Science communication on social media largely happens through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (you can find the ScIU blog on all three platforms), but in reality, it extends beyond these three primary sites into platforms such as TikTok, Reddit, YouTube, and more. On any one of these platforms, people from around the world are able to form digital communities where they can talk, educate, learn, advocate, and make new friends. I have been the Social Media Chair for ScIU for over a year now, and in that time, I have learned quite a lot about science communication from social media.
As a young scientist, not a day goes by when I don’t see the phrase “imposter syndrome” in at least a few tweets or Instagram posts written by colleagues. In recent years, imposter syndrome seems to have become commonplace in academia, particularly among students and early-career faculty. So, what exactly is imposter syndrome, and how does it arise? This post will discuss what scientists currently know about the psychological basis of imposter syndrome and provide tips for overcoming it.
In 2016, three physicists, David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Mike Kosterlitz, won the Nobel prize in physics for their groundbreaking discoveries of topology in matter/materials. Although many people have heard of topology before, likely associating it with the more familiar term “topography,” the fundamental nature of topology remains relatively opaque to those outside of the fields of math and certain applied sciences. So what exactly is topology, and in what sense can we talk about topology existing in materials?
Mathematically speaking, topology is the study of the properties of an object that are generally unaffected by certain kinds of shape change or continuous deformation, such as twisting, pressing, or stretching. The emphasis on continuous deformation excludes changes that involve tearing or “gluing” parts together. A classic example of two topologically equivalent objects is that of a donut and a coffee mug. The hole in the donut becomes the handle for the coffee cup, and the remaining changes are made via a series of hypothetical deformations.
On the other hand, a donut and a baseball are topologically different for the simple reason that a donut has a hole and a baseball does not. One can imagine what it might look like to make the transition from baseball to donut; a hole must first be made through the baseball, tearing apart its internal structure and thus constituting what can be called a strictly “discontinuous” deformation. In the language of topology, we say that the donut and the coffee mug have the same topological index (number of holes, in this case), while the donut and the baseball do not and are, thus, topologically distinct. By acknowledging that two objects are topologically equivalent, we can say that there is a certain property shared by both that is in some sense immutable, as long as no discontinuous deformations are made. In this example, the shared property that remains unchanged is simply the number of holes; there is no “higher-level” physical or electrical property, for example, shared by the mug and donut; they just both possess one hole. It is now understood, however, that in some cases topologically equivalent objects may share more properties than previously thought, and that the once purely mathematical world of topology now has wide-ranging relevance for materials.
A new study shows…
A new study shows a dog’s heart rate increases by 46% when the owner says “I love you.” A new study shows that pink eye may be a symptom of COVID-19 in children. A new study shows an iceberg might not have sunk the Titanic.
Science journalists are always announcing the results of the latest study. The more bizarre and controversial, the better. A recent study is, almost by definition, cutting-edge research — what better way to tap into the pulse of science? Except, the latest and greatest research is just as often wrong.
The concern is not simply with hype. Rather, the problem is the “study.” As a unit of scientific research, it leaves much to be desired, and for those who are unfamiliar with the practices of the scientific community, how to interpret a lone study can be deeply confusing. A study refers to both a research project and to the reporting of one or more research findings in a scientific journal. By design, a scientific study is a research result that represents an important enough contribution to an area of investigation to be published. That’s all it is. It does not need to be highly likely to be correct, and it does not represent the current sum total of the evidence.
The most novel and exciting research in a field is also often the most speculative. Scientists are attracted to such topics because of their potential, not because they have undergone extensive confirmation. And it is, of course, impossible for new research to have stood the test of time.
