Sunday, January 24, 2016

Anti-social media

Winter is closing. The primary conference season, here in India, is almost over by now. Conferences are for academic socialisation. You make new contacts, refresh the old ones, exchange email IDs, occasionally discuss science, and obviously do lots of bitching on lack  of research grants, bureaucratic red-tapes, politics of award committees etc. (For those lesser morals, not in academics, I suggest to read Small World: An Academic Romance by David Lodge to get an idea). Whatever it is, conferences in India are lively. They serve good foods and are crowded  and noisy to make you feel living.

Another thing that make you feel living and kicking is social media, from Facebook to Tweeter. These are also social activities, just virtual. Social media is slowly becoming part of academics. Social media can be used to champion popular science, to share ideas and information with fellow scientists. It is an excellent medium to debate over science policies. (If not impressed with my words, you may read this post to know why a scientist should use social media). 

Institutions, across the globe, are now using Tweeter and Facebook to serve their news to a larger audience, including media. Funding agencies also do so. Social media is often used to promote conferences and meetings. Individual researchers post their works. Services like ResearchGate and others are trying to build social networks exclusively for scientists. They are promoting social media to discuss science with all its nuts and bolts. Even then, most of the scientists are still not using these online tools for academics. 

Situation is far grimmer in India. The present government is promoting use of social media to interact with its citizens. But unfortunately, only a handful of academic and research institutes use social media to engage with the public and media. Individual scientists rarely use social media to interact with their peers. Strangely, many young scientists regularly use social media like Facebook, to spam 'cute'  pics of their puppies or to vent opinion on terrorism; but rarely to share their research and science in general. Drop a 140 worded review in tweeter on an exciting paper that you read just now or post a recent popular science article on Facebook. Don't expect a buzz from your colleagues and peers. Rather expect a silence.

Facing some technical trouble in experiment? Post it to ResearchGate. Don't expect an answer from your Indian colleagues. Most of the answers would be from some one abroad. Many of your Indian peers and colleagues are there in ReseachGate and regularly update their publication profiles. But they will rarely engage in peer- discussions and debates there.

It is weird. Science is a social endeavor. Discussions, debates and sharing of information, over a coffee or in the Web, helps one to get enriched. I wonder why then my "Argumentative Indian" colleagues and peers are so silent on the Web. One of my cynic old colleague does have an answer for me though: "your Tweets are not counted at the time of promotion".