Study shows impact of Twitter on scientific papers04/19/2017
BATON ROUGE – Some scientists are using social media platforms to promote their research. LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor Steve Midway wanted to find out how much of an impact the social media platform Twitter makes on the number of times a scientific research paper is cited. He and colleagues at Clemson University, Auburn University, Smith-Root Inc. and the U.S. Geological Survey looked into this question, and their findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
“There’s a significant presence and a large community of Twitter users that are both talking about science as well as promoting their own papers or papers they like on social media,” Midway said.
To conduct their research, they sifted through 1,599 primary research articles randomly selected from 20 ecology journals published between 2012 and 2014. The variables included how many tweets were sent about an article and how many people potentially read those tweets. They found a positive connection between the number of times a research paper was tweeted and the number of times it was cited in the scientific literature.
“We did see a very clear effect, not a huge effect, but a clear effect of if you have more unique tweets about something, that paper tends to be cited more often,” Midway said.
One possible explanation for this, posed by Midway and co-authors, is that many people in the scientific community follow roughly the same people and end up seeing the same content.
“It is also possible that the quality of a paper makes it more likely to be shared on Twitter and would become heavily cited regardless of social media activity,” said co-author Brandon Peoples, assistant professor of fisheries ecology at Clemson University.
Given the variables the authors considered, the biggest predictor for the number of citations was how old a paper is. For example, a paper published three years ago is more likely to have been cited more often than a paper published this year. Compared to how long a paper has been out, Twitter activity had only one-fifth as strong of an impact. The authors suggest that scientists should not solely rely on social media to boost their citation rate, but they also should not discount it.
“Ultimately, there is no shortcut for doing impactful research. While tweeting may have some positive effect, don’t expect low-quality research to get cited just by tweeting about it,” Peoples said.
Twitter Predicts Citation Rates of Ecological Research, PLOS ONE.
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