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Today we unveil the first ever list of Top Ten UHN scientists on Twitter. But first – some explanation on the genesis of the list.
This past summer a paper entitled
"The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists" caused an academic ruckus after it appeared in the July edition of
Genome Biology. The lighthearted paper by British Genomicist Neil Hall proposed the
'Kardashian Index', coined after reality TV star Kim Kardashian. Hall created the 'K-index' to compare the popularity of scientists on Twitter with their citations. Those with a high Twitter following and low citation count received a high K-index. Not good in the world of academia. Because that meant - in reality TV terms – they were famous for being famous and not for their science. The suggestion went, as Science Magazine online states - if scientists have a high K-index they "should get off Twitter and write more papers." Here's a link to the paper:
So we set out to find UHN's Top Ten scientists on Twitter, and, get their take on the Kardashian Index. Our method for assembling the list was admittedly un-scientific - simply adding the number of tweets and followers. This tally was taken on Wednesday October 15, 2014.
What's clear from those surveyed is that Twitter has become part of their already long work day. Just as they browse newspapers, blogs and journals, most have incorporated cruising their Twitter feeds into their daily information gathering routine.
"I use it as another news and information channel and as a way that I can reach out to the UHN community to share news and information on UHN", explains incoming UHN President Dr. Peter Pisters.
Immediacy is part of the attraction for Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Medical Director Dr. Mary Gospodarowicz, who says "It's more real-time, more immediate. I follow journals but this is easier to scan."
Dr. Andrea Furlan, a chronic pain specialist at TRI who manages four Twitter accounts says "I see twitter as a way of communication with the world - the public, the community, the people who don't read my scientific papers, but are users and consumers of the research that I do."
Dr. Michael Fehlings, Director of the Spine Program at TWH's Krembil Neuroscience Centre, appreciates the sharing and connectivity of Twitter, saying "…it can be a really positive and direct way of accessing research and news that might otherwise pass you by, and for connecting with scientists and those interested in science.
That`s a sentiment echoed by Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Surgical Oncologist Dr. Anthony Finelli who uses Twitter "….to reach out to colleagues to stimulate discussion or to share an interesting piece of healthcare related news."
The sharing of information is what particularly attracts UHN's VP of Education Dr. Brian Hodges. "For me the value of Twitter is to engage colleagues interested in health professions education. I share resources. I crowd source information. I post new and interesting publications by colleagues. I highlight interesting conferences, talks and experiences in education. I recently used Twitter to identify 5 top scientific articles to give to our new dean of medicine…. I ran a competition, analyzed the results into themes and posted the top choices, which were then widely taken up by other medical schools in the world."
All those surveyed commented on the worldwide reach of Twitter, making it a terrific tool to build dialogue and share expertise. But with that reach comes the responsibility of being circumspect before you hit send.
"Twitter is completely public and archived forever. I am always conscious of how I present myself just as I am in other forms of media." explains Dr. Hodges.
Dr. Gospodarowicz adds "I don't want to be silly or irresponsible. I always ask – would I be comfortable if this ended up as a headline in the Globe and Mail.
For Dr. Michael Gardam, UHN's Director of Infection Prevention and Control – it's akin to thinking before you speak. "I am very conscious of how what I am tweeting could be repeated 10,000,000 times over. I have a very thick filter on when I type, and typically ponder each tweet. I am well aware of people who have ended their careers tweeting stupid things."
What's clear from the UHN Top Ten list is Twitter knows no age restriction. At age 71 Dr. Michael Baker is a relative newcomer having joined Twitter earlier this year, and yet he's one the verge of cracking the Top Ten. Dr. Baker, who is the Rose Family Chair in Medicine at UHN, also has perhaps the most memorable sign-on Tweet: "New to twitter. Don't mind me."
TWH Neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator at age 78 is by comparison an 'early adopter', signing on to Twitter in early 2010. For the Founder of ThinkFirst Canada and world-renowned expert on concussion, his goals are simple: "To advance the cause of injury prevention [and] reach like-minded people with safety messages."
As for the Kardashian Index, Dr. Fehlings comments "I do think that scientists should focus on science first, but one needs to communicate the science to enable effective knowledge translation and dissemination." Dr. Baker adds "…there is plenty of room and appropriateness for both."
Dr. Pisters agrees, saying "The scientific community and society in general has much to gain from multichannel communication. The magic and excitement of scientific discovery can and should be disseminated through a variety of approaches that take us beyond the era of scientific journals that have a circulation of a few thousand members who are all in a narrow slice of society as a whole."
Dr. Finelli goes even further, saying Twitter is a way to increase peer review. "I believe scientists should be on Twitter and weigh in on relevant issues. It can be the ultimate form of peer review. ` suggests Dr. Finelli, adding "For example some manuscripts accepted for publication are read by 3-5 reviewers and 1-2 editors before being approved for publication. Once in the public space, those interested and capable can contribute meaningful commentary."
Dr. Hodges sums up the K-index best when he says "….Perhaps using social media alone would indicate an academic whose work is unbalanced. Twitter specifically is a good tool for dissemination but it is not a tool for reporting or analyzing scientific data. I do think however, that successful academics in the future will need to consider ways (including social media) that their work can be disseminated."
And before you start Tweeting, Dr. Gospodarowicz cautions "It is necessary to know why you are doing it. What do you want to communicate? Strive to make it meaningful, provocative, interesting and stimulating."
TWH Neurosurgeon Dr. Taufik Valiante, who is close to cracking the Top Ten, adds "If your intentions are specific, like dissemination of knowledge, updating people about relevant events, trying to build a community feel, then I think that social media may be a way to go."
Dr. Furlan entered the Twitterverse 5 years ago "….because there was a lot of media coverage of the work that I was doing about opioids and chronic pain. I [wanted] to add my voice and to mark my presence in that discussion. I give lots of media interviews, and journalists may find me there, and they know what I think and what my position is on a certain topic."
And Dr. Gardam has this reminder – "It is work. You need to think about what you are tweeting and why. If you have an external reputation you want to make sure you don't embarrass yourself or UHN. I also think you have to tweet regarding things that you have expertise in."
If you have a comment on this story or if we missed your Twitter profile, drop us a line at:
1. Dr. M GospodarowiczMedical Director,Princess Margaret Cancer Centre@marykgeTweets: 2,054Followers: 1,024
2. Dr. Brian HodgesUHN VP Education@BDHodges1Tweets: 1,697Followers: 1,254
3. Dr. Andrea FurlanTRI - Chronic Pain Management@adfurlanTweets: 1,831Followers: 1,045
4. Dr. Peter PistersIncoming UHN President@ppistersTweets: 1,207Followers: 1,047
5. Dr. Michael FehlingsDirector, Spine Program,Krembil Neuroscience Centre@DrFehlingsTweets: 1,004Followers: 663
6. Dr. Tony FinelliSurgical Oncologist,Princess Margaret Cancer Centre@UroOncMDTweets: 554Followers:
7. Dr. M. GardamUHN Director of InfectionPrevention and Control@DrMichaelGardamTweets: 128Followers: 608
8. Dr. Gaetan TardifTRI Phyisiatrist-in-Chief@DrTardif
Tweets: 265Followers: 330
9. Dr. Charles TatorDirector,Canadian Sports Concussion ProjectTWH Krembil Neuroscience Centre@CharlesTatorTweets: 46Followers: 447
10. Dr. Shaf KehsavjeeUHN Surgeon-in-Chief@SKeshavjeeTweets: 58Followers: 430