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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Sanofi-Aventis Cuts Back | Main | Twitter and Science, Revisited »

February 12, 2010

Who Follows These Things?

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Posted by Derek

My schedule is all over the place today - events at my kids' school, new projects at work, etc. But I do want to put a quick question out to people: I keep seeing various scientific journals, etc. proudly advertising that they're on Twitter, Facebook, etc. So, does anyone get any use out of that? I can't say that I do, but perhaps I'm just set in my ways, if reading journals by RSS feeds can be called "set in my ways".

I'm willing to be set straight on this, but whenever I see these logos and notices, I can't help but see some editorial meeting that I imagine went on. "Look, everybody's on Twitter, says one person around the table. "Well, I'm not," says an editor, "and I can't for the life of me figure out why I should be. Won't we look idiotic 'tweeting' at people, or whatever it is?" "Did I mention that it won't cost us anything to get all Web 2.0-ed up?" says the first guy, and the motion is carried. . .

Comments (47) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. David P on February 12, 2010 12:31 PM writes...

Twitter is kind of like an RSS feed: you tweet with links and a brief description of articles that you either produced yourself or you think are of interest to your readers/followers.

Where it is a step up is that it is more interactive - an article you mention might be retweeted and reach people it might never have reached otherwise. Plus there should be someone running that account, so the followers have some access to the people at the journal.

I follow @NatureChemistry for this very reason. Also @NewScientist. I am @davidperrey on there.

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2. LeeH on February 12, 2010 1:53 PM writes...

Twitter is the ultimate manifestation of today's rampant narcissism. It's not blogging. It's an incessant constant obsession to vocalize whatever random thought comes into your mind. With the exception of some legitimate uses (sales? journalism?), who the hell really wants to know what you are doing moment to moment?

I'm going to the store. I'm on the phone. I'm watching TV. I feel sad. Waaaaaaaaaa.

My God, get a life.

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3. Sel Sertole on February 12, 2010 2:24 PM writes...

I have your blog on RSS, but it goes to an Outlook folder that I have to remember to check, so basically it doesn't help much. I would like to get an email when you post a new blog entry, but I can't figure out how to do that on your blog, nor can the kids in my department.

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4. joel on February 12, 2010 2:24 PM writes...

Ugh, if I hear one more largeish company proudly announce their "social networking" strategy, I'm going to barf all over my iPad.

Most of these companies just use their Twitter and Facebook feeds to shill their advertising crap and message. Rarely have I found a corporate entity that uses it to really interact and engage with their audience, and if they are I usually prefer to follow their actual blogs with my RSS reader. Actually maintaining a following on Twitter takes a lot more effort than these people realize.

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5. Sili on February 12, 2010 2:30 PM writes...

Like everything else it can be used for good and bad. Just like there are good bloggers and bad bloggers.

As I understand it there are some very good twits out there (Stephen Fry for one).

But I'm not into it, myself. Unless you count Ben Goldacre's 'mini-blog'.

Of course, I'm not on Facebook either, nor Myspace, nor do I suspect I will be on TwitOnMyFace when the age of TWOMF dawns.

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6. David P on February 12, 2010 2:31 PM writes...

LeeH said "I'm going to the store. I'm on the phone. I'm watching TV. I feel sad. Waaaaaaaaaa."

Yes, people do that. But I don't follow them. Not how twitter should be used.

joel said "Actually maintaining a following on Twitter takes a lot more effort than these people realize."


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7. David P on February 12, 2010 2:38 PM writes...

I'm curious how many come to this site via Derek's twitter feed. It certainly serves as a timely reminder to me.

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8. You're Pfizered on February 12, 2010 3:19 PM writes...

No-one wants to hear my Tweets about how my Buchwald chemistry didn't work.

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9. processchemist on February 12, 2010 3:28 PM writes...


You can consider to drop Buchwald and try plain Ulmann...

