Signal Vs Noise, Quality Vs Quantity

Signal vs noise

Signal vs noise

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few weeks now. It is based on my observations here on G+ over the course of the last month. Bear with me as I put down my jumbled thoughts.

I have come to realize that when it comes to science outreach, engagement is the most important thing there is.

Why does engagement matter? Science is about asking questions, discovering the answers and then, most importantly, having that process lead to even more questions. Science doesn’t have an endpoint, it is a continuous journey of discovery. How does this translate into science outreach via social media? It means when someone reads a science post and has their curiosity aroused, they engage by asking a question. In turn, the author should be around to respond, to kindle those first sparks of curiosity into a passionate discussion. That is the holy grail of science outreach.

Posting science jokes all the time does not constitute science outreach. Posting copy/paste text without injecting what you think of an article or blog post does not constitute science outreach. Posting lazy, inaccurate sensationalized meme pictures does not constitute science outreach. So then, what is quality science outreach? To me, it means having someone who is knowledgeable on a topic write about it in a manner that I can understand, yet challenging me to explore what I do not know; and then being around to answer questions. Questions are the highest form of engagement to me, because it means someone wants to know more. Think about it – someone took the time to read something you wrote; absorbed it, and wondered enough about it to ask. Curiosity of that nature is what science thrives on. Evoking that is what science outreach means, to me.

The Suggested User List does not promote engagement

A few months ago, Google created a list of Suggested Users for Science (and Nature). Unfortunately it’s broken. The Suggested User List does not promote engagement. It promotes numbers.

My own personal experience attests to this. A few months ago, as Google+ launched the Science and Nature Suggested User List, I was included on it. I noticed my follower count rise astronomically for a few weeks. However, what I did not notice was a rise in the level of engagement on my posts.

In contrast I’ve noticed a sharp increase in my engagement level in the past few weeks. The difference? Not the SUL, I’m no longer on it. I’m still seeing new people circle me, but this time the comments on my recent posts have been frequent, incredibly insightful, and many times you guys have given me ideas for new posts 🙂 This is one of the biggest reasons why I stay on G+ and continue to produce the content that I do. I don’t do it for the numbers and I don’t do it for the fame, I do it because I love being able to share my passion for science and make people curious to learn more; and in the process, learn more myself because your questions make me think.

The way the SUL works, it promotes Noise over Signal. It promotes Quantity over Quality. It does not enhance engagement, and lately I notice a disturbing trend where sensationalized science gets an official platform by G+. This worries me. The only way to get engagement is by actually producing decent content and then sticking around to engage with the people whose curiosity you have aroused. This is up to the content-producer, not the SUL. We need to promote content over numbers. By promoting non-engaging users on the SUL, G+ is hurting science outreach and hurting itself, because it propagates the ‘G+ is a ghost town’ stereotype, which we know is a myth. We need to foster engagement. We need to have more signal, less noise. We need more quality, less quantity.

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