Posts Tagged With: Twitter

Why Open Science Daily?

In February of this year I started a new project: a Twitter account called Open Science Daily (@journal_365). I started after reading about Sci Hub, a project of systematic piracy of research articles from behind journal paywalls. This matters because such articles are the lifeblood of academic work, but the cost of journal subscriptions is keeping them locked away. You might not think it’s a big deal whether or not a scientist has access to the Antarctic Journal of Annelid Research but what about journals publishing the latest findings on cancer?

Contemplating a Life Without Truth

I had the jarring experience myself of discovering that one of the universities I work for had forgotten I existed (at least for staff computing privileges) and cut off my access to electronic journals. It felt like I’d lost a limb or a smartphone. I wondered how anyone could possibly survive without being able to find out stuff whenever the out of stuff needed finding. What do you do without access to truth as filtered through the peer-review process? Those were dark days indeed.

After reading about Sci Hub I thought that it should be doable to establish some sort of framework where a journal could offer content freely by optimizing on the fact that its input (research) comes to it for free, its reviewers are free, editors may be unpaid, and there is no longer the overhead of producing materials in hard copy. As I contemplated how this might work, I suddenly remembered that it already existed, and was called open-access publishing.

Now I’m not the most up on my open-access resources, but I’d like to think that I have at least a little more knowledge than the average Jane. Yet I forgot these things even existed! Free peer-reviewed knowledge, and I forgot! It occurred to me that if I didn’t remember these things existed, then (barring explanations including but not restricted to teaching-related stress, lack of sleep, and lack of caffeine), how many other people don’t know or forgot? And so Open Science Daily was born.

So What, Exactly, Are You Doing?

Using the OSD account, I’ve been tweeting about one open-access science journal a day (more or less- but my track record is pretty good). I include the name, the url, and some key hashtags, but my strategy for maximum attention-getting is to use images. Initially I started off doing this sort of thing:

Earth System Dynamics


But then it got a little fancier,

Paleo Electr


and fancier (this one makes my eyes happy),



and now they’re mini art projects. (Note the superposition of the semi-transparent storm clouds over the melting glacier to give the whole thing an ominous feel.)



While making pretty pictures is fun, I’m cognizant that my images might be the first thing someone sees of a given journal. In other words, I’m making the first impression, and I don’t take that lightly. That means I try to make the images look clean and professional, and take cues from the journal’s homepage about what might be appropriate, or what those running the journal might like to see. Sometimes they make it easy, such as by putting a tiny Mars rover at the top of their page, so I can do this:



The descriptive text in my images comes verbatim from the journal’s homepage whenever that is possible. This is primarily because I’m dealing with many topics that are new to me, and I don’t want to make paraphrasing errors. It’s also much faster. If I had to go through each journal to come up with my own succinct descriptions I simply wouldn’t be able to do this project. It seems reasonable that the journals should speak for themselves in this way.

Which science journals?

I’m working from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and it’s likely this will keep me busy for a while. I’ve covered the journals they’ve filed under “Geology” and am working through categories which are also related to the Earth system and space. I choose journals which use English to describe themselves, so I can avoid cutting and pasting information in a language I don’t understand. The journal must also have a clear description of its focus and scope. Many do, and helpfully label this information “Focus and Scope.” But others have thwarted by best attempts to find a snippet of description that is pithy enough for my images.

Who is this for?

Awareness of open access journals matters for people who are not affiliated with an institution having deep enough pockets to afford journal subscriptions. That could mean people who are members of the general public, who work independently of an institution, or who belong to an organization that simply doesn’t have the cash. It also matters for the researchers and academics whose work is being published, because they might not otherwise consider whether their journal of choice is open access. It matters because institutions can begin to consider open-access publishing in their policy-making, and take steps to encourage it.

This is also for me, because I love the brain rush accompanying the sudden realization that yet another universe of ideas exists, of which I had been completely unaware. It’s like feeling your way around a dark room and encountering an unexpected doorway. Looking at a new journal each day has made me aware of new fields, and allowed me to make connections between seemingly disparate concepts. I sometimes wonder if my little band of followers will become bored if I stray too far from their areas of interest. But I find myself exclaiming, “That’s actually a thing?!” at least once a week, and having that opportunity must appeal to at least a few of them.


After a run of 8 months or so I have deactivated Open Science Daily. I still think it’s a worthy project, but I have other projects right now that need more focus than I was giving them. In the end I evaluated 177 open-access journals for this project, and tweeted about 137 of them.

