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.
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.
I love baking with my kids. Until ‘the wee one’ was seven I worked part-time; the biggest challenge in that was the sudden, mind-crunching change of gear from research and teaching to scattering glitter and climbing trees (and often back again in the evening, but that’s another story). Baking was (and is) a fantastic ‘bridging activity’; some of the measuring,experimentation and making of science, lots of the mess and joyous shouting that makes hanging out with your kids fun. Try sneaking about checking email with two under-5’s and some chocolate fudge on the go…..
I’m not a saintly mommy-baker though and quite a lot of our time has been spent ‘experimenting’ and quite often this involves volcanic cakes. The real fun in that is using your imagination to hang it all together in one volcanic sugar-rush so I’m not going to presume to step you through an entire cake volcanaganza, but just select my top 5 ‘volcanic’ cake elements. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes in the company of the under 10s will know ‘its all about the topping’ so I make no apologies for the icing-based outlook these choices have!
Fully fledged volcano cake idea from spoonful.com
(1) Popping Candy Mouth Explosions. The simple ideas are the best and little iced mini-volcanoes that can go off in your mouth are the coolest. In the UK you can get little jars of this from Waitrose. Beware! The reaction starts on contact with moisture so you are limited to using buttercream icing with this one. A guaranteed crowd pleaser.
(2) Mini-magma mountains! In the States they call these lava cakes in the UK they are more usually called ‘chocolate fondants’ but let’s face it they are small lava domes with the cake mixture demonstrating the brittle-ductile transition all by itself after baking. What’s not to like? Chocolate and rheology! For my kids the incredibly rich recipe was much more about the chocolate-melting journey than the very rich arrival. I experienced more than one dome collapse event on serving, but hey ho, can’t have everything. The recipe we used is here.
small sector collapse courtesy of Gwenskitchen blog.
(3) Transitional Fudge. This is really serious stuff for the very academic baker indeed. Messing around with this recipe can let you produce not just pahoehoe but a’a if you want to! Hooray. Alison Rust and her colleagues have even produced an excellent paper about it. Imagine! My favourite component of the accompanying New York times article is the label COOKING INCORRECTLY for the making a’a method. Who decided a’a is INCORRECT!? Never COOK INCORRECTLY! I can do much better than that, however and once covered an entire pirate ship cake in pahoehoe fudge BY ACCIDENT. Never make your kid’s birthday cakes at midnight!
NYTimes pictures of transition fudge with helpful images of lava just so you can be sure you are not COOKING INCORRECTLY.
The last two are next on our assault list.
(4) Strombolian marshmallow fountain. This was inspired by seeing the amazing erupting volcano cake recipe (yes I do google things like ‘erupting volcano cake’ just for kicks). Most of these recipes involve marshmallow fluff (available in the US) and dry ice (can be bought in shops in the US). Me and my little assistants have ‘checked’ and normal marshmallows (if you heat them slowly and don’t burn) do melt to a lava-y consistency. If you get it right and pour the warm fluid on top of some dry ice (you know how to source it, if you have got this far you are almost definitely a geek!) I’m pretty sure this will make a flamboyant wee display. Usually the fluff gets combined with warm water too, presumably to satisfy the viscously challenged. Don’t do this in a confined space, folks! Want. to. do. this.
the amazing erupting volcano cake. about 50 ingredients and 25 different steps but worth it for those with a ‘wonderfully whacky streak(*)’
5. Lava lollies. This is basically boiled sugar with red food colouring in to make it look like lava. Gets poured into intricate spatter explosion shapes onto a cooled surface. Looks very effective in the picture at the top and also sticking out of the amazing erupting volcano cake. Currently, I’d recommend catching the Tolbachik vibe and pouring the hot syrup out onto some snow to make the lava spangles for the top of the cake.
(*) in my world the wonderfully whacky rarely hang around for recipes with more than about four steps!
Originally my high-minded plan was to try a Top 5 Adult Volcano Fiction list. However I hopelessly stalled with Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano’; couldn’t bring myself to read ‘The Volcano Lovers’; and need more daylight around to cope with gritty Icelandic bodies-in-the -ash crimefiction. So, for just now, I’ve come up with a top 5 list of kids’ books. Lots of reading fun!
