Why be on Twitter for Food & Nutrition Professionals

I wrote a blog post for the American Society for Nutrition on how Twitter can be useful to food and nutrition professionals. Because of space constraints, I had to cut down and even remove a few thoughtful quotes that I received from many health and nutrition scientists and professionals when I asked them what they liked about it. So below are the full quotes of the 9 responses I received. Also, if you are just getting started and don’t know who to follow, you might want to have a look through this list of some of my favorite people from a range of nutrition-related disciplines that I have built over the years. You will quickly find new people as they retweet others. Also, if it pertains to you, check this guide to getting started on Twitter put together by and for scientists.

Larry Parnell, Ph.D., Computational Biology (Nutritional Genomics) at Tufts University (@larry_parnell):

“I find Twitter very useful to keep up with news and literature. I have also found is good for making contact with old contacts/friends and with new collaborators, such as my participation in the Biostar paper. I cannot emphasize how valuable I have Twitter in being up to date with the scientific literature. I used such contacts and newly-found papers to write a Book chapter on advances in nutrigenomic technologies. I think you can find this and the Biostar paper easily @ pubmed.

In short, being connected on Twitter is kind of like being at coffee break at a conference – all the buzz and energy from the newest and latest mixed with thoughts, insight and opinions that influence where I will go next with my research.”

Mark Haub, Ph.D., Department Head of the Department of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University (@MarkHaub_KSU):

“I use twitter almost exclusively due to the speed of staying in tune with professional issues. I have found the 140 character limit to be helpful at keeping comments short. I then use the ‘hot topics’ for class discussions. A key point of this is to illustrate to the students that what we discuss in class is pertinent to what they will experience in the profession. Also, tweets illustrate to students how other professionals perceive current trends. The difficulty can be: 1) keeping things professional; and 2) keeping balance and insuring that life responsibilities are adequately met.

My use of twitter is to ask questions and challenge current ‘understandings’. Many questions go unanswered, but I hope people give them some thought to challenge themselves. I view Twitter as my version of Extension and outreach.”

John Coupland, Ph.D., Professor of Food Science at Penn State University (@JohnNCoupland):

“My first motivation to get involved in twitter was that as a professor at a public university the taxpayers deserved to know what I was doing with their money! I also felt the public conversation around food issues is better if more experts were willing to engage around their field of expertise. This is what I was thinking of when I wrote an appreciation of @itweetmeat who was my main inspiration (bit.ly/15206ua).

As well as broadcasting, twitter has helped me connect to people wouldn’t otherwise know.I work as a professor of food science so most of the people I talk to in real life have a very similar set of views on food processing, food additives etc. On twitter I get to talk to people with completely different views (e.g., anti GMO, raw milk advocates) and that challenges me to think more broadly. Occasionally twitter has some real concrete value. You can ask a question on twitter and get helpful responses. Last month a scientist in Australia I have never met sent me a photograph I will use in my forthcoming book.

Lastly twitter serves as my public diary. I can look back at the things I was interested on months or years ago that I otherwise would just forget.”

Michael Müller, Ph.D., Chair of Nutrition, Metabolism, & Genomics in the Division of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University (@nutrigenomics):

“In the last 4 years I extensively used twitter for dissemination of new insights in molecular nutrition, fruitful interactions with other scientists and staying up to date on the most recent trends in the area of nutrition, health, genomics and quantify yourself technologies by following essential tweets of leading journals, journalists web bloggers, key opinion leaders in the field or even live tweets from conferences. I find twitter in particular useful to get a very broad overview about “facts” and “opinions” in the fuzzy field of nutrition. The intrinsic danger of this can be that one may experience information overflow in particular because the amount of “hard” (facts) and “very soft” (n=1 opinions, believes, emotions) tweets is not balanced but there are tools to selectively extract more useful information out of the big mass of noisy tweets in your timeline. There are some frustrations/limitations: I personally found twitter more “social” in the past as I experience less real interesting interactions with followers and this somehow paradoxically correlates with increasing amount of followers. I may also be related to the fact that twitter is that not that new and exciting anymore and the continuous stream of repeating “nonsense” tweets (of too many “experts” with a lot of time) may be a bit annoying. There is also still a huge bias in the scientific information one can get on a twitter (but this is true for the whole WWW), the trending topics (e.g. personal genomics and health) may be not the most relevant ones if you work on a different scientific area. What is hot you may find on twitter but maybe not what is relevant for your daily research (PhD or Postdoc).

