The true value of Twitter for practicing scientists comes from following the right people, individuals within and outside your field who often refer you to primary literature or reports that influence your way of thinking.
Over the last two years or so, I’ve found Twitter to have another use: following scientific meetings whether one is present or not.
In yesterday’s NCI Cancer Bulletin (31 May 2011), science journalist Edward Winstead wrote Scientific Meetings through the Lens of Twitter, on how attendees and followers from various backgrounds used Twitter to add value to the experience at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Orlando. I was delighted to be one of those interviewed for this story.
You can read it here but what I enjoyed most was having conversations about talks as they happened. With scientists more closely aligned with some of the work being presented, such as Columbia’s Brent Stockwell, the significance of the work became more apparent in real time. Also, misunderstandings or overinterpretations of data can be caught or at least questioned.
Other Twitter followers quoted therein include Johns Hopkins oncologist Dr. Robert Miller, MD Anderson oncologist Dr. Naoto T. Ueno, pharmaceutical consultant Dr. Sally Church, cancer survivor and freelance writer Jody Schoger, and NPR medical journalist and editor of their Shots health blog, Scott Hensley. Ted also spoke of a recent JAMA paper on Twitter use by a group led by Dr. Katherine Chretien, a physician at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Rather than a distraction, I found that Twitter enhanced my meeting attendance. In addition, I was also able to catch some important posters while they were still up rather than lament missing it later at the bar when hearing a colleague talk about some great work.
Ted did a really fabulous job of summing up the value and shortcomings of Twitter at meetings, including a discussion of blogging and other social media policies that apply to specific meetings, such as this one from AACR. He also spoke of concerns about physicians tweeting about unsupported claims for medical products, an issue that may become more important at the upcoming American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting.
But, you tell me: do you find Twitter to be of value at your scientific conferences?
By the way, you can follow the NCI Cancer Bulletin on Twitter here.
And me here.