Saturday, July 30, 2011

An observation from Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting: Young Scientists Do Not TWEET

During a welcome reception organized  by the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting at an old museum in Lindau Isle in Germany, and as I was sitting with a group of journalists at the museum cafe having snakes and drinks and waiting to enter Picasso sketches' exhibition, Countess Bettina Bernadotte joined our table for a quick chat.  As President of the Council for the Lindau meeting, the Countess kept asking if we have any comments or questions.
"If you may allow me" I said. "With all the great efforts, that has been done in the Lindau meeting, I think there should be a revision to the rule of banning journalists from attending the Laureates- young researchers afternoon meetings."
In her reply, Countess Betina said that they have launched a blog in collaboration with Nature in 4 languages English, German Spanish and Chinese to cover all what happens in the Lindau main events in addition to video and pictures services to facilitate the work of the media.
  I told her that all these efforts are great and important, but forbidding the participation of the media in the afternoon session is not providing the expected freedom because there could be among the researchers one or more who are already bloggers and they could be tweeting all what is already happening in the closed rooms while we the journalists are reading they write.
Countess Betina kept silent for a moment then said that they will consider the issue.
I felt quite happy with what I have achieved. For 60+years, the organizing committee of the Lindau meetings had an orthodox rule in dealing with the media.  As a journalist, you would get a kind invitation to attend the morning sessions but not to take part in most of the activities.
The uniqueness of the Lindau meeting is not in the Laureates morning talks but rather in the afternoon discussions between the young researchers and the Nobel Laureates and that is where the journalists are not allowed to be.
I always thought about the interesting talks that might happen behind the closed doors like a young researcher from Bangladesh talking about the impact of climate change on health conditions in is country or a Nigerian researcher pointing to the lake funding in pursuing her work while the Laureate listens carefully and gives his contribution to the discussion.
In an old interview with Prof Wolfgang Shurer Chairman of the Lindau Nobel Prize Winners' Meeting Foundation he explained one of the orthodox rules of the Lindau meeting by not allowing the journalists to attend the closed afternoon meetings between the young researchers and the Noble Laureates. He stressed that they are keen to offer a free liberal space to young researchers to talk and exchange their thoughts and ideas with the Laureates. He added that the presence of journalists might create a fear among young researchers that they will be quoted about their views which might cause them troubles in their countries. Prof Shurer also pointed that even if the media may help in bonding the gap between the researchers and the society it would be better to let the young researchers decide when they want or can to talk to the media.
Though I had a point in my talk with Countess Betina Bernadotte, I felt a bit uncertain. So I decided to prove that young researchers are blogging and tweeting and spreading all types of information from the closed rooms.
I started by checking the hash tags of the meeting (#lnlm11) and found that they were all written by journalists, Nature Bloggers and not a single tweet by a young researcher.
In a tweet discussion with @LouWoodley a blogger and Communities Specialist for, she said that maybe researchers don't own smart phones or internet access or may be due to the lack of time they prefer to stay focus and listen to the talks. I replied that it s quite impossible because they are in their twenties and tweeting should be an addict for them.  
In another discussion with @lucasbrouwers a science journalist from the Netherlands and blogger for Nature, he told me that most of the blogs they wrote during the conference were nearly with zero replies which proves that researchers don't read or even know about the Lindau blogs.
I decided to directly ask the researchers if they use twitter or facebook? According to Joanna Mackay Graduate student from University of California, she uses occasionally facebook for socializing with friends as this was the common social media doing her undergrad studies while she never used twitter and don't think she may need it. As for Nadia Haj Yasein a Palestinian graduate student at University of Oslo she used facebook  rarely while she uses more a new social media website to read the papers of her peers. For Andrea Lima postdoc researcher from University of Chile, the researchers have quite limited time to lose it in following what is happening on the social media and for her if she has a scientific question she would send an email to the a colleague or a professor but never will use twitter or facebook for that reason.
  Matthew Jones a Phd student at Northwest University explains that twitter consumes a lot of money as you may need a smart phone and to pay to receive every single tweet which is most of the time useless information. When I asked why as young researchers they are not following the trend of their generation, Phd student Melanie Klein from Institue of Immunology in Germany   replied back by asking why should they? As for her trendy stuff are not always useful.
For a couple of days I interviewed about 60 of the 567 young researchers attending the event The interviewees were from all corners of the world and nearly they agreed that twitter and twittering was a waste of time and a source of distraction while facebook is just for socializing with old friends but for sure if they have some time they prefer to read a study talk with colleagues in the lab next door. 
In short they prefer to be in the real world not the virtual one.


  1. Wait! Where did they get the idea that tweets cost? Do they think it's the same as texting?

  2. yes, I didn't add that: most of the people I have interviewed heard about twitter but never used it and heard from their friends about the type of information that is mainly spread over twitter,which had a negative impact on them to even try it.

