For a while it seemed like the deal wasn’t going to go through. After his initial offer, Elon Musk tried everything he could to back out of it, short of sitting for a deposition in the resulting law suit. But, at the end of the day, it went through, and Elon Musk now owns Twitter.
Lots of folks are worried about what a Musk-controlled Twitter will become. His conditional commitment to press freedom depends entirely on how much praise is heaped upon him. His record as an employer is a mess. And now he controls one of the most potent, though slowly waning, outlets for public engagement, and certainly the preferred medium of journalists and politicians.
I’ve taught Social Media for Environmental Communications at Duke University for the last 11 years. Every year there’s been some big social media shakeup, and every year we look at how that shakeup will impact professionals using social media primary as an outreach and engagement tool. This has the potential to big the biggest shift in how folks approach social media that we’ve seen in a long time. But it also could be a whole heap of nothing. It all depends on the whims of a single, inconsistent owner who may not really know what he has or what his vision for it is.
So what will this new Twitter look like? I suspect that we won’t see tectonic shifts in how Twitter operates immediately. It will take months for any of Musk’s vision to trickle into the user experience. I don’t get the impression that there are many people left for whom an ownership change is going to push them to finally get a Twitter account. The platform seems largely out of its growth phase. So there will likely be a slow and steady attrition of users as they get less and less out of using Twitter. They won’t be replaced.
Long-term, I expect to see a hard push towards monetization of an increasingly small active user base. Which, in itself, will make that user base even smaller.
For the past few days I, like many of you, have felt a variety of intense emotions. First and foremost I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of relief. No matter what happens next, Donald Trump is no longer President of the United States, and he and his enablers can no longer work to destroy so much of what we love and value (at least not as easily). We can start the hard work of fixing so many things that have been awful and growing worse every day. I’ve felt hope that we can start to make things better, and I’ve even felt a little bit of joy at the noteworthy progress that’s already been made. All of this was expected, but one thing I haven’t expected is how much of a particular sensation I’m feeling, and have seen other people report feeling as well. For some of my friends it was a totally unfamiliar sensation, but as a marine scientist I recognized it immediately: many of us are basically experiencing landsickness, also called “dock rock” or “mal de debarquement syndrome”.
Eleven years is a long life for a science blog. Southern Fried Science was born in 2008, when the main writers were all graduate students. Over the last decade the online landscape has changed. Science Communication changed with it, adapting and evolving to meet an ever-shifting ecosystem. Looking back on the last decade and thinking about the next, it’s becoming easier to see where we went wrong. It’s not quite as easy to determine what we need to correct the course.
This is not a scientific assessment, this is my own personal observations from the last decade of running Southern Fried Science, from teaching Social Media for Environmental Communications for the last 7 years, from working with Upwell, one of the most dynamic and visionary ocean NGOs ever conceived, from helping build and launch multiple online platforms, dozens of novel programs, and hundreds of outreach campaigns, and from spending a lot of time since November 2016 reflecting on what we’ve done wrong.
That Hideous Deficit
Do we really need another 200 words on how bad the deficit model is and why it needs to die?
The basic premise: that science perception and policy is shaped by an information deficit and that if we just make good science education content and spread it, we can combat the spread of misinformation, people will learn, and everything will get better.
It doesn’t work. It never worked. And it ignores the reality that misinformation is manufactured for political and financial gain, with tremendous incentives and, often, far better funding than science outreach campaigns. But beyond that, multiple studies have shown that, when confronted with information that challenges their fundamental world view, people don’t throw out their worldview, they reject the science, creating a more entrenched and intractable audience.
Ever since I moved to Washington, DC last summer, I’ve been fascinated by an ad campaign for the DC Metro. The premise of the campaign is simple: taking public transit reduces your carbon footprint compared with driving yourself. It highlights various negative consequences of climate change, and points out how riding the Metro can help fight them.
Many of these ads highlight well-known consequences of climate change:
Just when you thought it was safe to read another decade-in-review listicle…
As the 2010’s come to an end, it’s a time to reflect on the often-problematic decade that was as we plan for a hopeful future. I am a sucker for year-in-review and decade-in-review listicles, and was devastated to learn that no one had yet written a decade-in-review listicle for sharks! Please enjoy my official, scientific list of the most important science, conservation, and pop culture sharks from the past decade.
Every scientist I work with spends most of the day communicating, whether that’s preparing grants, manuscripts, theses, outreach talks, emails to colleagues/students… the list goes on. However, most of these outlets share fairly strict formatting rules. Grants comes with pages of guidelines. Talks have defined who I am, what I did, found, next, thank you slide. While this sterile approach is arguably fundamental to science’s critical tenant of replication, it makes for terrible communication.
It’s easy to get discouraged or demoralized as an environmentalist in today’s world. It seems like every day brings more devastating news. Half of the world’s wildlife has died in my parents’ lifetime, and current rates of extinction may be up to 10,000 times higher than the natural background rate. We’re losing a terrifying number of birds and insects, and a million species are considered threatened or endangered. Things are bad enough that “eco anxiety” is now a recognized mental health condition.
It is said that in the environmental movement, all of our victories are temporary, and all of our defeats are permanent. Much of the current focus of environmental advocacy has been described as “playing against the slaughter rule,” hoping not to win but to avoid getting totally wiped out in our inevitable loss.
In the face of all this, I’m often asked how I can remain so optimistic, and so motivated to keep working. Some people are surprised to learn that a large part of my answer comes from my Jewish faith.
The “life of sharks” webcomic, which features real facts about sharks along with clever humor, is taking the internet by storm! Creators Christian Talbot (writer) and Sophie Hodge (Illustrator) were kind enough to answer some of my questions about their comic and where they get their ideas. Be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and check out their online store. Responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
David: Tell me about your comic. Why sharks?
Sophie: Mostly the comic is about the minutiae of everyday life, relationships and emotions. That’s kind of funny when you put it into the mouths of fish that are perceived to be cold hearted killers.
Christian: They can be about anything, really. I just like the way we can anthropomorphize the sharks. Sharks just seemed like the funniest animal to try and give human emotions to and put into relationships because they’re seen as being cold, solitary, killing machines. Plus sharks are just cool. Also, sharks can’t claim royalties.
If not for the people who believe that these movies are real and therefore decide to yell at marine biologists on twitter about it, I’d be all for this. Let’s be totally clear here- Carcharocles megalodon is extinct, and here’s how we know. Shark Week lied to you about it. Actresses from this movie asking about it are not experts. This movie is completely fictional. You can certainly watch it and enjoy it, but please don’t cite it as evidence that a 50 foot long whale-eating shark that used to live in shallow coastal waters near what are now populated areas is not extinct.
Anyway, here is a scene-by scene breakdown of what’s in the first trailer. From it, we can tell that this is an action-packed movie with a great cast that does not stick too closely to the books, and is also not particularly interested in scientific accuracy even with respect to issues unrelated to the “giant extinct animals are actually not extinct”central conceit.