I don’t think the top three science stars on Twitter are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox and Dawkins. The honour, I think, should go to a disembodied brain, a Japanese science journalist and a health blogger from Thailand. Obviously.
Here’s our list:
|@neuro_skeptic Neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry through a skeptical lens. Just a brain with some eyes.|
|@yuji_ikegaya Google translation from Japanese: Ikeya Yuji brain researchers. [...] Serialized in Weekly Asahi, Yomiuri Shimbun, economist, at Kooyong other. I will introduce the latest information on brain research at Twitter.|
|@thidakarn Google translation from Thai: Doctor lazy feline Issued in 11 volumes I want to be healthy, Thailand . I have no patients for cats. . Gosh, ^^ doctor .|
|@edyong209 Science writer, freelance journalist, husband. I CONTAIN MULTITUDES–on partnerships between animals & microbes–out in 2016.|
|@ananyo Science journalist. Community editor for @TheEconomist. Opinions expressed are my own. Especially those that happen to be correct.|
|@aller_md Allergist – Twittering on #allergy, #asthma & #immunology. Associate Professor of Immunology. Del Salvador University, Buenos Aires. Chief Editor WAO website|
|@erictopol Cardiologist, researcher, Editor-in-Chief, Medscape, author of The Patient Will See You Now (to be released 1/15)|
|@noahwg Senior Editor @nature | Engagement Editor @FrontYoungMinds. These thoughts are mine alone since nobody else will take responsibility.|
|@andybeetroot Professor of Applied Physiology at Exeter University. Endurance sports training, physiology and nutrition expert. Not as cool as Gary Numan.|
Some context: Science this week is carrying a news piece on the top 50 science stars of Twitter. Metrics, science and Twitter! I was going to go to bed early for once tonight but if ever there was a time for an opportunistic blog posting then this is it.
The article is plainly meant to be taken lightheartedly, like the K-index paper, but interestingly both have come in for some (fair, I reckon, if sometimes harshly delivered) criticism for not covering / valuing science communicators.
Selection problems aside I think the Science methodology is fine, but you do end up with a lot of stars who happen to be scientists and are on Twitter rather than people who are stars because of what they do on Twitter, if that makes sense. I reckon a better system would start off by taking everybody on Twitter and then look at:
- how often do they tweet about research, and how often are those tweets retweeted, hat tipped or ‘via’ed (let’s treat all of these – RTs, MTs, HTs, vias – as retweets)
And we could help people interpret that data by also pulling in:
- how many unique accounts are doing the retweeting
- how global those accounts are – how many unique countries are they from?
- what’s the reach of those accounts? What’s their total number of followers?
This sort of approach opens up the list to science communicators. The caveat is that a lot depends on how you define ‘research’. Let’s say we go for the Altmetric definition, which is that we consider a tweet to be about research if it links to a paper, book or dataset with a scholarly identifier. This means news stories and blog posts won’t get included. So this kind of stuff mentioned in the Science piece is a no go:
“Gilbert says he prefers to tweet materials that appeal to a general audience, rather than complex scientific papers”
But we will be measuring the kind of activity that @erictopol likes:
“Now, he starts his workday browsing through his Twitter feed for news and noteworthy research in his field”
Eric obviously contributes to Twitter as well as consuming data from it – he jumps from 17th place on the Science list to 7th on a list ordered by retweets.
Conveniently we have all this data going back to around Jan 2012, which is how I can tell. I’ve uploaded the numbers for the ‘top’ 1000 accounts by number of retweets to figshare (which comes in at #57, incidentally).
|Account||Papers tweeted, then retweeted by others||Retweets||Unique retweeters||Sum of followers of unique retweeters||Number of unique countries of retweeters|
That’s the table for people, rather than people + organizations. The real star if we don’t discriminate against non-human accounts is @naturenews with an epic 174k retweets from 66k different people who have a combined upper bound follower count of 39M.
(that said the follower count number should be taken with a pinch of salt. It’s simply a sum of followers and doesn’t take duplicates into account, but many of the retweeters will share people on their followers list. That’s why it can only be considered an upper bound).
Science, NEJM and the BMJ come pretty close behind. There’s quite a lot of overlap with the Science list – Ben Goldacre, Jonathan Eisen and Vaughn Bell are all still there, but they’re joined by people like Carl Zimmer, Mo Costandi and Trish Greenhalgh. I haven’t looked at genders, but the data’s all there on figshare, so feel free to investigate.
I quite like the fact that @uberfacts also makes an appearance. Uberfacts is a funny fact of the day type service but has only tweeted about papers seven times since we started tracking Twitter. In fact in Uberfacts’ case it’s the same paper they’ve tweeted seven times but it in turn has been retweeted by eight and a half thousand people.The paper in case you’re wondering is perennial altmetrics favourite Winnie the Pooh: A Neurodevelopmental Perspective.
So finally, on that note… don’t take lists like this too seriously.