Researchers among the most influential on Twitter when it comes to public understanding of research

A Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Connecticut has identified a climate researcher, Dr. Peter Gleick, as the most influential voice explaining the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, ahead of the a political party, The Guardian Newspaper and actor, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Dr. Gleick (pictured below with Leonardo DiCaprio), is Chief Scientist at the Pacific Institute and a member US National Academy of Science, with publications in Science and leading ecology and water journals. Despite having a similar number of followers to the Guardian journalist, 10,000 less followers than the Australian Green Party and a few million less than Leonardo DiCaprio, Dr Gleick’s tweet received most attention via retweets. The rest of the 100 most retweeted messages were from “non-elite accounts” that did not have an affiliation with a particular media, nonprofit, or scientific organization. Most of these individuals were independent bloggers, activists, or concerned citizens.

These findings question the popular view that Twitter and other social media platforms empower non-traditional political voices and ordinary citizens, exposing their views to wider audiences. While these non-traditional voices accounted for most of the top 100 tweets in the sample (35%), attention was highly skewed to the top four tweets, which each received over 100 retweets each.

The perceived credibility of researchers as a source of information means that, even with modest followings, they can make significant contributions to public debate and understanding of research. Researchers most likely to be listened to on social media provide consistently high quality, unbiased material and have a credible user profile linked to their institution.

Newman, T.P., 2016. Tracking the release of IPCC AR5 on Twitter: Users, comments, and sources following the release of the Working Group I Summary for Policymakers. Public Understanding of Science p.0963662516628477 [open access]