  3. Hi Ashraf. Just two short notes.
    1. You are right, not very much scientists tweeted, but some did at least and plenty of them started a twitter account just to follow the Lindau tweets during the meeting. Passiv users so to say.
    2. The blogs have been read by really many of the attendees. (Bloggers often were addressed directly, because they were recognized by their pictures.) As the blogs just started some days before the meeting, it is the same as for every new blog: it takes time until people start to comment. Not at least students commented the articles a bit on facebook...

  4. thanks Beatrice for your comments and thanks for taking time to read my article.
    I have been tweeting (chatting)with Lou and many people about that issue yesterday and there were suggestions like asking the applicants in advance if they use social media and organizing a session during the meeting about how scientists can efficiently get the best of it. Still to ask, when will the Lindau meeting allow us(the media)to attend the afternoon sessions ?

  5. In my opinion one might do so. But Lindau is not the place to educate scientists in the use of social media. It is mainly a place for them to meet each other in real life with roughly 600 scientists from over 75 countries! This is why they all come to Lindau. They are really busy in doing so and talk the whole day. So Lindau reaches its aim in bringing scientists together. And most of them become part of the Lindau FB community and stay in contact....

  6. I totally agree, the main reason of this post was to turn down the barriers in front of the media (bloggers, journalists,...)we are mainly here to live the scientists(young and Laureates) dialogue. Coming to this result about young scientists and twitter relation is just an observation it might be wrong and maybe this year was exceptional but for sure within the coming years we (the media) will be reading tweets from the closed rooms.

  7. "Forbidding the participation of the media in the afternoon session is not providing the expected freedom because there could be among the researchers one or more who are already bloggers and they could be tweeting all what is already happening in the closed rooms while we the journalists are reading they write." - Well, of course this COULD happen, but our reaction would not be to allow anybody (like: the media including - that is how we see it here at Lindau - bloggers) to join these closed sessions, but rather ask participants not to tweet or blog about them. The reason is simple: As soon as there is media (or other "observers") the whole discussion looks different. These sessions are the only (!) events in the whole week that are not available to media. It is here that a free exchange of ideas takes place and every question is allowed. Our concern is that this would change once media is there. Some people might feel uncomfortable asking their question knowing that there is a journalist. Ashraf writes about the "expected freedom" that we are not providing. Please do not get me wrong, but: scientific dialogue and exchange deserves freedom as well! My impression is that the Lindau Meetings have found a good balance between the need to communicate science and the need to foster exchange between generations of scientists without further communication.

    "I started by checking the hash tags of the meeting (#lnlm11) and found that they were all written by journalists, Nature Bloggers and not a single tweet by a young researcher. " That is a wrong impression. More than 400 people tweeted or RT Lindau. I have had tweet discussions with participants myself!
    I agree with what Beatrice Lugger said: most of them will remain passive followers. Only some of them might respond or RT. But what I can say about our social media activities is that from year to year more participants are willing to get involved actively! Compared to 2009 and 2010, this year we saw the highest number of people willing to produce video diaries, write blog entries, get involved on Facebook - and, yes, follow us on Twitter. My rough guess would be that about 10% of participants are willing to take part in all this stuff actively - but doesn´t that reflect the general involvement levels in social media, esp. for twitter?
    I agree with Ashraf: As head of communications I would like to see more participants tweeting and blogging, BUT: we are not a science&social media meeting, we are a science meeting that uses social media to communicate with the public. This is also why I am hesitant to "train" participants in social media use. Either they like it - then they will use it. Or they do not like it - then they might not blog or tweet, but might be passive users in the way that they read the blog, watch video diaries, interact on FB (and our numbers suggest that there is a huge audience that want to do just that). On SciAm, on Scilogs and any other site there are much more readers than bloggers! I don´t want people do get actively involved in social media just because they are participants in the Lindau Meeting. I want to identify those participants who like it and will make use of it "naturally".

    We see ourselves as part of a big science&social media community - but we also reach out beyond this community to find our audience! Might be that a majority of participants is more interested in offline communications than online communications. And I agree with Cian D. that communication and tech habits are often cultural. But we don´t change the culture by trying to make everyone a blogger or making him/her getting a twitter account. We can change the culture by showing that there is really cool stuff available online (after all: It is the content!) and by showing how easy and helpful it is to connect online. So even if young scientists do not tweet - many of them read! And let´s not forget: Cultural change needs time! - Christian

  8. I personally feel that media should really be avoided during that close interaction. Being a participant of 2012 meeting I want to discuss with Laureates freely and want them to be free as well!

    1. I don't understand what may stop you to discuss freely anything you want with the Laureates if the media is present. The media helps to spread information and thoughts views so that other people who are not physically present may learn or know about something new.
      Even if the so called media people are not present what makes you sure that among the scientists attending your chat or discussion one of them may be a blogger and could quote you on his FB page or blog. I assume what I have tried to explain in that blog is that with the rise of social media networks there is no more walls to stop any type of info on earth.