Tweets Behind the Research

Scientists on Twitter came out of the woodwork to tweet their #overlyhonestmethods this week. Thousands of tweets all described the reality behind many of the vague phrases in methods sections, after an initial tweet by @dr_leigh. As I was reading along (see some of my favourites below), they reminded me of something.

This hashtag (and its popularity) is pretty much the kind of thing we talked about at SpotOn London in the Stories Behind the Research session. I proposed and ran that session there because I felt that there are two sides to scientific research: the objective, reproducible, experimental side – where the data speak for themselves, and it doesn’t matter who does the work – and the personal, human side.

Scientists are human, but none of that is ever allowed to affect the work, and with good reason. So you end up with methods sections that only describe the absolute objective side of the work. It should be sufficient information for someone else to redo the experiment, but not more than that. That means you’re missing out on a lot of amazing stories.

At SpotOn, we talked a lot about how you could get people to share those stories. You can see a summary of the session here, or watch the entire video here. I don’t think “a viral Twitter hashtag” was one of the things we came up with, but there it is. It’s the perfect example of stories behind the research.

Not all of the #overlyhonestmethods are stories. Some seem to be commentaries about the general state of methods sections in papers, and hint at either accusations or admissions of suppressed data fudging, so there has been a slightly mixed response to the hashtag. But the general consensus is excitement about scientists actually talking about the work they do, not just the results they obtained.

You can’t put these stories in your paper, and many scientists never share them at all, but this week they all came out at once, on Twitter.

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