How do ideas spread?

spread of language on twitter

Cultural transmission is something I’ve written about before. An arXiv paper has a clever way of studying it on twitter: follow the creation of electronic language.

For example, the abbreviation ikr, meaning “I know, right?” occurs six times more frequently in the Detroit area than in the US overall; the phonetic spelling suttin, meaning “something”, occurs five times more frequently in New York City; and the emoticon^-^, meaning nervous or shy and of Korean origin, is four times more common in Southern California.

At the beginning of the study, the abbreviation ctfu, which stands forcracking the fuck up or laughing, appeared mainly in the Cleveland area but by 2012 was being used in Pennsylvania and the mid-Atlantic. However, ctfu is rare in the large cities to the west of Cleveland, such as Detroit and Chicago.

But the team also say that new words tend to be shared between metropolitan areas that have a similar racial mix. In fact, the proportion of African-Americans as the strongest predictor of similar usage. “Examples of linguistically linked city pairs that are geographically distant but demographically similar include Washington D.C. and New Orleans (high proportions of African-Americans), Los Angeles and Miami (high proportions of Hispanics), and Boston and Seattle (relatively few minorities, compared with other large cities),” say Einstein and pals.

On twitter, does the racial mix of two cities predict the likelihood of irl (see what I did there) friends/family? Or is it, thanks to the internet, more about the connection of people with similar interests/culture?

(ht freakonometrics)

How to use Twitter (for scientists!)

People try to use Twitter all the time and often give up with a shrug: it seems useless to get anything from that noise, with their voice getting lost in the roar. It’s a shame, because Twitter is one of the most useful ways to keep up-to-date on science. Remember how you used to have to wait for a physical magazine to be delivered to you to get up-to-date scientific research? And how unbearably slow that now feels? That’s how scientific life feels without Twitter, once you’ve used it.

In that sprit, here is my advice on how to use Twitter.

1. Find some interesting people to follow.

Here are a few lists of scientists on Twitter. When following, note how often they tweet. Also note how often they retweet other people or respond to other people’s questions.

2. Next, if you see a conversation that you think is interesting, see who else participated in the conversation.

Are they interesting? Perhaps try to participate in the conversation if you can. But be warned, jokes often fall flat.

3. Interact with people.

Twitter is useful because of the people and their interactions, not the content per se.

4. Have something worthwhile to say. Say it.

Whether it is content that hasn’t made the rounds yet, or new content of your own, if you have something useful to say let other people know! Again, this is why twitter is useful.

5. Know your niche.

It helps if you have something unique to say. What do you know about that a lot of other people don’t? Often this is a hobby or what you are passionate about. Cheese-making? Gustatory cortex? Anatomy? Be broad, and be specific.

6. Try for a while. It takes time.

Twitter kind of sucks at the beginning. It’s like being the new kid at school: everyone already knows each other and is having a great time talking. You try to say something – and kind of get ignored in favor of a friend. But if you keep at it – and keep interacting with people – you’ll grow your network and find out how useful twitter can be. Remember that every voice is important and interesting!

Do you want to discuss science? Use Twitter

Nature just published a survey of how scientists use social media:

The results confirm that ResearchGate is certainly well-known (see ‘Remarkable reach’, and full results online at More than 88% of scientists and engineers said that they were aware of it — slightly more than had heard of Google+ and Twitter — with little difference between countries. Just under half said that they visit regularly, putting the site second only to Google Scholar, and ahead of Facebook and LinkedIn. Almost 29% of regular visitors had signed up for a profile on ResearchGate in the past year.

Here is their graph for usage:

Science social networks(There’s such a thing as Microsoft Academic Search?!)

So a lot of people are “using” ResearchGate. But if you look into the details of how it’s being used, it’s basically LinkedIn for scientists. Something that people check and update because they feel like they should for professional reasons. But look at how people use these networks! It’s clear: if you want to discuss research and actually interact with other scientists, you should really be using Twitter.

Why you should use twitter