A group of conservation scientists and ecologists have recently determined that communicating research findings via social media — in particular Twitter — led to higher citations in the future.

“There’s a compelling signal that citation rates are positively associated with science communication through social media. Certainly, Twitter provides an accessible and efficient platform for scientists to do a majority of that communication,” said Clayton Lamb, a University of Alberta Ph.D. student and lead researcher of the study.

“The good papers that get pushed on social media are what end up on people’s minds and eventually as PDFs in their reference manager,” he said.

To reach this conclusion, the research team looked at data concerning over 8,000 conservation and ecology papers published between 2005 and 2015.

“There’s a big hype when a paper comes out, but then there is this underwhelming lull for a year or two as you wait for citations to accumulate, so you don’t really know whether your science is reaching people. We quantified whether science communication may correlate with more citations. In the case of ecology and conservation science, it looks like it does,” said Lamb,

Communicating these discoveries is considered critical to ecology and conservation, as research findings attract media attention and shape public policy. Although primarily aimed at fellow scientists, the research communicated on social media is reaching other audiences as evidenced by the number of non-scientists following ecologists (nearly half an ecologists' Twitter followers) on Twitter.

“Ecologists and conservation scientists are dealing with applied problems that the public cares a lot about. So when science gets stuck in the circles of academia and doesn’t make it out to the public, it’s doing that publicly funded research and its potential applications a disservice,” said Lamb.

“In this era of alternative facts and some mixed messaging surrounding science, data-driven scientific information offers a light of truth. Twitter is one of the ways we can help share science with policy-makers, other scientists and the public.”

The study appears in the journal PeerJ.

To contact the author of this article, email mdonlon@globalspec.com