Totally meaningful lists and stuff

Science magazine, ‘inspired’ by Neil Hall’s (borderline?) offensive ‘Kardashian-index’ paper (which has been torn apart by far better people than me, so I’ll just direct you here), has just published a list of ‘The Top 50 Science Stars of Twitter’. Their methods seem strangely flawed for what is considered one of the most prestigious scientific outlets in the world, but perhaps that’s due to their inspiration (Hall’s methods included what I hope to become the norm in all scientific studies from now on: “I had intended to collect more data but it took a long time and I therefore decided 40 would be enough to make a point. Please don’t take this as representative of my normal research rigor.”). They compiled a list of the 50 most followed scientists on the social media platform (how they narrowed down Twitter’s 271 million monthly users to scientists is not yet known, but presumably was far more rigorous than ‘we sat at a table and tried to name some sciencers until we got bored’) and their academic citation counts, then calculated their K-index, stuck them all in a list, and drew some pretty spurious conclusions.

I think my favourite is the following, which also starts with a weird clause that doesn’t really make any sense if you stop to actually think about it:

“Although the index is named for a woman, Science’s survey highlights the poor representation of female scientists on Twitter, which Hall hinted at in his commentary.”

True, the list has more men than women. However, this doesn’t mean female scientists are poorly represented on Twitter. Maybe more people follow male scientists, or you guys mostly thought of male scientists to look up on Twitter (hard to tell from those methods). There could be a load of reasons for either of these things to happen, none of them really all that good. The only conclusion that can be drawn is ‘Science’s survey highlights the poor representation of female scientists in Science’s survey’.

Also, some of the people in the list barely ever tweet: Jerry Coyne (#30) famously hates Twitter (evident to anyone who visits his blog, OH GOD SORRY I MEAN WEBSITE), and Tim Berners-Lee (#9) – while arguably reeeeeeasonably important to the internets in general – has posted a grand total of 542 tweets, which is approximately 1/30th as much as a squirrel has. Anyone who decides to build their Twitter base around this list is likely to be a little disappointed by the results. Of course, this isn’t to denigrate the efforts of people on the list who use social media regularly and engage with people (and when I say ‘engage’ I don’t mean this), such as Karen James or Michael Eisen.

Anyway, I was going to make my own list of ‘Top 50 Scientists on Twitter’, but then I realised that (a) that would also be weirdly flawed, (b) it would take ages, and (c) shut up. Instead I did something else.

Top Animals, based on the AA-index (‘Animal Awesomeness’)

1. Otter (27.3)
2. Axolotl (26.7)
3. Worm (23.9)
4. Gold dust day gecko (19.7)
5. Crab (17)
6. Elephant shrew (15)
7. Bird (12.3)
8. Dragon (9.7)
9. Lantern bug (8.66666666667)
10. Frog?

As you can see, despite the otter taking top spot, mammals are underrepresented in the list. However, given the small number of mammal species relative to insects (for example), perhaps they are actually overrepresented. Maek u think?

Send me your lists of things! I’ll make a list of your lists. MAYBE.

Finally, here are some interesting scientists to follow on Twitter, in no particular order and without really thinking very hard about it or saying anything about them other than they are engaging and informative and funny, which I feel are better reasons to follow people than ‘well, loads of other people are following them’.

Katie Hinde: irrepressible badass

Dr. Wrasse: bowtie dreamboat


Tom Houslay: 😉

Sith Lotus: EXACTLY

Katie MacKinnon: monkeys? monkeys

John Hawks: bones

Michael Eisen: Twitter handle always makes me think about Streetfighter 2

Mike Kasumovic: beard

PS please don’t consider this post as representative of my normal blogging rigour

Update: I have received numerous complaints about the veracity of my own lists. Let me assure you that they are not just inaccurate and hastily-compiled clickbait – but, if you think they are, please feel free to leave a comment and maybe tweet about it a bit? THAT’S RIGHT. YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO.


5 thoughts on “Totally meaningful lists and stuff”

  1. I have two complaints about your list. 1) Gold dust day gecko should clearly be higher, and 2) there are not nearly enough insects. Do you have an ANTI-INSECT BIAS!?!

    1. Hi MPD – I’m afraid I had to have a cut-off somewhere, and insects filled the majority of positions 11-925,011 (with the exception of fox at #72). I hope this allays your fears.

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