Twitter is a great tool to keep up with developments in psychological research good and bad. In this post, I will make a case for using Twitter as a student or researcher. For those yet uninitiated, I will give a simple and easy-to-follow introduction on how the platform works and how to use it. Finally, I will recommend a few advocates of good science to follow on Twitter. All in all, this should enable you to dive right into the debates on post-publication peer review and pre-registered replication reports (and all the other things that make good science).
Why Use Twitter?
Some social media platform – notably Facebook – have been characterised in the literature as ‘semi-public spheres’. The public sphere, of course, was developed as a concept by social theorist Jürgen Habermas, who evoked the coffeehouses of yore as places in which the public could meet in free and non-violent discourse. In the evening, after work is done (the wonderful German word Feierabend unfortunately does not have an adequate English translation), the citizens would come together and discuss the urgent and not-so-urgent matters concerning their community. Twitter, in a sense, is a hyper-public sphere: it is a place not only to meet with friends and acquaintances; but also one in which it is perfectly acceptable to eavesdrop on and even butt into the conversations of others.
Such low barriers to entering a conversation are particularly great when you are a student. Not only do many conversations normally take place behind doors that are, for you, still closed; you will surely feel uncomfortable butting into a chat between your intellectual heroes should you find them, say, at a conference (and they might not appreciate it either). On Twitter, social conventions are more relaxed, and the whole platform is designed around the idea that conversations take place in public, and it’s o.k. to listen. And there sure is a lot to listen to! Many, many researchers and advocates use Twitter, and have meaningful and interesting conversations between each other. Later in this post, I will show you how to find them.
And then, of course, there is also the old wisdom that on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog (or a lowly master’s student, for the matter). Yet, Twitter is also a great place to make a name for oneself. If you have something smart to say, it’ll be the content more than who you are that counts; and through its features the platform allows anybody who follows you to quickly share your work with others. What could be better for an evangelist (and let us be honest, all committed researchers, and advocates of good science all the more, are missionaries of their cause)? So, Twitter allows you to connect easily with people all over the world, to follow the conversations of thought leaders in your field, and to quickly get your own work and ideas to those who care.
How to Use Twitter
In this section, I will give an accessible introduction to the platform. If you already know how Twitter works – or feel comfortable with social media in general – you’ll probably want to skip this section. Also, if you don’t trust me, there’s a great Twitter primer by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. All others, here we go!
Although you do not need an account yourself to read content on Twitter, getting one is a great place to start. Not only does it allow you to post tweets yourself; it also enables you to select other users to follow and regularly receive their updates, as well as a few other useful things. Signing up is easy! All you need is an email address and a username you want to go by on Twitter (choose something short and not too cryptic). The site also asks for your full name, but any pseudonym will work. A lot of people do not twitter under their real name! Once you’ve created an account, also upload a profile picture and write a short description so people know what you care about.
Updates on Twitter (‘tweets’) can be up to 140 characters long – being eloquent under these restrictions is a whole art unto itself! So, try to be concise (although it’s customary to split longer messages into multiple tweets. Just indicate that there’s something to follow, e.g. by going 1/2, 2/2). There’s no need to worry about the length of links, though! Twitter has a built-in link-shortener, so all links will be of the same length. Ready to send out a ‘hello world’?
Next, you will want to follow some people. Following somebody establishes a one-way link (i.e., they can follow you back, but they do not have to – there is no obligation there): you will see all posts written by that user on your wall (the feed on the home screen). I will recommend a few interesting advocates of good science to follow later, but perhaps you want to go explore on your own first. Twitter offers a host of recommendations, for instance under ‘Who to follow’ and ‘Popular accounts’ on the left-hand side.
Finally, there are three basic, but important features of Twitter. One is the hashtag (although used all over these days, it originated from Twitter): #word. It’s a way of assigning a label to a tweet, and users can search for tweets containing a particular hashtag. A lot of conferences, for instance, have an official hashtag to make it easier to find tweets from participants (go and type ‘#easp2014′ into the search field in the upper right corner – it’s the official hashtag of the conference of the European Association of Social Psychology that was hosted at the UvA over the summer).
