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The top eleven science hashtags of 2011

Science is a conversation, and in 2011, a significant portion of that conversation happened on twitter. 2011 saw some fascinating new discoveries, bizarre assertions, disheartening revelations, and brilliant discussions. Twitter, it seems, is both a petri dish for nuggets of insight and an autoclave for steaming piles. So, without any further ado, here are the top 11 science hastags of 2011.

10. #sciamblogs

The long-anticipated Scientific American blog network, led by the blogfather himself, Bora Zivkovic, launched in early 2011. Since then it has been the gold standard of Science Blogging. Although not every post is up to par, and some of the writers court controversy over accuracy, #sciamblogs has consistently been the go to hashtag for great new science content. EvoEcoLab is particularly awesome (COI Statement – according to our publication record, Kevin Zelnio is my statistically significant other).

9. #drunksci

Should anonymous scientists get drunk and talk shit on twitter? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. #drunksci (and it’s loose association with the Journal of Are You Fucking Kidding) is hilarious and worth 10,000 internets.

8.#neutrino (and all the other particle/speed-of-light related hashtags)

Do neutrinos travel faster than the speed of light? Maybe, but probably not. The twitter chatter surrounding the report that neutrinos may break the universal speed limit alternated between insightful and hilarious. Here’s a timeline of the neutrino story.

7. #scio12 (and #ihuggedbora)

Science Online is the premier science bloggers conference, and this year it will be bigger than ever. The #scioXX hashtag serves as the rallying point for attendees to plan, scheme, and conspire to create a strong and vibrant online community. When you get to Science Online, don’t forget to give Bora a hug.

6. #k3rn3d

Late in 2010, “Where’s the passion?” a short-sighted article maligning the fact that scientists (even grad students!) have lives outside of the lab and complaining that if you aren’t doing science 24/7, you’re letting people die from cancer, was published in Cancer Biology and Therapy. After a frank and open discussion about why that mentality was painfully flawed and actually led to poor science, burned-out students, and frequent mistakes, the #k3rn3d hashtag emerged as a way to mock those curmudgeonly PI’s that still felt that life outside the lab was an intellectual weakness. Working on Sunday? Why weren’t you here Saturday, too? #k3rn3d! Christmas vacation?! Your family got to see you before grad school. #k3rn3d!

5. #scifund

Can scientists fund their research while bypassing traditional grant-award agencies by appealing directly to the public for small donations. The answer is yes and no. The SciFund Challenge attempted to raise grassroots donations for scientific research. While 10 projects met their funding goals, including several of my favorites, 39 did not. So yes, it is possible to fund research by directly soliciting donations, but no, it is not a reliable way to raise funds (of course, applying for grants is no guarantee either). #SciFund was an awesome experiment that gave almost 50 scientists a good chunk of public exposure. Doctor Zen has a great summary of the process as one of the fundees.

4.#openlab

The Open Lab, an annual anthology of the best science writing online, came of age this year, thanks in no small part to #sciamblogs. Now associated with a commercial publishing house and benefiting from the surge in quality science blogging the network shake-ups produced, the Open Lab 2011 looks like it will be the best one yet. You can peruse the winning entries here and check out the few that just barely missed the cut. Don’t forget to offer a hearty congratulations to this year’s editor, Jennifer Ouellette.

3. #womanspace

Nature, the journal, has a science fiction page. I almost always enjoy the 800-words of whimsy that close each issue, but sometime this year, they published a rather alienating story entitled Womanspace. It didn’t gain much attention until six months later, when a pair of letters to the editor were published pointing out the ways in which this piece was problematic at best and outright misogynistic at worst. The discussion spanned dozens of science blogs and spilled over into twitter under the hashtag #womanspace. The outcry came close on the heels of #mencallmethings, a hashtag designed to draw attention to the way women are treated on the internet, and fed into a broader discussion of gender expectations, institutional sexism, and the marginalization of women in the sciences.

Jacquelyn Gill has curated the authoritative list of responses to the original short story.

2. #madwriting

Do you ever find yourself in a total writer’s block while trying to bang out a manuscript? #madwriting, created by Nancy Parmalee, is here to help. By coordinating many authors trying to get their manuscripts written, you can commiserate with others stuck in the same rut, share ideas, and coordinate short burst writing sessions to push you past that road block to publication. It’s also a great way to find other scientists at the same stage of the writing process who may have advice or experience to share.

A nice summary can be found here.

1.a. #arseniclife

Late in 2010, NASA hosted a press conference to announce that a new paper was about to be published providing evidence that a bacterial strain was able to incorporate arsenic into its DNA. The paper was panned by several notable scientists and science journalists who found the study incomplete and unconvincing. The resulting blog and twitter storm spilled out into the mainstream media and a critical blog post was republished as a letter in the same journal that reviewed the original piece. Throughout the ordeal, which is still ongoing, twitter played a key role in connecting interested parties and keeping the information flowing. It also triggered an ongoing discussion on peer review, science by press release, open access, and the limitations of the current scientific publishing model. For those reasons, #aresniclife shares the number one spot for top science hashtags of 2012.

Carl Zimmer has a nice, succinct summary of #arseniclife at his blog – #ArsenicLife Goes Longform and History Gets Squished.

1.b. #icanhazpdf

Sharing scientific publications with colleagues who don’t have access to certain journals is a time-honored tradition among scientists. Where once requests were sent via phone, mail, or e-mail, this year saw the rise of #icanhazpdf – a public request via twitter for access to those papers. Once conducted among friends, paper sharing is now done publicly, often between parties with no professional relationship beyond the hashtag. This tiny act of civil disobedience highlights the issues involved in the standard model of scientific publication and draws attention to the importance of the open access movement. The public request and private sharing dwell in a grey area of fair use policy, though I have yet to see a publishing group take a public stand on this new iteration of a long-standing scientific tradition.

Update! Honorable mention – #hipsterscience was cool, then it got all popular and totally sold out.


Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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