Yesterday I got together with 4 colleagues from the NNF Center for Basic Metabolic Research to do a Science AMA on Reddit. If you don’t know what Reddit is, this is a good place to start. AMA is short for ‘Ask Me Anything’ and is basically a session during which a person (or persons) of interests sits down in front of a computer and answers questions from the Reddit community for a few hours. In the past, this has been done by actors, celebrities and even heads of state, such as US president Barack Obama. In our case, the session was part of the Science AMA series:
In an effort to bring science education to the public, the Reddit Science community (known as /r/Science) has created an independent, science-focused AMA Series – the Science AMA Series. Our goal is to encourage discussion and facilitate outreach while helping to bridge the gap between practicing scientists and the general public. This series is open to any practicing research scientist, or group of scientists, that wants to have a candid conversation with the large and diverse Reddit Science community.
(Source: Reddit Science AMA Submission Guide)
The background for our AMA – the first from the Center – was a study recently published in Cell Metabolism basically showing that the weight of a man has the potential of affecting the epigenetics of his sperm, i.e. how genes are regulated. The study received significant media coverage, and was also the basis of massive discussions on Reddit. Needless to say I had great expectations of our session.
The AMA was posted on Reddit at 14:00 (8.00 AM EST). It was quickly up-voted a few hundred times and the questions started coming in. I met with Romain, Ida, Soetkin and Lars at Romain’s house at 18, at which time the AMA had received around 60 comments. Not quite the number I had expected. But this gave us a chance to really dig in to the questions and produce some detailed and well thought-of answers. With delicious food in our stomach (Thanks Romain!) we started the process by picking the most up-voted questions and sharing them among the 4 researchers according to knowledge and interest. Each of us was on own laptop sharing one Google Document and typing answers to questions. As a response to a question was complete, the researcher would highlight it in green, and I would do a quick sanity-check and then post it on the AMA with the researcher’s name. As follow-up questions started coming in, I would ask the researchers to come back to those when possible.
After about 2.5 hours the final answer was posted. We signed off and spent a few minutes evaluating. My immediate feeling was that the researchers had enjoyed themselves tremendously. I was impressed by their productivity. Thirty-six answers were written. And they weren’t just short yes or no type responses. Some were more than 250 words, and most included references to further reading. In total, just under 3,000 words were typed (an average of 75 word per answer). Or, put in another way: six words per person per minute – and that includes the time it took us to eat a wonderful meal plus cheese. Not bad 🙂
My experience with doing the AMA was great. I really hope I was able to show the researchers how Reddit allows them to interact with people interested in their researchers in a whole new way. Perhaps this form of doing science communication is not right for all, but if you work together in a team and you have someone to facilitate the session (that would be me) it’s incredibly rewarding. For the community, but definitely also for the scientist. In terms of the turn-out I must admit I was a little disappointed. The study was incredibly interesting and had novel findings that spawned a massive interest from the media when it was published. I did fear that the two weeks time in between publishing the study and running the AMA session may have had something to do with this. Also, the study was posted on Reddit on the day of publication, and perhaps this somehow “saturated” the community. I’ll have to look into before the next session.
Does anyone else have experiences with Reddit or AMAs that mirror or contrast my thoughts and experiences?
(For posterity, here’s a link to a PDF version of the AMA)