Tweeting about astronomy

This is something I wrote for the blog of the Astronomy Twitter Journal Club. I’m cross-posting it here as I thought it might be of interest to readers of this blog too. Oh, and in case you were wondering, a journal club “is a group of individuals who meet regularly to critically evaluate recent articles in scientific literature” (according to Wikipedia anyway).

It’s been nearly two weeks since I first heard about the twitter journal club concept, recently set up to discuss medical research. I thought it was something that could work for astronomy too and, when I mentioned it on twitter, it seemed that lots of people agreed. However, I still wasn’t sure whether that would translate into a good or useful discussion. Would anyone say anything? Would the 140 character limit be too short to get a point across? Would anyone even turn up?

Well, the first meeting took place last Thursday (you can catch up with the discussion here) and I think it went well. It even felt like the departmental journal clubs that I’ve been to in the past thanks to tweets like this:

Typical – like a normal journal club I’m late and have only skimmed the paper. #astrojc @chrislintott

Hi, I’m Stephen. I’m an extragalactic astronomer, speed-reading the paper 😉 #astrojc @StephenSerjeant

About 15 people actively took part, and the discussion propelled itself along admirably. One of my many worries was that it would be hard to follow if everyone tweeted at once but I found it easy to keep track. I was using TweetChat which definitely helped – it allows you to follow all tweets from one hashtag and, if you sign in, it ensures that you don’t forget to add the #astroJC tag to any of your contributions.

The lack of a specific dark matter expert was noticeable; at one point it seemed that everyone was asking questions that no-one present knew the answers to. However, by the end of the hour I felt that I understood the paper better, even if my acceptance of the result had lessened! When it comes down to it, that’s exactly what a journal club should do.

If the idea of a journal club on twitter interests you why not join in with the second meeting on Thursday (8pm UK time, 7pm UT; all the details for taking part can be found here). Next week’s paper for discussion will be Planet Occurrence within 0.25 AU of Solar-type Stars from Kepler, which presents some interesting new results from the Kepler mission.

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