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Posted 20/11/2013 by cgodfrey

A journalist colleague approached me this week for some advice about people willing to provide an authoritative comment on stories in the pharmaceuticals sector. ‘It’s becoming harder,’ she complained. ‘No one seems to want to talk to us anymore.’ Scrolling back through recent C&I blogs, it’s clear that the problem is not just restricted to pharmaceutical stories. Depressingly, not one comment was posted against any of the previous seven C&I blogs – on topics as diverse as water availability following Typhoon Haiyan this month in the Philippines to a piece on the UK’s two planned nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Only one appeared against a blog on the theme of the recent ACS meeting in Indianapolis below that.

C&I  magazine’s Comment sections are suffering too, as are the magazine’s news pages. In fact, getting anyone to express a personal opinion about anything – and particularly in writing – is becoming increasingly difficult, even with the inducement of a small payment.

So what’s the problem? Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook appear to be thriving, after all, even in an age of political correctness. Maybe as scientists it is simply the case that we are naturally – and sensibly – more cautious. Many companies, for example, now insist on vetting every word their employees choose to publish, even in some cases extending their approval processes to scientific book reviews. 

True, there are occasionally times when saying exactly what you actually think is not necessarily such a good idea, as, for example, after the scandal that followed the hacking a couple of years ago of climate change emails from the University of East Anglia.

By and large, however, expressing an opinion can only be a good thing and should be encouraged. Scientific decision-making relies, after all, on proper informed debate – on seeking the opinions of all those with a view on a particular topic before arriving at a conclusion of our own. In the case of C&I ’s news stories, for instance, how are we to judge the merits of a particular piece of research if no one is willing to provide an independent expert view of a paper’s worth?

As for C&I ’s blogs, meanwhile, it would be nice as well to hope that just occasionally someone was actually reading…

Cath O’Driscoll - Deputy editor

Anyone interested in contributing Comment or opinion pieces to C&I or in writing book reviews should contact codriscoll@wiley.com

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  • Anonymous said:
    03/12/2013 11:49

    At last, we have provoked some response - and very welcome it is! Looking back over previous blogs, we have highlighted issues that we think are important but perhaps they haven't been as provocative as they might have been. Unfortunately for some SCI readers provocative is a step too far but we will try to improve. And Yes - we would love to be tweeting and hooting and flitting all day long - but we also have to get a magazine out with the limited resources at our disposal. Given the number of comments that our blogs have produced, we decided that our day job was the most important. And our on-going reader research supports this approach - most SCI members do not use social media, except perhaps LinkedIn. But points taken! We do need to look at other types of media - and yes, we are well aware of the slowness of the website.

  • Anonymous said:
    24/11/2013 01:14

    This is the first time that I found your site. I wasn't even looking for it; I sort of stumbled upon it while looking for something else. That in itself is part of your problem. You don't assert your voice in the Social Media sphere or the Internet sphere. For example, your tweets are erratic. To be visible, you need to be tweeting constantly. I strongly suggest that you invest in a service like ManageFlitter or HootSuite (I use the free version of ManageFlitter sporadically) to increase your visibility. Schedule tweets at the rate of 1/hour around the clock. Use text that intentionally arouses curiosity and may provoke comments. For another example, your only other social media site is your Facebook page. How many chemists actually use Facebook? At work? FB is okay, but more techies hang out on Google+, and professionally, a workplace is more likely to permit LinkedIn than to permit FB or Google+ or Twitter. Moreover, the writing is dry, passive, and poorly designed if the intent is to elicit comments. NOTE: I did not say your writing is bad. I said it is poorly designed to elicit comments. You want comments? Take a position on a contentious issue. Write with an active voice, not a passive one. Write like you intend to provoke (not offend!) people, and then don't worry whether they like your position. Above all, MAKE YOURSELF VISIBLE! Be active, not passive, in social media (HINT: Follow people, comment on other sites blogs, that sort of thing.)