Second, there is the retweet option. When you hover over a tweet with your mouse, you will see three option – ‘reply’ (we will get to that), ‘retweet’, and ‘favorite’. When you click on retweet, the post will appear on your wall (and on that of people you follow). It will still be attributed to the original author, but also show that you retweeted it. This is the key feature behind Twitter’s power for spreading ideas – including those linked to in a tweet – at rapid speed and with great reach.
The last, and most important, feature is the ‘mention’. Prefixing another Twitter user’s handle by an ‘@’ will make that user aware of your message (you can find messages directed at you under ‘Notifications’ in the upper left corner). When you start a tweet with an @ and a handle, this message will only appear on the wall of the person you are addressing and contacts you have in common. So nobody will be bothered by your conversation with somebody they don’t know! When you click on the ‘reply’ button underneath each tweet that I mentioned earlier, it’ll set up an @-message that is linked to the original tweet. What’s so great about that? People can see what you are replying to! When a conversation goes back and forth dozens of times, that can be very handy. Also, clicking on a tweet will show you the thread of tweets it (may have) replied to, and all replies it has received. Go find some reply-tweets and try it out!
Now you should be ready to delve right into Twitter. Perhaps you’ll still want to be a passive reader for a while to see what people are talking about, but first you’ll have to find some interesting people to follow. Let’s go do that in the next section!
Who exactly you’ll want to follow on Twitter will depend on your own interests. After all, it’s not just good science advocates on there, but literally people from all walks of life. Here, I’ll just recommend a few people whose conversations about good science I’ve found particularly exciting to follow.
Chris Chamber / @chrisdc77 – cognitive neuroscientist and as editor of Cortex one of the driving forces in establishing pre-registered reports in journals.
Brian Nosek / @BrianNosek – social psychologist and director of the Center for Open Science (@OSFramework). Leader in the replication movement.
Neuroskeptic / @Neuro_Skeptic – anonymous blogger and quite certainly the snarkiest critic of neuroscience on the Internet.
Daniël Lakens / @lakens – experimental psychologist and methodologist at TU Eindhoven; open science advocate.
Erika Salomon / @ecsalomon – social psychology Ph.D. student and blogger, among others for the SPSP blog.
Ben Goldacre / @bengoldacre – Science journalist and author of the bestselling books “Bad Science” and “Bad Pharma”; leader of the AllTrials campaign to require registration and publication of clinical trials.
Ed Yong / @edyong209 – science journalist and blogger for the National Geographic. Seemingly never sleeps, and so while not a psychologist, still engaged in many conversations.
Sanjay Srivastava / @hardsci – personality and social psychologist at the University of Oregon and author of the excellent blog The Hardest Science.
Betsy Levy Paluck / @betsylevyp – Princeton professor of psychology and public policy and an outspoken defender of good research practices.
Rolf Zwaan / @RolfZwaan – psychologist at Erasmus University Rotterdam and prolific blogger.
Uri Simonsohn / @uri_sohn – methodologist and leader of the replication movement; recent inventions include the p-curve as a measure of publication bias. Also author (with his colleague Joe Simmons (@jpsimmons)) of DataColada.
Heather Coates / @landPangurBan – data librarian at Indiana University and research transparency advocate.
Jelte Wicherts / @JelteWicherts – Han’s former Ph.D. student; now methodologist at Tilburg University. Speaker at the ‘Human Factors’ conference!
Kai Jonas / @KaiJJonas – hipster. Also social psychologist at the UvA and editor-in-chief of Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, a journal based on pre-registration.
Matt Wall / @m_wall – neuroscientist and occasional author of the rather useful blog Computing for Psychologists.
Simine Vazire / @siminevazire - personality psychologist and regular blogger on good science.
Dorothy Bishop / @deevybee - developmental neuropsychologist and blogger; advocate for replication.
Michael Eisen / @mbeisen - biologist and co-founder of PLoS; open access advocate.
Alex Holcombe / @ceptional - cognitive neuroscientist and advocate of registered replication reports; runs PsychFileDrawer, a platform for sharing replications.
Dale Barr / @dalejbarr - social scientist and methodologist at the University of Glasgow.
… and last but not least:
Lego Academics / @LegoAcademics
I hope I’ve been able to convince you of the value of Twitter for you as an advocate of good science. If you want to follow me, I’m @simoncolumbus. See you there.