Thursday, January 17, 2013

Will "Publish or Perish" become "Tweet or Perish"?

The dissemination of research data has transformed dramatically in recent years, thanks to both the ability to collect larger datasets (think transcriptomics, participatory sensing, and high resolution imaging) and multiple online platforms that researchers now have access to (online journals...or blogging and Twitter). In at least one case, the opportunity to get news out fast has even taken priority over the peer review process. Given these different opportunities and outlets, how do researchers decide the best way to share their findings?

On Monday  (Jan. 14, 2013), CNBC reporter Jane Wells came to CNSI to talk about the evolution of business news. Her very entertaining presentation — she's the perfect combination of funny and intelligent — opened with a short video clip showing how her own reports have changed over her 31-year career. Wells then shared a report from 2007, where she covered the beginning of the housing bubble burst, which included footage of a realtor, a buyer, a neighbor, and a former homeowner and compared it to a more recent and shorter report that showed Rick Santelli ranting against the Obama administration's handling of the home mortgage crisis — an example of the type of news that gets more attention these days.

Wells said she was at CNSI to talk about "how [her] job is changing and how technology is changing it." Reporters have had to evolve, she said. "We have to be shorter, and we have to be louder. Sometimes really loud." And, "[we] have to be on all platforms."

While the needs of a television station news reporter and a researcher are distinct in many ways, both groups want their work to be visible, relevant, and broadly viewed. Accordingly, scientists have migrated to online platforms to share their work and the work of others as well.

And, while some forums, such as Twitter, may limit the amount of information that can be shared, the internet also serves as a repository for supplemental information — sometimes a lot of supplemental information — that can accompany and enrich published articles in print journals. This can benefit the global community and integrate goals so that they can be reached much sooner. The value of additional online space is also evident for Wells, who has been able to post full interviews online to complement the much shorter snippets that are allowed on TV.

"Things that can't get on the air can get out elsewhere," said Wells.

From the audience's point of view, the challenge arising from these new outlets for information will, of course, be figuring out which news, scientific or otherwise, is believable. Luckily, the world is training itself to sort through massive amounts of information every day.

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