Great Lakes scientists remind social media they exist

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By Natasha Blakely

In early February, David Steen, a wildlife ecologist, decided to introduce himself on Twitter.

He felt compelled to do that after reading a study from 2013 that showed 70 percent of Americans were unable to name a living scientist. He then started the hashtag “#actuallivingscientist” on Twitter.

In a time when the current president of the U.S. is looking to halve the size of the EPA, reminding the public that scientists exist and are working hard to protect and understand the world is important.

The hashtag caught on, and other scientists around the country started tweeting their own introductions. Of course, scientists working in the Great Lakes area weren’t going to be left out.

Nicole Wood, who is finishing up a graduate degree in conservation biology at Central Michigan University, was one of them.

“I thought it was not only a fun way to showcase what we as scientists do, but also a good way to do it,” Wood said. “It’s a way to show everyone this is what we do, give them a good look at our labs. It helps humanize us.”

Katherine O’Reilly, a Ph.D student at the University of Notre Dame studying Great Lakes coastal wetlands, saw significance in getting people more engaged and acting as an ambassador for science with the public.

“There’s something important behind making connections,” O’Reilly said. “For example, I tell my parents what I do, but they don’t entirely understand. I think it’s really important, especially now more than ever, because we’ve been taught to present facts in science, just put it out there, this is what it is, and people can make decisions based off that.

“What we’re trying to do is put a little more humanity behind science.”

Even Canadian Great Lakes scientists were taking part. Warren Currie is an ecosystem scientist that works for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“Scientists, especially environmental scientists, have had a rough go of it for a couple of years,” Currie said. “Our previous government in Canada did not support unfettered communication by scientists without approval by policy managers. I thought we had put that behind us, but we are seeing a renewal of this now in the U.S. on a whole new level of mean-spiritedness. Supporting U.S. scientists is important because of the widespread rhetoric by the governments that always seems to indicate that scientists, and the science by association, isn’t to be trusted.”

Twitter has emerged as a platform that can help science seem more approachable to the public–whether it’s scientists revealing the human faces behind the research, or an Asian carp making snappy comments on microplastics pollution.

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