Tag Archives: Science communication

Sharing research. Top 100 papers with ‘volcano’ or ‘volcanic: an analysis

We all have a responsibility to share and communicate our research. Altmetrics is a new way to track some of the ways we do this as a research community. Last summer (July 2015) they gave me free access to their database to take a look. How does interest in volcanology research permeate both the traditional and new media spheres? Does that translate at all into academic interest? Here’s what I found (yes, its taken me a while!)

If you can’t see the graphics well, the summary infographic can be accessed via this link.
I downloaded the ‘Top 100’ papers with the highest Altimetric score (this turned into 94 when I chucked out news and accidental doubles recently). First up, I tried to put them into broad categories. This was surprisingly easy, but obviously very subjective. A few papers fell into two of these categories.


This is where they were mainly published. Predictable?


This is how the Altmetric Score  and Mendeley Readers compared to citations using my subdivisions. For citations I used Google Scholar and did this slowly last week (May 2016). Yes, these are all on logarithmic scales! Academics clearly like papers about volcanoes and climate more than the wider readership. The opposite is perhaps true of Supervolcanoes. The papers outside of my main classifications are generally less well read and cited.


Here are some more of the contributors to the Altmetrics scores.


Finally, these are the news outlet counts and Tweets versus citations. For some ‘types’ of paper perhaps there is some sign that Tweet activity picks up the papers the academics subsequently cite well (maybe, perhaps…) but news outlets much less so. Again, news outlets have a skewed interest in supervolcanoes and human/volcano stories.



What do I conclude from this? Not too much.. its only very recent papers (Altmetrics has been going since 2011 only) and a small subset (the top 100 are perhaps looking at trends with only a small component of the dataset). Its interesting nonetheless!

For me the most striking point was the relatively restricted range of topics that sparked broader interest. Perhaps, volcanologists need to work harder to communicate a broader spectrum of research in an engaging way. Conversely news media need to listen and report a little bit more imaginatively too.

What do you make of the data? I’ve put the final spreadsheet on Figshare here , along with the infographic I generated from my analysis. Feel free to play some more.

Thanks to Altmetrics for access to their database.


Sparking an interest: volcanoes and creativity

Just before half-term I was invited to Yaxham Primary School to take part in a Science-Art-Writing (SAW Trust) workshop with  writer Andy McDonnell,  artist Liz McGowan and Class 3.  We were the last part of a  SAW triumvirate, exploring different aspects of Earth processes at three Norfolk schools.

In the next couple of weeks the children will continue a collaboration with Liz, producing a joint piece of Art for the Wellbourne Arts Festival.

I was pretty excited to be asked: I’m really interested in what the humanities has to offer towards understanding societal interactions with active volcanoes. I also subscribe strongly to the view that any artificial divide created between science and the humanities in schools needs cheerfully trampled into the ground at every opportunity. Creativity lies at the heart of scientific endeavour and critical thinking about ‘how things work’ is not just triggered by a table of results.

I’d had to provide ‘six images’ to represent my research field ahead of time. So, I was pretty curious about how these had inspired Liz and Andy and in turn how that would inspire the kids. It was a brilliant day.

I kicked off with some broad thoughts about volcanoes and tectonics, and then homed in on a couple of experiments to demonstrate some of the main processes behind different types of eruption. Then we looked at some models of real volcanoes to think about their shapes and some rocks, always the rocks. Volcanoes are (literally) nothing without the rocks.

Shhh! Poets at work. Getting going with the volcano poems. Concentration was intense. Image Courtesy SAW Trust.
Shhh! Poets at work. Getting going with the volcano poems. Concentration was intense. Image Courtesy SAW Trust.

So far so exciting. Then after some ‘warm up’ word exercises Andy used ‘personification’ as a vehicle to inspire the kids to write some poetry about what it would be like to be a volcano. I wouldn’t have thought about that, but he told me personification is a really helpful way to kickstart the writing process. It certainly worked at Yaxham!

  …I blew,

Everything flew,

I bubbled,

My ash clouds twisted and twirled.


The rubble was extensive…. (by Grace)

I supplied a few key volcano words (including my favourite adjectives from the Volcanic Explosivity Index) and the poems were ‘terrific’ (++). Even more interesting, it was fantastic to see some of the facts and principles I had told them come hurling back out as descriptions of volcanic activity.

Have you seen my pumice spurting out?

Have you seen my ash clouds falling from the sky?

 …So I think you’ll be glad to know that I screech out a warning!

Don’t come near me, for my breath reeks of rotten cooked cabbage.