The picture one gets if they follow research from study to study is that the scientific community has commitment issues. For instance, scientists can never make up their mind whether eggs are good for you, or how much cardio you should be doing. It is easy to get the impression that science moves serially, with each study representing the current state of the evidence until a newer study comes along and supersedes it. However, studies are in fact not serial, but cumulative. Each study gets added to the total pile of the evidence, and no single study sums up the current state of the science.1
“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” was released on March 20th, 2020 and has since become a cultural phenomenon. Although the game itself has been praised by critics, some suggest that its success is partially attributable to its being released during the COVID-19 pandemic. During these trying times, many people have been affected by anxiety and loneliness stemming from, for example, social isolation and/or loss of work. The world can be a scary place right now — Animal Crossing provides the perfect place for much needed escapism, and in fact many people online have claimed that this game has helped them manage challenges to mental health posed by the pandemic. (more…)
This post was jointly written by a guest contributor to ScIU, Rashid CJ Marcano Rivera @Rashido
The election is almost here and the election forecasters are in full swing. As of October 23rd, the Economist gives Biden a 92% chance of winning, and FiveThirtyEight has him winning 88 out of 100 “simulated” elections. How should we interpret these claims?
If you have a coin and you flip it a thousand times, and it lands on heads 500 times and tails 500 times then you may infer it has a 50% probability of landing on heads and a 50% probability tails. Sounds simple, except, we’re not going to run this election thousands of times, we’re only going to run it once.
Ultimately, the election has a determinate outcome. Either Biden will win, or Trump will win. Hypothetically, with perfect information, we should be able to predict exactly what happens. However, we do not have that information, so instead we have to develop our best guess using the available information. Or best guesses — there are many forecasting models and they don’t all make the same predictions. (more…)
Since May 2020, millions of people around the world have shown their support for the Black Lives Matter movement by attending protests, posting on social media, and signing petitions. In the scientific community, perhaps one of the most vocal groups of researchers for this social justice movement has been birders. The birding community was the first group of scientists to create a social media initiative to celebrate diversity in STEM in May 2020: Black Birders Week. This initiative, which highlighted Black birders and naturalists and provided a forum in which these scientists could share their experiences on social media, made national headlines and soon sparked numerous other initiatives to celebrate Black scientists, including Black in Neuro Week, Black Botanists Week, Black in Chem Week, and Black in Astro Week. Since Black Birders Week, however, birders have shifted their focus to a new campaign to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their community: changing the names of the bird species that they observe and study.
Everyone either knows someone or heard of someone that has gotten a concussion. A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 1 million people a year experience a concussion. Concussions can also lead to cognitive and motor impairments.
Currently, there are no effective treatments for concussions. People typically heal over time. Doctors treat the symptoms (e.g.. headaches, concentration problems, trouble sleeping, memory), but do not tackle the actual problem (i.e., how the injury affects certain functions of the brain). This is due to the inability to see what is happening to the brain as it receives a concussion. Because of that, researchers use animal models (e.g., lab rats, mice, etc.) to assess how the brain is affected by concussions. (more…)
Cannabis has been consistently used to treat pain since the beginning of its medicinal history. Even today, the most common reported use of medical cannabis is for pain relief, and support for this is not only anecdotal, as there’s a large body of evidence supporting this claim. Although cannabis is helpful to many who suffer from pain, there are still many limitations to using it as a pain medication. The most obvious problem is that cannabis causes a well-known “high” feeling. This effect is not necessarily negative, yet it may not be ideal when attempting to relieve pain symptoms. Not only does cannabis get you “high” but it can reduce motor control, attention and can potentially cause memory problems, anxiety, confusion and even panic for some users. These side effects greatly limit the ability of cannabis to be used as a pain medication for many people. Many of the effects mentioned are caused by a compound called THC, which is short for Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Thankfully, there are over 100 other substances in cannabis that are very promising for the development of better pain relief treatments. (more…)
In late August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their provisional death counts page to indicate that COVID-19 was the sole cause of death listed on death certificates in only 6% of cases.
This fact was interpreted by some as only 6% of reported fatalities, or around 10,000 people, actually died of COVID-19. This misleading claim became social media fodder for groups contending that the pandemic has been blown out of proportion.
Unfortunately, the CDC meant nothing of the sort. The CDC states, “COVID-19 should not be reported on the death certificate if it did not cause or contribute to the death.” Assuming accuracy of reporting, this statement means that COVID-19 at least contributed to 100% of the deaths listed on the Provisional Death Counts page. You can read the CDC’s detailed guidance here.
Moreover, COVID-19 is listed as the “underlying cause,” or disease or injury which set in motion the events leading to death, on more than 90% of death certificates.