if a person is not on Twitter, they are often hearing, you know, connecting with people who who are getting information from social media. I I don't want to limit just to. 

Twitter because Facebook has a probably an even larger role that's playing in terms of spreading. 

Misinformation currently, so I don't think that it's the reaches only amongst those who are directly getting their information from the platform. 

I think it's radiating out from those who are on the platform to those who are not on the platform, but I I certainly do agree that we probably think it's it's having a bit more of an influence than it is, and it is definitely worth keeping that in mind. 

00:07:13 Will 

The paper that led me to you and you're working your podcast from the American Journal of Epidemiology was looking at whether social media and pod casting could replace journalist or traditional media. 

And if not, then what kind of role they could play and to kind of cut through to the quick of it 

There was the three key reasons for why an epidemiologist should be on social media or be engaged, and only just tell the audience at home a little bit about the paper and the lessons from it. 

00:07:42 Matt Fox 

Yeah, so I've been working with a number of colleagues. 

Over the past few years, on trying to sort of be thoughtful about what we're all doing on social media and whether or not we think you know, social media is actively changing the way that people are communicating with colleagues and communicating with the general public. 

And I encounter a lot of colleagues in the world of science, but in particular, in the world of epidemiology, who are are still not on social media and are pretty sceptical of it because they think of social media as just a dent of negativity and. 

Place it is, you know, sort of full of. 

Cruelty in and why would you ever want to get involved in that an and you know? Of course there is. 

You know there is absolutely true to that and we talk about in this. In this paper the the ways in which social media is has been used for harassment and particularly for minorities, communities and scientists from minorities backgrounds too, are experiencing a lot of hate. 

00:08:53 Matt Fox 

But at the same time, I think that failing to get involved in social media and engaging with the conversations is, you know, is really leaving some people behind because they don't want it to get involved. 

So you know social media is now where many of the conversations around the most current methodologic developments are going on within my field. But I suspect within most fields in in. 

Scientific academia beyond academia really, but you know within the scientific community. 

For those of us who are in institutions that are smaller that are, are you not the very very large? 

Research institutions getting access to those who are the leading scholars in the field you know, was was typically a very difficult thing to do. 

You really could only do that at academic conferences. Or maybe you reach out by email and are lucky enough to get somebody. 

Tension, or maybe you write something and and somebody responds, sorted through the journal system, but that is all changing very rapidly and now a lot of these conversations are happening much faster, and they're happening on social media, which means that you know if you are, let's say you're a student in a field and you're not at one of these. 

00:10:22 Matt Fox 

You know, within my field you know sort of the top four or five institutions. You can now still access an and understand the conversations and the type of. 

Discussions that are going on at those is. 

Solutions even from far away, and so I think what we're doing with social media is where we are democratising that information at the same time we are also opening that up to a much broader set of views and we're opening it up to the to the public. 

Not everything that we talk about in within our field is is something that's going to be of interest to the general public. 

But you know, often gimmicks can get mired down in my new show that probably don't have a great impact on peoples lives. 

And if you know epidemiology is really a social movement that is designed to improve health, then ultimately we need to be responsible to the general public, not just to our ourselves. 

And so getting additional feedback from the general public, I think you know only helps us in making sure that what we're doing is grounded in. 

The real needs of what people are experiencing in their daily lives. 

00:11:36 Will 

And with that flat access within institutions between institutions, and from public accessibility to those institutions that are those researchers. 

There is coming back to something that we mentioned before the balance of risk and reward that there are those opportunities, but there also possibly some risks of. 

Misinterpretation, willful or otherwise. 

I guess are there any cautions for aspiring science communicators or epidemiologists who are think about dipping their toe into the pool of social media 

How to best kind of manage expectations around that? 

00:12:11 Matt Fox 

Yeah, it it's such a great question. I mean, because many of us are quite used to communicating with our colleagues in a way that is fairly informal and you know. 

00:12:23 Matt Fox 

Twitter and social media kind of increases that we are often making sort of jokes that when you know somebody or are perfectly fine because they they know the spirit in which you are communicating but can come off as quite harsh to anybody who is is not familiar. 

And certainly if you are using humour, which is so difficult to communicate or sarcasm, which you know is, we can argue that there's there's very little benefit to being sarcastic or 

Dismissive in social media because it always is going to lead to hurt. 

Feelings, even if it's not the person you're sort of directly being sarcastic too. And then if you're just sort of using it as a way to be dismissive about the way that things are being communicated, let's say around COVID and the disinformation being spread. 