But in summary: I learned a lot about science (e.g. open access, the beauty and excitement of science), people (some really fascinating folks are on twitter, and nutrition (one of the most challenging, exciting and relevant scientific fields). I am using twitter now largely to inform my colleagues, friends and everybody who is interested about new exciting findings (from our and other research groups), to get some inspirations, to learn about great new achievements of mankind (can be scientific or cultural), to get a better balance on news (not only the black/white stories one can read in the newspapers and finally it’s FUN.”

Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., CCFP, Founder and Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute (@YoniFreedhoff):

“Providing you put some thought into whose tweets you follow Twitter becomes in a sense a peer-reviewed curator of all that’s current in what interests you. Of course its ease of sharing cuts both ways as sadly it invites the sharing of information so rapidly that even those who are themselves thoughtful and evidence based, often fall into the trap of simply retweeting headlines and links that support their confirmations biases, without doing their due diligence in evaluating the links first.”

Timothy Caulfield, Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta (@CaulfieldTim):

“I was dragged into the Twitter universe. I was very reluctant as I didn’t need another way to waste time. But I know love it. It is a wonderful way to communicate with a community and to keep up on the most recent research. The key is the follow knowledgeable people and organizations (like the Cochrane Collab) that you trust. Don’t get sucked into the trivial.

The other thing I find useful is finding out what people are saying at conferences I missed or with emerging data not yet published. Also, I like the way you get instantaneous feedback and suggestions about literature.”

Anastasia Bodnar, Ph.D., Biotechnologist at the USDA (@geneticmaize):

“Twitter is great for finding information. With the friends I’ve cultivated, I can quickly learn about any topic from the nuances of a particular farming method to the latest nutritional research to what’s happening at NASA. I love this aspect of Twitter.

The downside is that Twitter is a lot like in-person communication. We find our circles, then don’t really leave them to learn more diverse opinions. This can be frustrating both for those of us who want to learn more and for those of us who hope to teach.”

Travis Saunders, Ph.D. Candidate, Human Kinetics, University of Ottawa (@TravisSaunders):

“I’ve found Twitter to be especially useful for networking. I always find it difficult to introduce myself to people with whom I have no connection at conferences. But I’ve found twitter to be a very informal way to get to know people, which makes it much more natural to then introduce myself at a conference, since we already know each other a bit. I didn’t do this intentionally, but there are dozens of researchers who I’ve met online (and now know quite well in real life), whom I would never have met had it not been for twitter.

My only frustration is that cliche that it’s sometimes hard to have a nuanced discussion on twitter. I find that I don’t have real in-depth conversations there, but mainly use it to share/find links to useful research or stories that I might have otherwise missed.”

David Despain, M.S., Science and Health Writer (featured on this blog) (@daviddespain):

“I use Twitter to report and keep up with news on nutrition and health, build up interest and discussion, capture commentary and insight, and bring attention to important voices on specific health-related topics.

A good example is the tweeting I did for EB 2012-13. While reporting on the conference — especially a few debates related to controversial issues such as sugar or omega-6s — I found that Twitter allowed those keenly interested to follow along and graciously offer insight, links, and opinions. The tweets themselves then helped not only to inform my blog articles, but also helped them to truly speak to my audience.

Twitter is helpful beyond its use in writing articles. It makes it easy to connect with other nutritionists, scientists, or respected peers through the platform through use of hashtags, retweets, or mentions. And I’ve been in countless conversations where people have shared with me that they’d like to meet someone because they liked his or her research, writings, or speech where I’ve responded, “Well, you know, he/she is on Twitter.””

  • drbachinsky

    Twitter connects a diversity of perspectives/people with current topics of mutual interests. It helps create a community of specialists who share relevant links to new information.