On SAGE Insight; Identifying diffusion patterns of research articles on Twitter: A case study of online engagement with open access articles

From Public Understanding of Science

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Science has long been of public interest, as well as a site of intellectual and political contestation. However, it is only in recent years that social media—particularly Twitter, blogs, and academic social networks such as ResearchGate—has become part of scientific communication, as researchers increasingly turn to online and social media platforms to diffuse and discuss scholarly work.

To analyze the diffusion and use of scientific article in this study, data on highly tweeted articles from the journals BMC Evolutionary Biology and BMC Biology were identified. The BMC journals were chosen because they are open access. The dataset contained 1590 tweets mentioning 11 articles. These tweets were sent by 1287 unique Twitter users and contained 546 original tweets and 1044 retweets. To analyze how these users were connected on Twitter, follower–following networks were constructed based on information obtained through the Twitter application programming interface (API).

Social media like Twitter has substantial leverage as to how information is broadcast. As such, better understanding the patterns of diffusion has the potential to expand the dialog between scientists and the public. This work is the first step to develop richer and more robust measures of diffusion between scholars and public audiences on social media.


The growing presence of research shared on social media, coupled with the increase in freely available research, invites us to ask whether scientific articles shared on platforms like Twitter diffuse beyond the academic community. We explore a new method for answering this question by identifying 11 articles from two open access biology journals that were shared on Twitter at least 50 times and by analyzing the follower network of users who tweeted each article. We find that diffusion patterns of scientific articles can take very different forms, even when the number of times they are tweeted is similar. Our small case study suggests that most articles are shared within single-connected communities with limited diffusion to the public. The proposed approach and indicators can serve those interested in the public understanding of science, science communication, or research evaluation to identify when research diffuses beyond insular communities.

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Article details

Identifying diffusion patterns of research articles on Twitter: A case study of online engagement with open access articles
Juan Pablo Alperin , Charles J Gomez , Stefanie Haustein
First Published April 2, 2018 Research Article
DOI; 10.1177/0963662518761733
Public Understanding of Science

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