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10. z on February 12, 2010 3:42 PM writes...

I'm not a fan of twitter, but it seems like it would be especially ill-suited for journals. If they tweet about new articles being published, I'd want to see the graphical abstract, and I wouldn't want to read the article on my phone. If I'm on my computer, then it's even more useless because I would just look at the RSS feed.

I don't care about following any scientific organizations on social media, because I don't want any social aspects of their service. I just want journal articles, etc. Blogs are fine, but I see no point in twitter, and the only use I see for facebook is keeping up with social contacts who wouldn't otherwise be publishing an RSS feed.

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11. anon on February 12, 2010 4:14 PM writes...

I think commenting on blogs is: "is the pen-ultimate manifestation of today's rampant narcissism."

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12. Slurpy on February 12, 2010 4:24 PM writes...

I follow some on FB (I am a particular fan of the JACS image challenges), and I tried with Twitter, but it was such a trainwreck that it lasted about three days in my professional life, and now serves only to distract from overdue assignments.

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13. Rich Apodaca on February 12, 2010 5:04 PM writes...

Remember what websites looked like at first (1995 or so)?

That's where we're at with Twitter and related sites today. It's a technology that takes almost nothing to get started with, has very wide reach, and for which your initial estimation of what it's all about is likely to be wrong.

Journals could be using Twitter and similar services to great effect. Anybody in science who consistently creates new content useful to at least one other person (and that's just about all of us) could as well.

But too many are stuck in old ways of thinking - and the problem is compounded by groupthink in large organizations facing tough times. It's not their fault, but taking the wrong approach can backfire.

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14. z on February 12, 2010 5:07 PM writes...

@Rich, "Journals could be using Twitter and similar services to great effect. Anybody in science who consistently creates new content useful to at least one other person (and that's just about all of us) could as well."

How? What does Twitter really offer that is better than RSS feeds and "standard" internet stuff (like blogs)?

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15. eugene on February 12, 2010 5:10 PM writes...

I follow Andjewandte on FB. I used to set aside a day to scan through all the journals, but since I check FB once a day, I find it easier to scroll down and read the Andjewandte abstracts. However, including all the journals would really clutter up FB; I can only do this for one or two. Jackass seems like it would flood FB instantly with their endless exponential increases in ASAP articles (and I'd rather read it on my journal day), but maybe something like Dalton or a Chemical Miscommunications feed would be acceptable.

I think it wouldn't work if you didn't use these things for anything other than checking feeds, because you would eventually stop using Twitter and would just check the journal website. But a place that you have to go to everyday to check messages from friends and read abstracts in the meantime is a very ideal thing.

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16. JC on February 12, 2010 6:02 PM writes...

My Buchwalds work great with PdOAc2/rac-Binap/Cs2CO2/dioxane

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17. Alyson on February 12, 2010 6:08 PM writes...

As a science journalist (former chemist) that uses Twitter to keep up with breaking news, I find it very handy to follow scientific journals on Twitter. The Nature family of journals, in particular, has done a great job with their Twitter streams – they post their own new articles but they will also often alert you when other media outlets have covered one of their papers.

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18. Doug on February 12, 2010 7:15 PM writes...

I've found exactly two good uses for Twitter. When we had our big ice storm in NH a few years back and power was out all over everywhere, PSNH (local electric company) used Twitter to let customers know where the crews were, how long they'd be here, where they were going next, when they hit a snag, etc. It was brilliant and kudos to whoever figured that one out.

The NH DOT is offering tweets for traffic problems on the major interstate. Pretty cool also.

I can see a use for keeping groups of people trying to coordinate an impromptu meet up (drinks at some bar, which bar, who's where...)

For the rest of it, I can't for the life of me how you could say much of interest in 140 characters (haiku aside).

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19. Bored on February 12, 2010 8:28 PM writes...