I feel bumpy, smooth and I have a wonderful texture of freshly baked bread….

…Don’t hack at my skin because I’ll throw up all over you.

My lava feels like orange slop that sticks to my surface.

(By Ella)

I loved Liz’s artwork, and it was great to see how delighted everyone was to be able to create something so effective.  She’d produced cones of heavy paper and onto these was painted the ‘gloop’ and spattered some suitably volcanic paint.

Our own miniature volcanic arc. Image Courtest SAW Trust.
Our own miniature volcanic arc. Image Courtesy SAW Trust.

The pièce de résistance was a final squirting with water, changing the viscosity of the paint, encouraging it to run and create all sorts of authentic channels in the gloop. I was practically hopping with delight at all the ways it represented ‘real’ processes on ‘real’ volcanoes.

My very own original piece of Liz McGowan art! Notice how the water rivulets have created some really interesting channels through the gloop. This was made of ash, but from Liz's hearth rather than my rock collection, mixed with PVA glue.
My very own original piece of Liz McGowan art! Notice how the water rivulets have created some really interesting channels through the gloop. This was made of ash, but from Liz’s hearth rather than a volcano and mixed with PVA glue.

So did it add anything to the more straightforward rocks and bangs type stuff I would usually do? Unbelievably so, I was bowled over by just how much the poetry enabled the class to reflect on and create their own mental models for what I had told them, and I was asked interesting, provocative questions around the artwork.

When Liz goes back to the Schools they will produce much larger pieces of art together. These will reflect the whole day and complete an ‘installation’ with the other two schools. It will be spectacular, come and see it!  Liz and the pupils will exhibit this at the Wellbourne Arts Festival on Saturday 13th June between 11:30 and 13:00. I’ll be hanging around too, but the children will be the experts. And that’s just how it should be.

Thanks to Jenni Rant of the SAW Trust; Liz McGowan and Andy McDonnell for their collaboration and, of course Class 3 of Yaxham Primary School without whom the day would have been a lot less inspirational.

Volcanic Crises and Social Media: Top 5

Volcanoes. Lots of them have been erupting recently.

Volcanologists are a sociable bunch and many of them are present in the ‘social ether’. Believe it or not our parent organisation has a protocol for Professional Interaction during Volcanic Crises. It’s contested; and it was written in 1999. It’s about time we as a ‘social community’ acted collaboratively and sought to create a New Protocol for a new media.

I ‘do research’ on risk communication processes and I’ve worked on active systems.  I would not pretend to have a definitive overview, but, here are my top 5 tips. This is done with reference to that initial, carefully created, protocol and inspired by observing some pretty cool teamwork on Twitter in the face of a volcanic crisis.

(i) Act to help not hinder the monitoring organisation. In the midst of a volcanic crisis, life will be tense and abundantly reliant on good teamwork.

Bad teamwork from the Twitterati can include: unhelpful observations of timeliness of statements or information; strongly dissenting critiques of a monitoring organisation’s actions; interpretations in the absence of complete knowledge;speculation on what might happen next or possible impacts (Twitcasting).

Good teamwork could include: a strong trail to the definitive information where available (see iii); recognition of the ‘real’ experts; judgement free info-tweeting.

(ii) It’s not a race. Don’t let the excitement of being the first person to find a photo/image/interpretation get the better of you. With crisis info. treat it like research and only pass on verified or verifiable information. That amazing thing you think you’re the first to spot might be : last year’s eruption; a speck of dirt on a webcam lens; some fog; some nonsense article written by someone who has spent the last 25 years in a locked bunker. That’s all going to end in the clicking of the dustbin sign and feeling embarassed, in the meantime you could have caused real confusion.

(iii) If it’s not your expertise RT not re-interpret. This relates to (i) and (ii). My assumption here is RT’d Tweets don’t annoy your colleagues (they’ll see them once) and this helps to lay the trail back to a definitive source (observatory scientist or eruption expert).  This is helpful communication. If you do know the situation well and want to offer an interpretation just pause for a second to question whether you are in full possession of the facts. Plus, do ask, would you like someone to take your data and do that with it, latte in hand in a cosy office, while you’re out fixing the bust solar panels in the ash? Social media are not the vehicle for the first announcement of your intent to ‘help out’ with data analysis or risk management.

(iv) Respect the affected population. Other people are on Twitter. Yes, it’s true. Mass media like to portray the personal in amongst the terrible. Have a good think about quite how your exhuberant excitement might seem to the person whose house has just been trashed  — if they saw your Tweet.

