Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have published a study titled, “Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments,” which analyses, for the first time, nanotechnology discourse on Twitter social media. From the Life Sciences Communication University of Wisconsin-Madison research webpage,
The study, “Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments,” mapped social media traffic about nanotechnology, finding that Twitter traffic expressing opinion about nanotechnology is more likely to originate from states with a federally-funded National Nanotechnology Initiative center or network than states without such centers.
Runge [Kristin K. Runge, doctoral student] and her co-authors used computational linguistic software to analyze a census of all English-language nanotechnology-related tweets expressing opinion posted on Twitter over one calendar year. In addition to mapping tweets by state, the team coded sentiment along two axes: certain vs. uncertain, and optimistic-neutral-pessimistic. They found 55% of nanotechnology-related opinions expressed certainty, 41% expressed pessimistic outlooks and 32% expressed neutral outlooks.
In addition to shedding light on how social media is used in communicating about an emerging technology, this study is believed to be the first published study to use a census of social media messages rather than a sample.
“We likely wouldn’t have captured these results if we had to rely on a sample rather than a complete census,” said Runge. “That would have been unfortunate, because the distinct geographic origins of the tweets and the tendency toward certainty in opinion expression will be useful in helping us understand how key online influencers are shaping the conversation around nanotechnology.”
It’s not obvious from this notice or the title of the study but it is stated clearly in the study that the focus is the world of US nano, not the English language world of nano. After reading the study (very quickly), I can say it’s interesting and, hopefully, will stimulate more work about public opinion that takes social media into account. (I’d love to know how they limited their study to US tweets only and how they determined the region that spawned the tweet. )
The one thing which puzzles me is they don’t mention retweets (RTs) specifically. Did they consider only original tweets? If not, did they take into account the possibility that someone might RT an item that does not reflect their own opinion? I occasionally RT something that doesn’t reflect my opinion when there isn’t sufficient space to include comment indicating otherwise because I want to promote discussion and that doesn’t necessarily take place on Twitter or in Twitter’s public space. This leads to another question, did the researchers include direct messages in their study? Unfortunately, there’s no mention in the two sections (Discussion and Implications for future research) of the conclusion.
For those who would like to see the research for themselves (Note: The article is behind a paywall),
Tweeting nano: how public discourses about nanotechnology develop in social media environments by Kristin K. Runge, Sara K. Yeo, Michael Cacciatore, Dietram A. Scheufele, Dominique Brossard, Michael Xenos, Ashley Anderson, Doo-hun Choi, Jiyoun Kim, Nan Li, Xuan Liang, Maria Stubbings, and Leona Yi-Fan Su. Journal of Nanoparticle Research; An Interdisciplinary Forum for Nanoscale Science and Technology© Springer 10.1007/s11051-012-1381-8. Published online Jan. 4, 2013
It’s no surprise to see Dietram Scheufele and Dominique Brossard who are both located the University of Wisconsin-Madison and publish steadily on the topic of nanotechnology and public opinion listed as authors.