#2 LeeH:

You are dead on. Narcissism is the operative word for our times. It is on display everywhere from "reality" tv (which is anything but real) to the "let's create a fake celebrity" shows like American Idol, to our politicians and their telepromters and focus groups. It is a sign of decadence and loss of vision. Once a nation turns inward like we have, it is hard to recover. All these methods of communicating with each other are a bunch of crap. The "contribution" they provide to our lives is all an illusion. The only thing they really demonstrate is how illiterate most people are.

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20. Neil on February 12, 2010 8:51 PM writes...

Like you, I get more use and value out of my feed reader than any other tool. I get use from Twitter, Facebook and the rest too, but a different kind of use. It annoys me when people proclaim that RSS is old, tired and dead. Its simplicity is its strength - do one thing (alert to updated content), do it well.

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21. mitch on February 12, 2010 10:44 PM writes...

Twitter is for old people and companies.

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22. Verpa on February 13, 2010 2:13 AM writes...

There's also the question of signal / noise ratio in the different mediums. Scientists when looking for scientific info, even for *fun*, want something with a large amount of signal and low noise. Most science blogs hit that, while twitter, as a medium, is basically noise, though there are some gems like @NatureChemistry.
Don't forget twitter and Facebook aren't the only examples of web2.0 , they're just the cheapest to integrate with. Setting up a social forum for journal articles to allow 'up' / 'down' voting or people to make comments and point out issues in a unified place would be very web 2.0 and would also hopefully have a decent s/n and usefulness rate. Maybe that sort of forum would have caught frauds like the IUCr scandal or the Chiranjeevi issues. I'm all for damning 'overly' social media but lets not paint it all with the 'twitter' brush.

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23. quintus on February 13, 2010 3:26 AM writes...

I can't get your RSS feed to work here!

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24. Twit chemist on February 13, 2010 3:58 AM writes...

As a chemist who works for big pharma I use Twitter to get journal feeds direct to my mobile. I also like the cafepharma output - it really is a low energy way to keep up with news both good and bad.
From time to time, like many people, I also use twitter to moan about things that annoy me. Surprisingly, I have recieved instant replies from major companies via twitter (e.g. Dyson, British Telecom) when I have done this. Much better than being left on hold or being sent to an automated phone line!

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25. z on February 13, 2010 9:57 AM writes...

I find it interesting that, in recent years, we've moved to having fewer and fewer restrictions on content--long file names, effectively unlimited email, cheap harddrive storage, high speed internet, high bandwidth, etc--but now things like Twitter are taking us backwards--content is limited to 140 characters, and people have to use URL shorteners for links (I really don't like URL shorteners; I like to know where links are pointed before I click on them).

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26. metaphysician on February 13, 2010 10:25 AM writes...

The only useful thing I've seen Twitter used for is 'liveblogging' essentially: doing running news reports from on sight at some event or other.

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27. Pharma Conduct Guy on February 13, 2010 1:07 PM writes...

#14 Z said "How?  What does Twitter really offer that is better than RSS feeds and "standard" internet stuff (like blogs)?"

I agree with Rich (#13).  Social media networks like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, etc are still in their infancy.  People see potential, but because such networks have never existed previously, figuring out how to really use them optimally will take time.

History is full of examples of disruptive technologies that took time to find their niche.  Here's some of my favorites the thoughts behind the major uses of some major disruptive technologies when they were first introduced (based on my memory of Guy Kawasaki's excellent book, Rules for Revolutionaries).

     1) Telephone - Thought was that most significant use would be broadcasting speeches to remote audiences (since two communication did not exist prior, nobody thought about letting the audience participate)
     2) Photography - Taking pictures of the deceased
     3) Mechanical dishwasher - preventing dishes (think fine china) from getting broken during the washing process
     4) Kleenex tissues - removal of makeup.  Sales didn't take off until they were marketed as disposable handkerchiefs, taking advantage of the public's growing awareness (and fear) of germs.
     5) Micro-computers - Calculating ballistic trajectories for mobile soldiers.
     6) Internet - Fault tolerant network for communication during wartime.
Although I'm no Twitter expert, I have found it useful for 1) promoting my own blog and 2) finding other content on the web that is interesting to me.  The ability to retweet as well as create and search hashtag categories allows Twitter to let "good content spread virally" far more efficiently than could be done with blogging and search engines.