Categories: Open access, Science and such | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A little birdie told me, part 2

Archeopteryx fossil

Two posts ago I discussed the use of Twitter as a way to get students to apply what they learn in the classroom to geology-related news and science stories.  There is another educational angle to Twitter exemplified by @RealTimeWWII.  This feed maps events of the Second World War onto the present day.  @RealTimeWWII is currently tweeting about 1942.  This means that on 22 March 2014 the tweets will be about events that occurred on 22 March 1942.  @RealTimeWWII is a very effective way to bring the human experience of the past into the present.  Could this approach help to bring geological events to life?

The best events to tweet about would provide ample geological details in addition to historical ones.  For example, tweeting about a volcanic eruption would be better than tweeting about an earthquake: much of the geological action of an earthquake happens where no-one can observe it, and the activity that leads to the earthquake takes place over very long timescales and with few discrete events.  There is no human experience associated with stress building up in tectonic plates over timescales much greater than a human lifetime.  We can feel vibrations, but rarely can we watch tectonic plates slipping past each other.  In contrast, volcanic eruptions are heralded by readily observable geological events, eruptions evolve as they proceed, and terrain is modified on timescales humans can comprehend.

I think the perspective of an observer is key to making the tweets more than simply a timeline.  Consider the 1883 eruption of Krakatau—it would be possible to tweet an impersonal account of what the volcano was doing.  However, there are a surprising number of first-person narratives from Javanese and Dutch islanders who encountered tsunamis and pyroclastic flows first-hand, and from passengers on ships in the Sunda Strait who saw and felt the final earth-shattering (literally) explosion.  The Royal Society’s 1888 report, The Eruption of Krakatoa and Subsequent Phenomena contains pages of tables devoted to reports of what different witnesses heard when the final explosion happened.  Thanks to brand-new transoceanic telegraph cables, the events were also reported in newspapers around the world.

The human experience represents but a tiny sliver of geological time, and detailed accessible records of human experience cover only a sliver of that sliver.  This means having an observer could present some interesting creative and scientific challenges.  The task of reconstructing the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE from the letters of Pliny the Younger to Tacitus and the scientific literature would be more difficult that recreating the events of Krakatau, but not nearly as difficult as constructing a narrative for the mind-bending extremes of supervolcano Toba…which happened 74,000 years ago at a time when we shared the planet with Neanderthals and Homo floresiensis (the “Hobbit” people).  Now that would be an interesting enterprise.

The ultimate project would be to condense all 4.5 billion years of earth history into a single year of tweets…but who would be the observer for the first billion years before a sentient cyanobacterium could be recruited?

Categories: Learning technologies | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

A little birdie told me, part 1

Painting of blue birds
How does one use Twitter to teach geology?  I expected to find all kinds of great undergraduate-appropriate Twitter feeds reporting on the latest geology news from around the word in 140 characters or less.   To my surprise, I didn’t find what I was looking for.  Let me be clear about what I didn’t want:

  • Very narrow range of topics (all volcanoes, all the time)
  • Very broad range of topics (lots of science but only a little geology)
  • Focused more on an institution or community than on geology
  • Focused more on opinions and conversation than on geology
  • Language suitable for practicing specialists
  • Tweets consist only of links

I know—picky, picky, picky—but I prefer that students not spend their time sifting through irrelevant or unintelligible tweets.  I did find a feed from Nature Geoscience that offered a variety of interesting geology-related headlines appropriate for my audience.  Unfortunately, a Nature article is not the best tool for convincing students that science is comprehensible.

Apparently there is an unfilled niche for the National Geographic of geology Twitter feeds.  Tweeting about geology stories in a way that is accessible to the average undergraduate is something I could do. But let’s be specific—how exactly would this work, and what would students do with it?

The intended product would be edifying tweets that direct students to additional information.  The additional information could be from any of the following:

So how would students use this in a way that would justify the amount of work I’d have to put into it?  I could tweet about three or four geology-related stories at the beginning of each week.  Students would write a blog post for the story of their choice consisting of four multiple-choice questions.  They would receive points for writing questions, and for correctly answering another student’s questions about a different story.  If all attempts at answering a particular question are unsuccessful, the author would receive a bonus.  If a student attempts to answer a question but concludes that none of the options are correct, he can challenge the author.  Challenges would be decided in class by a vote after a short debate.  The winner would receive additional bonus points.

There are logistical issues, and some ground rules are required, but I would be satisfied with the minimum level of engagement required to complete the necessary tasks.  Even under those circumstances it would be hard to avoid learning something.  Imagine what would happen if students were motivated to make their questions as difficult as possible while preventing their own errors and catching the errors of their peers.  Aha!  The learning trap is sprung!

Categories: Learning technologies | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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