University of Twitter

Most people condemn social media as mind numbing and a waste of time. Used in the wrong way and this becomes alarmingly true but if you tune into some of the educated circles of twitter users then you can learn some surprising things.

I recently took part in my first SciParty. I know: nerd alert, but hang on before you form those pictures of me arriving at a house where the host has decorated using bacteria shaped balloons, lined up test tube shots and bought in some party poppers that shoot out glittery sperm when you pull the string. I attended the event wearing my trackies, slippers and an oversized jumper to battle the cold of my inadequately heated student house. Despite the party being an internet Twitter chat I still had on some good beats courtesy of BBC Radio 1 and bopped away whilst conversing with people from all over the world.

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were the subject of conversation hosted by two scientists with doctorates and vastly more scientific experience than me. These people were there to direct the flow of conversation, starting off new topics of discussion and replying frantically to as many tweets as they could. Frantic is a good word describe a twitter chat; my notifications were going ten to the dozen as I took part in more sub conversations, asked questions and answered a few with facts and my own opinion.

I really felt part of something and it was great that people were responding to me and building on what I had said as I was doing with other people. In the space of an hour I learnt that sweet potatoes were genetically modified 8,000 years ago, Maris Piper potatoes were genetically modified to ward off a disease and bananas didn’t used to be the smooth fruit that we are used to today. One very ‘out there’ GMO story that was brought up was about some goats that have been engineered so that their milk can produce biosteel! It all sounds like the stuff of science fiction and something that a lot of people won’t be willing to accept until long distance space flight is also a reality!

Because I interacted with all sorts of interesting and knowledgeable people I found new twitter users to follow and also gained a few new followers along the way; a great way to boost my ego! I also have a lot of reading to get through; there were recommended articles and papers flying all over my screen and a lot of them I really want to read so that I can understand this field a bit more!

As with every good discussion there were a few people having disagreements and while I didn’t get into any fist fights I found myself actively disagreeing with someone on the definition of science communication. It may seem a cowards way to go about it but apart from the fact that they were a stranger and I had no other means by which to channel my opinion that they were being narrow minded, it seemed a good idea. I did observe one conversation in which it appeared two people were battling their knowledge against each other, stating their professions to validate their point and then ‘dissing’ the others response. Science at its best. Or worst. Who knows.

So then, it seems that Twitter can be a good thing. If you tune into something that you’re interested in; a subject that you want to know a bit more about and not what your favourite celebrity is having for their 11 o’clock snack, you can expand your horizons. Instead of tweeting Donald Trump about how much of a mug he is, tweet someone that will listen about something that you’ve wanted to know for a while. That way you can tell your lecturer who spots you on your phone all about the negative effects of frowning. Just a thought.

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