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28. Damien on February 13, 2010 4:44 PM writes...

I use Twitter to get feeds from journals, which is not so different from RSS feeds. But, I particularly like Twitter because I can follow people who are really doing great job in selecting interesting papers on particular topics (e.g., @lilykim who is twitting on microlfuidics). I do my best to participate and I share papers that I think have an interest for a broad readership (and I try to explain why in a few words).

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29. Skeptic on February 13, 2010 5:22 PM writes...

" a sign of decadence and loss of vision"

Not when the game is Competitive Currency Debasement. Only stupid people have value systems.


Investment Bankers, Politicians, MBA's, Economists, Certain shilling blog hosts, etc

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30. Fred on February 14, 2010 9:59 AM writes...

I agree with #27. Sometimes it takes a while for tech to find its *true* niche:

Fax machines: originally for sending out newsletters (1940's)

Bar codes: for tracking rail cars coming into the yard. Hampered initially by signal to noise issues-- solve by invention of cheap lasers.

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31. RB Woodweird on February 14, 2010 4:47 PM writes...

I have discovered a truly marvellous new total synthesis, which this Tweet is too narrow to contain.

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32. metaphysician on February 14, 2010 9:52 PM writes...


*kills RB Woodweird, and burns his belongings*


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33. Laywoman on February 15, 2010 7:59 AM writes...

Please, if you do get the time, do it for people like myself who missed out on science at school and now love reading and watching anything to do with science. It's just lovely to have a whole new view, even if I don't understand it, I very much appreciate the guiding tweets.

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34. goldilocks on February 15, 2010 10:28 AM writes...

I do follow several journals on Twitter. Sometimes I retweet journal articles that may be of interest to my followers (who might not normally be interested in that particular journal). Whoever is behind @NatureNews is particularly responsive. And I think that's where you're missing out, Derek. You don't really interact with your followers from what I can see - you don't retweet stories that might be of interest to others, and it doesn't look as though you respond to people who reply to your tweets. Twitter isn't meant to be a podium, it's meant to open dialogue.

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35. Mountainsol on February 15, 2010 11:00 AM writes...

I use twitter to keep up with the latest ecology & conservation info and it's more convenient and faster to get those updates via twitter than to check each website or even subscribe via RSS or google alert. If something's particularly relevant to what I do or what my followers are interested in, I can easily Re-tweet it or share it with a specific person. I'm @mountainsol by the way.

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36. Natalie on February 15, 2010 11:06 AM writes...

Derek, dude, you're on Twitter already, you tweet about 3 times a week, but you don't follow anyone good. Why don't you try finding some good people and go from there. I follow loads of science stuff including journals, lab heads, grad students, which I find super helpful. You don't need to tweet nonsense, or follow people that do, and it's not supposed to replace reading your RSS feeds, or journals, just add to your ways of finding knowledge.

As for it being narcissistic, well, you're the one with the blog aren't you?!

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37. Jimalakirti on February 15, 2010 1:57 PM writes...

I peruse about 60 online scientific publications each day and post the ones i think are of most interest on the subjects of evolution, climate change, nuclear energy/waste management, and critical thinking. Twitter is one major tool I use to 'follow" many of these publications. Otherwise I don't find much for me in Twitter.

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38. Bored on February 15, 2010 8:56 PM writes...

#38 Natalie

Like pornography, you know narcissism when you see it. That a person blogs does not necessarily make them a narcissist. In Derek's defense, I wouldn't call him a narcissist. If anything, he seems to be a pretty humble guy.