These are in my order of preference but they are all brilliant. To keep it interesting only my Top 5 are listed with a brief synopsis and justification. See if you agree!
Lila wants to become a firework-maker but her father thinks this is unsuitable for a girl. She defies him by journeying alone to Mt Merapi to get Royal Sulfur from Razvani the Fire-Fiend; a test all firework-makers must undergo. Will she be successful and persuade her dad he is being a bit of a numpty for thinking that girls can’t do anything they want to?
This is one of my choices that is much more about the feeling and sense of being around a volcano rather than an attempt to convey an actual eruption. I think I loved it all the more for that. Aimed at kids in the 7-10 age group Pullman’s descriptions fizz and crackle with all the delight that comes from roaming free on perilous mountains. However, the real draw of this book for me was the description of the firework making. All the sense of the fun of guddling around in a lab being creative; and the wonder of watching Strombolian-type activity at the end of it. Yippee!
(2) Escape from Pompeii: Christina Balit (Frances Lincoln Childrens Books, 2005). The first of two books about the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius. This is a picture book for younger children and focusses on Tranio and his friend Livia and their escape into the Bay of Naples.
In places it’s a little studious in trying to convey life as it was then but the illustrations are just beautiful (see above); so nice you can forgive the odd lava flow leaking out underneath the surges. Doesn’t shy away from the sad death toll either; but is neither morbid or mawkish about it.
(3) Magic dogs of the volcanoes: Manlio Argueta and illustrated by Elly Simmons. Published by the Childrens Book Press in the States. I came across, and read this, in my daughter’s infant school. It has both the Spanish and English text side-by-side.
Both the pictures and text convey a nice sense of a volcano legend. The magic dogs (cadejos) that protect El Salvadorean villages are saved from some naughty lead soldiers by the volcanoes that loom over everyone. I particularly liked one volcano’s lovely orographic hat and there are some melting bottoms too; which should go down well with pretty much any 3-6 year old I’ve ever met!
(4) The Secrets of Vesuvius: Caroline Lawrence (Orion Children’s Books, 2001) The second erupting Vesuvius and the first mystery book. This is part of ‘The Roman Mysteries‘ series for 7-11 year olds but Vesuvius erupts slap bang in the middle of the riddle-solving. The main protagonist here is Flavia Gemina a feisty Roman girl and her slightly unlikely gang of international (Greek, Jewish, African )mates.
Generally these imagined histories seem much stronger on the intersecting historical facts and a bit weaker on eruptive details. Perhaps I’d think differently if I was a historian; nonetheless this has some amazing descriptions of the failing light and choking ash at the peak during the eruption and lots of threatening doom from the precursory earthquakes. I quite liked the cameos from Pliny the Elder wandering about being erudite and generally looking like a heart attack waiting to happen; which it does.
(5) Kidnap in the Caribbean: Lauren St. John (Orion Books, 2012). This time, a ‘Laura Marlin‘ mystery based around the current eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano. My 10 yr old daughter LOVED the first mystery in the series; this one not quite so much BUT it is set on Montserrat and there are some tip top touches. She and I still liked it a lot! The Caribbean tones give Laura’s adventures a real junior James Bond feel as she races to rescue her uncle from an evil rare-breed-kidnapping organisation in their hideout in the Belham Valley. A gently mad Montserrat Volcano Observatory director (who is living in a caravan in the Exclusion Zone for slightly blurry reasons) adds colour and there is a dramatic pyroclastic flow engulfed climax. Yay! Can almost forgive Laura for spending the preceding few hours tip-toeing around some giant Hawaiian-style lava tunnels.
Currently in our house we are studiously trying to Boycott Amazon – none of my links go there. If you like the sound of the books, other booksellers are available!
I know I’ve missed out some classics but I noticed that serendipitously ALL of my choices have female lead protaganists in brilliant mixed teams and the picture books also feature boys and girls too! How cool is that? Its really pleasing to have read a trio of books with the story led by feisty baddywhacking, mountain climbing girls who don’t even think twice about just getting out there. It’s a fitting tribute to the battery- carrying mountain climbing ‘girls’ that abound in volcanology today. We take that ‘Science its a Girl thing’ video concept and bury it in the nearest available pyroclastic flow deposit.