You know, all you end up preaching to the choir innocence. You sort of know the people who are already convinced you know, love to hear you make snarky comments about misinformation, but does it really help those who are really trying to sort out what is 

Fact from fiction, I suspect it probably doesn't, so I think you have to go into it thinking of everything that you post in the way that it is true. 

For public consumption, even though you may intend it to be a conversation within a select community of of, you know, say, academics who may understand a lot. 

00:13:49 Matt Fox 

We were talking bout you just have to be very aware of the fact that you know the general public can and will read this and so even though you may not want to communicate everything in a way that is specifically designed and targeted towards a lay audience, you have to be very weird play audience. 

Maybe paying attention and you may interpret things that you say in a way that it's very different from the way you mean it. 

I also think you know you have to be very careful in just sort of thinking through anything that you say online is probably going to be heard by different groups of people very differently, and therefore you know trying to be as clear in your communication and she possibly can. It should be part of the goal of any social media interaction. 

That's really difficult thing to do, of course, because you are very limited in the in Twitter. On the on, the character length that you can put into a tweet, you can tweet Twitter threads, but honestly, most people are only going to read the first few and then you know, let's say you say something that is not quite what you meant. You could of course always go back and adjust what you say by clarifying later on. 

00:15:02 Matt Fox 

But often it's too late. At that point, people will hear the first thing you say. If it gets you interpreted in a light that you didn't mean it, or I shouldn't say interpreted. It probably was poorly communicated. If if people heard it that way. 

The initial tweet is the one that people are going to see and remember. Anne there often never going to see your. 

Your correction and you see this all the time. You see often people critiquing, let's say those whose opinions on, let's say you know, for example, masks at the beginning of the pandemic were in support of then government policies on not needing to to mask who then came back and very very clearly said I was wrong. 

I was wrong. People don't hear the I was wrong, but they here was. You were wrong in the beginning and you never really took back that position. So you do have to be very careful. 

You science is something that tends to evolve overtime when we're in a situation like we're in now, but you don't really have that luxury to to change your opinion and have everybody hear it so you do have to just be be very careful about the way you communicate. 

00:16:09 Will 

But in terms of walking about lying and reaching either underserved audiences, or people whose parking conversations could be taken combatative 

Instead of just dunking on them with a viral tweet, do you have any success stories or 

stand out moments in the past couple of months, the last year and a half on Twitter or through the podcast where you have surprised yourself and maybe surprised the audience with how a message has been communicated well. 

00:16:38 Matt Fox 

It's an interesting question because I think that often we don't. We don't really. We don't really know when we're communicating well because the feedback often comes when we're communicating poorly. 

In some sense, what I think people do is they look at iMessage being, you know, like to Lawton and shared a lot as a sign that they have communicated well. 

But I I think that's actually probably a poor approach to trying to determine that, because often things that are getting liked or or shared a lot or getting liked or shared just because people agree with the sentiment, not because it it communicated it in a way that was particularly effective. So you know, I think. 

It's tough to to share probably success stories. It's much easier to identify the times when you know things went went poorly, because that's when you get the the most feedback. You get the most push back and the most critique. 

00:17:38 Matt Fox 

I do think that when when something that you have spent a lot of time on thinking through very clearly about how you want to communicate, gets to a fairly large audience. It is. It's certainly gratifying in the sense that you know you. 

Or trying your best to get really good information to people. And, well, you don't know exactly what the impact is. 

You do know that it's it's getting in front of a lot of eyeballs in ways that it wouldn't if you just express this in a, you know, in an academic article or, you know, gave a talk somewhere it's it's really reaching a much larger audience. 

So I would say that you know the ways in which we typically focus on the sort of the Twitter metrics can be a. 

A pretty mixed bag, but you know it's it's search. 

Only an indication of of reach, even if it's not an indication of of necessarily really good communication. 

00:18:36 Will 

And for any epidemiologist, just listening to this who wanted to get involved. There's lots of different ways you can measure something, and lots of different yardsticks for success. 

For the ones who are reluctant to engage with social media for many good reasons, some of them not so good like the attitude of either. 

I'm too busy or you know, I'm a senior lecturer at somewhere. I have comms teams for that I have interns for that. 

Is there something that you would like to have 

Acknowledged or something you like to reach to those people and say here is why you should care or how to build those investments into a communication strategy for a department or for a project. 

00:19:16 Matt Fox 

It's a really important thing, because you're right that you know. Certainly some people have communications teams that you know do a lot of the marketing of the of the research, but ultimately what we want to do is engaging in conversations with people because. 

