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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Nanotechnology and Zero Net Energy Housing > Social Media as a Means of Boosting Scientific Literacy

Brandon Engel

An examination of how Twitter, Facebook, and similar platforms can be used to better educate the public about the value of hard sciences.

March 3rd, 2014

Social Media as a Means of Boosting Scientific Literacy

On the one hand, you might say that the internet has exacerbated everyone's attention span issues. Cat memes, games, this Jackson Pollock "digital painting generator"... there's a distraction lurking in every remote corner of the internet, just waiting for you to "Stumble Upon" it.

If used unimaginatively, the internet can be a colossal time waster -- but, if used as a means of obtaining information and as an aid in intellectual pursuits, there's virtually no limit to what you can learn via the internet. Part of the responsibility, obviously, rests upon individuals to educate themselves, but part of the burden must also rest on the shoulders of scholars, scientists, and other public intellectuals, who should treat it as their moral and occupational imperative to engage the public with the new tools at their disposal, especially when most of these tools are free and exceedingly simple to use.

But while the technology holds significant promise, and the experts do seem enthusiastic, it's becoming clearer and clearer that they have their work cut out for them. For instance, the National Science Foundation recently conducted its biannual"Science and Engineering Indicators" survey, and found that that 26 percent of the U.S. believe that the sun revolves around the earth.

On a slightly more uplifting note, however, the survey also found that 90 percent of those polled believe that scientists are both "helping to solve" difficult problems, and working for the greater "good of humanity." There is, it would seem, a clear disparity between literacy and reverence for the field. The question now, of course, is how can modern technology be harnessed to help remedy this problem?

Encouragingly, Data from , a tool which measures social media trends, strongly suggests that scholars are being earnest about reaching out, as social media is visibly connecting scholars, scientists in the private sector, with the general public. For instance, many tweeters acknowledged the contributions of public intellectual Neil DeGrasse Tyson throughout February, such as user @PNNLab, who tweeted :Neil Degrasse Tyson: Improving nation's scientific literacy" with a link to a video and a hash-tag for Black History Month. Many Tweeters take care to include links to relevant articles or multimedia content to enrich the post, and many Tweeters still are diligent about including appropriate has-tags so that these posts ultimately reach the widest readership possible.

Consider the practical applications of scientific literacy -- even when it comes to things as basic as energy consumption habits at home. The scientifically literate are in a better position to make more informed decisions about these matters.

While there is still, clearly, much work to be done, it is exciting to see that there is a healthy degree of stimulating discussion taking place through social media already. Let us hope that scientists and academics can continue to enrich public discourse through all accessible mass media vehicles.

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