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Twitter tips for Systematists

January 11th, 2013 | Posted by rmounce in Publications - (1 Comments)

I wrote a piece for The Systematist newsletter last year which has now been published & disseminated to members. The official version won’t be freely accessible from the website until next year (instant access is currently a perk of Systematics Association membership only) so in the meantime I’ll re-blog it here:

Is this the first mention of #icanhazpdf in scholarly literature?

I’d like once again (I already have by email) to thank the new editor Jane Droop for taking care to provide many many clickable linkouts in the PDF to all the different resources I mention – there’s a *lot* of links!

Here’s the full reference for the original version:
Mounce, R 2012 Twitter for systematists. The Systematist, vol. 34, pages 14-15

Twitter for systematists

Despite or perhaps because of being limited to just 140 character messages at a time, Twitter is an excellent medium for the near instantaneous dissemination of information over the Internet. It’s been successfully used to remotely sense earthquakes [1] and flu outbreaks [2], and to predict the outcomes of elections [3] and box office success [4]. It’s also a very hand tool for academics, with ever-increasing usage amongst the population.

Here’s my top tips for using twitter for science (a far from exhaustive list):

Remotely following conferences you can’t attend.

There are too many interesting conferences these days. No one has the time or money to attend them all. Furthermore some may occur simultaneously and one cannot be at two places at the same time! But with Twitter one can often get a reasonable description of what’s going on at a conference by following the official conference hashtag e.g. #evol2012 #ievobio (Evolution, Ottawa), and #HennigXXXI (Hennig, Riverside). At some conferences remote participation via Twitter is possible, to ask questions from afar at panel discussions and such.

Expand the impact of your conference talks

Extending upon the above, if you’re giving a talk at a conference – put your twitter handle on your conference name badge and on the title slide of your talk so tweeters in the audience can link to you on Twitter when describing your talk. This is particularly useful if you have a common name – John Smith could be anyone online but @JSmith69 exactly identifies who (and is shorter). If you can, put your slides online before your talk using a service like Slideshare or Prezi and use a URL shorterner to provide an easily tweetable link to that online slidedeck. Put this short-link on your first and last slides, so tweeters can disseminate this link to everyone following the conference hashtag from afar to also view your slides. This can dramatically increase the number of people seeing your talk (albeit, a slide-only version of it). For example, my talk this year at #HennigXXXI once tweeted out by @rdmpage and others (thanks!) was seen by over 200 people online after just a couple of days. At the conference itself there were less than 100 people in attendance, so it really helped maximise the impact of the talk.

Discuss, promote and critique papers on Twitter

Like a paper? Tweet about it including a link to the paper (attribution and links are key on Twitter) and maybe start a discussion with fellow academics. Don’t just tweet-promote your own papers or those of your close colleagues – this is bad netiquette. Some groups even have journal clubs conducted in the open on Twitter e.g.

Get help or canvass the opinion of your research community

Got a problem you can’t solve yourself, but might easily & quickly be solved by someone else? One can’t abuse twitter for this all the time, but the occasional well-put question on twitter often elicits good responses if you have enough followers. The key here is reciprocity – if you’re always asking for help you’ll soon be ignored. But if you can give as well as receive help you’ll generate a healthy respect. Twitter convention has it that questions are often marked with the #lazyweb hashtag – use this to indicate you have a question that you want answered. Similarly if you need a PDF you don’t have subscription access to, try supplying the URL link to the paper + your email address + #icanhazpdf in a tweet. @BoraZ created this convention and it’s now rather popular with many requests *every* day appearing on Twitter for PDFs. This facilitates quick and easy access to the literature, enabling thorough scholarship, by-passing the often tedious and slow inter-library loans procedure.

The Systematics Association, like other societies e.g. @SVP_vertpaleo, @GeolSoc, @LinneanSociety and journals e.g @systbiol @MethodsEcolEvol, @BiolJLinnSoc , @ecologyletters have had a presence on Twitter since 2011: @SystAssn.

Want to talk about systematics? Tweet us at @SystAssn . Happy tweeting tweeps :)


1. Sakaki, T., Okazaki, M., and Matsuo, Y. 2010. Earthquake shakes twitter users: real-time event detection by social sensors. In Proceedings of the 19th international conference on World wide web, WWW ’10, pp. 851-860, New York, NY, USA. ACM.
2. Culotta, A. 2010. Towards detecting influenza epidemics by analyzing Twitter messages. KDD Workshop on Social Media Analytics
3. Tumasjan, A., Sprenger, T. O., Sandner, P. G., and Welpe, I. M. 2010. Predicting elections with twitter: What 140 characters reveal about political sentiment. In Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, pp. 178-185.

A list of some relevant accounts on Twitter to follow:

@David_Hillis (University of Texas)
@kcranstn Karen Cranston (Open Tree of Life)
@rdmpage (Professor of Taxonomy at Glasgow University)
@cydparr (EOL)
@phylofoundation (updates from The Phyloinformatics Research Foundation)
@phylogenomics (Prof. Jonathan Eisen, UC Davis)
@Dr_Bik (marine genomics, UC Davis)
@JChrisPires (plant genomics)
@k8hert (Kate Hertweck, NESCent)
@TRyanGregory (University of Guelph)
@pedrobeltrao (bioinformatics, UCSF)
@ewanbirney (assoicate director at the EBI)
@caseybergman (University of Manchester)
@ianholmes (compuational biologist)
@lukejharmon (University of Idaho)
@cboettig (theoretical ecology & evolution)
@tomezard (University of Surrey)
@eperlste (evolutionary pharmacologist, Princeton University)
@RosieRedfield (UBC)
@NYCuratrix (Susan Perkins, AMNH)
@theleechguy (Mark Siddall, AMNH)
@AndyFarke (vertebrate paleontologist)
@TomHoltzPaleo (paleobiologist)
@Bill_Sutherland (conservationist)

and at the Natural History Museum London:

@nhm_london (official NHM London account)
@edwbaker (biodiversity informatics)
@DavidMyWilliams (diatomist)
@vsmithuk (cybertaxonomist)
@Coleopterist (Max Barclay)
@SandyKnapp (Solanaceae taxonomist)
@NHMdinolab (updates from Paul Barrett’s lab)
@gna-phylo (updates from Thomas Richards’ lab)