The power of social media in science campaigning

A second post from EC PLACES training on social media and now thinking about applications in Science Communication.  All based around three principles of listening, linking and sharing.

@ShaneMcC of ‘I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here’ and ‘Science is Vital’ telling us the history of the latter.  It started with Vince Cable’s 8 Sept 2010 proposals to cut science funding ‘because we are not worth’ it that led to an immediate Blog response that quickly snowballed into a campaign.  Within a day a Facebook group ‘Science is Vital’ was up with 500+ members, 1000+ by 5 days, with 500+ Twitter Followers.  Although smaller number, Twitter allower further reaching of followers’ networks, including people like Brian Cox and Stephen Fry.  Face to face meetings of core group made decisions based on feel of campaign and proposed a rally on 9 October.  Use of ‘Basecamp’ allowed organisation of campaing rather that discussion which continued on Facebook.

There was a leveling off of interest until a website was established something for followers to do and talk about.  Also reached a point of being an internal conversation, so needed to get followers such as universities and celebrities to help break out into wider public through whatever means they normally used.  This led to huge response to launch of e-petition with 8k+ signatures in a week and 20k+ by the time off rally.  Slightly belatedly they asked for some funding from followers.

Day of rally came and 2000 scientists came with plakards.  It was a positive message – science is vital to economy and worth keeping.  BBC reported.

Next stage was to hit politicians.  120 people came to parliament to lobby MPs, petition grew to 36k signatures and was presented to Downing Street, which resulted in a positive meeting with David Willetts.  He was grateful for campaign that had positively and with evidence made a case that helped him to secure cash freeze rather than cut in science budget.

This shows how a bottom up campaign of people passionate and positive about a cause (albeit naive and inexperienced) can successfully use social media tools to suceed in changing things.

Pam Waddell