MS Research Roundup: August 13, 2014
Social Media and Clinical Trials; Scientists on Social Media; Talking Simply About Science; Reaching Out With Reddit
MS Research Roundup collects items of interest to multiple sclerosis researchers from around the Web. Send us your tips: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Social Media and Clinical Trials
No clinical trial has been stopped because of online chatter by study participants, but drugmakers and researchers have become concerned that blogging and tweeting about symptoms and side effects could compromise the scientific integrity of clinical trials and perhaps harm patients. Several stories cite the example of Jeri Burtchell, who in 2007 joined a double-blind phase 3 study of fingolimod (Gilenya, Novartis) for relapsing-remitting MS and began blogging about her experience (here, then here). Little guidance is available for researchers and participants, but Burtchell has started a new blog, aiming to educate others about the use of social media while participating in a study. (Nature, Partners in Research, Wall Street Journal, WSJ Pharmalot)
Scientists on Social Media
For finding collaborators, accessing papers, or satisfying idle curiosity, academic social networks are going viral among researchers and attracting millions of dollars from investors, according to a survey of 3000 scientists and engineers by the journal Nature. Google Scholar topped the charts in regular visits, followed by ResearchGate, LinkedIn, Facebook, and several other social networks and research-profiling sites. Twitter has a smaller dedicated group of users, but it appears that more scientists interact with their peers via tweets. (Nature, Neuroecology)
It’s Not Just What You Say, It’s How You Say It
Whether it’s presenting your research to colleagues in other fields or explaining your findings to journalists and patients, good science communication is a key skill doctors and researchers can make use of every day. Young scientists take the mic and express the importance of clear science communication in this Science magazine feature, NextGen Voices. In an effort to foster better communication skills, some universities are sponsoring contests for graduate students and early career researchers to present the clearest, most effective, no-jargon-allowed 3-minute “elevator pitch” about their research goals. But it’s not just the young bloods who need training in communicating science to nonscientists, it’s everyone. A good rule of thumb when explaining your research to a layperson, journalist, or even another scientist of a different specialty is to ask, “How would I explain this to my grandmother?” (assuming she’s not a brain surgeon). Sure, there’s a big divide between the lay public and the ivory tower, but even rocket science can be explained in the plainest of language. For more humor, Adam Ruben advises readers on “how to write like a scientist.” (Don’t worry, he gives journalists their lumps too.) Finally, science writer and technical editor Celia Elliot offers practical tips on science communication in her “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit. (Science, The Scientist, XKCD, Experimental Errors with Adam Ruben, Reddit)
Speaking of Reddit …
If Twitter and Facebook don’t foster the science discussions you seek on social media, you might want to check out Reddit, which is built for conversation. And it’s not always as inane as it might seem at first blush. Subforums or “subreddits” on the website are places where people can gather around a mutual interest, such as the patient-dominated multiple sclerosis forum. Sometimes researchers host “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) threads. The New Reddit Journal of Science, also called /r/science, hosts more in-depth AMAs. Two months ago, for example, a co-first author answered questions on his paper on how mice with an MS-like condition could walk again after injection with neural precursor cells derived from human stem cells. If you don’t want to host an entire AMA, there are subreddits for scientists or doctors who want to answer questions from curious parties. However, beware that in the Wild West of these subreddits, anyone can respond to these queries, no matter what their expertise or lack thereof. That said, /r/askscience has a very good code of conduct for users asking responders to back up their responses with peer-reviewed papers and to avoid speculation where possible. (Reddit)
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