The recent deluge of new methods to communicate is enabling the narcissists of the world to indulge themselves in an unprecedented way. That is a symptom, not the cause, of our woes.

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39. ddddd on February 16, 2010 4:11 AM writes...

Twitter and Facebook I can half imagine people using, but sites like Digg and Reddit? I can't imagine that a J Med Chem paper is ever going to get noticed on there, no matter how promising the compounds are!

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40. liz on February 16, 2010 6:29 AM writes...

a 140 char up to the minute headline on a broad base of subjects / articles / pics or videos keeps me current & is a doorway into more extensive investigation once it's captured my opposed to long rambling blogs that don't encapsulate the meat of the message therefore don't facilitate quick scan & pick when I'm time limited

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41. partial agonist on February 16, 2010 2:08 PM writes...

I am part of a group that plans ACS meetings on the med chem side of things. For the Boston meeting (August) we are planning a "lunch-and-learn" noontime session on social media and its impact upon research.

My original idea was based upon following blogs (this is the best one), other newsy ones like Pharmalot and Drug Discovery Opinion, topic-oriented ones like Kinase Pro, and organization or publication-oriented ones like C&ENews and Nature.

People have asked me to expand the discussion to include twitter and facebook, and I guess I have to be convinced that those aren't just for wasting time or a PR/IT gimmick. Truth be told, I used to think that of blogs, though!

I have ideas on the blog side of things- a panel discussion and possible short presentations by some prominent bloggers. I don't quite know where to go with the twitter & facebook angle. If people have thoughts of how this topic can be wrestled into a 60-75 minute lunch and learn, or have any suggestions, shoot me an e-mail:

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42. AVDB on February 16, 2010 10:27 PM writes...

Google "Nation of twits", an opinion by Petsko published in Genome Biology. I have NEVER agreed with someone more.

Some guys in my lab use twitter. Their messages vary between "Arrived at the lab now", to "Eating lunch now", all the way to "Going home now", every single day, again and again and again. WHO READS THIS STUFF??? The signal to noise ratio is like 1e-99.

A nation of twits indeed.

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43. Dave_n on February 17, 2010 6:41 PM writes...

Like #42, I would even go further and change the vowel in "twits". I shall leave it to other English (UK version) speakers to enlighten the US English speakers!!

As you might imagine, I am not a lover of social media; in fact I am reminded of an old definition of "social science" viz, "social as in disease" and "science as in fiction". Quite applicable to almost all "social media!" with the possible exception of "linked In"

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44. Bored on February 17, 2010 9:38 PM writes...

There is one "social medium" of which I am a frequent user. It is the ONLY one I will use. There are no monthly fees, or fees of any kind. When all other forms of communication fail, it is the only one that works, even in the worst natural or man-made disasters. You can talk about anything you want, conversations are always civil, and everyone is known by their first name. It is called Ham Radio.

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45. goldilocks on February 18, 2010 4:08 PM writes...

I think it's funny that so many people are commenting that they don't use Twitter and will never use Twitter. They probably said the same thing about the interwebs back in its infancy.

It may be called "following" on Twitter but that implies that it's a one way street... it would be the equivalent of posting entries to a blog but not allowing for comments.

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46. Dave_n on February 19, 2010 7:59 PM writes...

I was amused by Goldilocks' comment as probably like a number of other "non-twitterers" here, I was using Mosaic back in the days of web infancy.

The web has its uses, but I can see none for social media. I cerainly have no interest in what some one considers worthy of letting the world know in

So that I can be added to the "dodo list" I do not own a TV (have not had one since 1980), very rarely go to movies, could not name any "celebrities" and certainly do not miss any of them. Dave_n

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47. goldilocks on February 21, 2010 11:49 PM writes...

Dave_n: you may have been around during the Mosaic days, but do you remember lynx? ;) Back then many individuals had websites and many more wondered what the point of it all was. I think it's too early to discount Twitter.

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