We know public health 101 the just giving people information is not enough to change behaviour much of the time that it you you need to give people good information, but you also you need to help support them in making the decisions that ultimately think will lead to better health and so it's a process. It's not a 1 way street. I think that the best thing that people can do. 

Two is just to open up a Twitter account and start following people that they are interested in and with no commitment in anyway to to actually engage it, but that what that does is allows you to see the kinds of communications that are going on and then make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to engage. You know, I think some people for them that will be enough to get them. 

Going in to jump in for other people you know there will be a. Certainly they'll look at the negativity that's on social media. 

Just say I don't want to get involved in that, and that's that's perfectly fine, but at least then you have a really informed you no opinion about what the medium can can do when you look at the ways that other senior researchers and senior public officials are using the platform to engage with. 

The larger community so you know I think it's it's really part of the responsibility of being in public health is to communicate effectively and therefore there is no right now, no better way to do that than through social media. 

00:21:14 Will 

The title of the paper again, that limited was, will podcast in the social media replaced journals and traditional science communication. No, but. 

The lingering question there , the ellipsis of what part they play in the future, when if you had any ideas of you know either an idealised future or something that people should be wary off and try to avoid in their communication strategy. 

00:21:34 Matt Fox 

So the traditional way that scientists communicate is through journal publications. It's the it's a form of currency amongst academics is getting your paper published in the very high impact journal. But there there is so much consternation right now within the scientific community around the failings of. 

Ohh, that academic journal system in a number of different ways, partly in that it's the ivory tower mentality of. 

I put it in a journal and then it's everybody else's job to communicate it and and you know, figure out what it means and how important it is. 

Which I think is is a fairly outdated approach, but on top of that I think there's also feeling that journals historically were seen as the arbiters of what is both important science and and good science tonight. 

Think you know the the pandemic has taught us that? That that is definitely not always the case and that there are a lot of failings with the current system is as several people have pointed out on social media. 

If you were designing a system for determining what is good science and then how to get it out to the academic and Malay community, the journal system that we have now is not what you would design today. It's a. It's a legacy of of history when you know. 

The Internet didn't exist and we didn't have other ways to effectively communicate, so if you were building it now, you wouldn't build it this way, and I think that social media is having a strong influence on changing the way that journals are operating and helping determine whether the the current system that we have for journals is is what we will have in the future. 

00:23:20 Matt Fox 

We were writing this in a journal, so we wanted to talk about the influence on journals and science community. 

And social media is also changing the way that we teach students. Academia is changing because of social media. There is much more access to information about how to teach better or also just, you know, information students can access on their own. 

Do we think that the model where students come into a classroom get lectured to for an hour, and then go home and read reading after reading is the best approach you know? Do we want to think about 

Into podcasts or or watching online videos. 

Or a better way for students to access information than the traditional sort of lecture based format. I think all of this is going to change in the future, and I think it's going to be driven by conversations that happen on social media because you know, again, the the the rapid post publication review of journal articles is now happening on Twitter. You will get the the the really quick. 

Be back on all of the most important and influential publications for coming out through conversations on Twitter and you'll get them in a much more nuanced way then you will. 

00:24:40 Matt Fox 

If you wait for someone to write the letter to the editor that maybe months down the road when you've already forgotten about the publication, so you know, I think we can be pretty certain that that social media is going to. 

Change academia in general over over the next decade, exactly how I think we don't. We don't know for sure, but I think academia 10 years from now is going to look very different from the way that it does now. Because of this much more free access to information and communication. 

00:25:14 Will 

Fingers crossed it's not going the way that Twitter is going, and everything is either spam, or American politics. 

00:25:21 Matt Fox 

Let's hope let us hope that is not what it turns into. 

00:25:25 Will 

I'm at thank you so much for your time this morning. If people like what they've heard from you and want to hear more about your podcast in your research, what would be the best way for them to find you online or through any other means? 

00:25:36 Matt Fox 

Yes, so you can find me on Twitter at at Prof. Matt Fox and I tend to tweet out a lot of things that we have going on and I also have two different podcasts that you can look up to free associations 

Podcasts you have to Google Free Associations podcast in order to find it, but it's a a podcast that we do that is a a journal Club podcast looking at kind of the most recent big health. 

Reason and we critique them and and talk them through. And then I have a second podcast which is called serious epidemiology. 

That's one much more targeted towards epidemiologists and methods, but both are out there on the web and you can. You can find either with them with a quick Google search.