(v) Do nothing that encourages reckless behaviour. Yes, it’s very exciting and that’s a cool picture. But did they do a very stupid thing to get it?  If they get hurt will other people have to risk their lives to save them? If you were evacuated but could see images of people precisely where you were told not to live would you feel cross? Personally I even steer clear of the ‘Look at the unbelievably stupid thing this person has done to get that picture’ style Tweets but the choice if yours! You may wish to call this out!

Clearly, this is not exhaustive. I’m not sure that it properly acknowledges the role that Twitter Q&A between experts can play in understanding a crisis – and how that plays into open discussion. Science is, after all, a journey and not a destination. However, this is about the height of a crisis – and we at least have to be aware that with social media we’re going on that journey in a crowded room.

The brilliant thing here is that there is absolutely no limit on the extent to which you can provide additional information or share your background knowledge and how this relates to the current activity. Things open up much more when you resort to blogs and think carefully: a  fantastic example of that is of course EruptionsBlog. We can and should do this as much as we all can!

Creative science education is the a brilliant foundation for excellent science communication (e.g. Fischhoff, 2013).

So, have I missed anything? Am I wide of the mark? Interested to hear your thoughts!

PS in for a penny in for a pound. I’ve mapped out my thought processes about talking to the media about volcanological topics. Doesn’t happen often but I do think quite carefully about when I do it.

My mind map of thought processes. The 'Am I better than a googlesearch' was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!
My mind map of my thought processes in dealing with a media query. The ‘Am I better than a googlesearch’ was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!


Rugola Science! Check your branding: how do our logos make you _feel_ ?

Face it! W1A (*): slivers of recognition are making the nation’s academics’ collective toes curl. Branding! Marketing! It’s all a bit not very Ivory Tower… but… pause; think for a minute… if you are interested at all in the communication of your science then there are some strong intersections between marketing and science communication. You can’t communicate well without understanding your audience….duh!

To help you out, I’ve applied the very latest colour branding technology analysis using my very own top analysing skills – I’ve carefully unearthed how these projects want you to feel when you come across them in your Twitter Feed (based on project logos in my feed!)

First up: its the Red-dominated crew:


These logos  should make you feel that these projects are intense, passionate and possibly slightly angry. You want these people when you are in a tight spot, they’ll be brave and yell at people. Or, alternatively run about studying volcanoes.

Follow these two on @VMSG_UK and @StrevaProject.


The most popular logo colour in my feed was blue.



ocean2iceBlue is associated with the depth and stability of sky and sea. So, I expect Ocean2Ice must have focus-grouped that logo for at least at month to get so bang on trend for a project on sea-sky-ice. Full marks!

Nice one too, ESRC, dark blue stands for knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness! No messing about with that logo! GfGD and EwF use light blue to introduce tranquility and understanding to their science offering.

NERC stands out with its unusual greensNERC These are associated with harmony, calm and nature! Soooooo…. clever for the Natural Environment Research Council. Watch out though NERC if you go any more yellow on that light green then that can be associated with sickness, cowardice, discord, and jealousy… uh-oh NERC that would make for an angry kind of town meeting if you emphasised that on your banner!

EGU‘s bright yellow however is associated with intellect, freshness and joy — skippee yippee. If that Viennese poster session is wearing you down – go stand next to the logo and breath in deeply!EGU_logo


VUELCO with their striking black are channelling the powerful elegance of their science – just enough of that mighty red to pull us away from the flipside negative association with naughty pirates that a pure black and white brings. It also remind us about the MAGMA! Nice!logoVUELCO_bigger

White, of course, implies perfection. Only expect the best from Accacia Twitter Feed, folks! Anything else is second best! twiticon_accacia

Finally here come the ‘mixers’


Shoving a bit of orange into your Outreach project is pure genius… orange means….joy, sunshine,enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation! Wow! no need for any fancy gimmicky hands-on experiments if your logo is orange. You just need to turn up with your logo on your t-shirt!

Finally, apparently, LondonVolcano’s powerful red-blue-yellow makes us all think of superheroes. Who doesn’t want  to learn about volcanoes from something that makes you think about superheroes? Not me!

You can follow these three here on Twitter: @OxfordSparks; @VolcTopTrumps and @LondonVolcano.


My top information for this insightful critique was a cool infographic here: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232401 and then the Colour Wheel Pro intro: http://www.color-wheel-pro.com/color-meaning.html

My inspiration was of course (*)W1A. If you’ve never seen this program try this clip: Remember,guys, its the paradigm and we need to shift it!

You can follow these actually fab projects/organisations by clicking on their names or copying the Twitter names!