Reporters covering scientific topics such as the COVID-19 pandemic sometimes struggle to find the right sources. Meanwhile, many of the scientists sharing valuable insights on social media lack a wide audience. A new digital tool developed in Brazil aims to bring these two groups together.
“There are a lot of scientists who have very few followers, but they are actually publishing a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas and papers,” said ICFJ Knight Fellow Sérgio Spagnuolo, the driving force behind the tool, during an ICFJ webinar this week. “They are really valid, but they don't get a lot of traction.”
Spagnuolo developed the tool with the support of his team at Volt Data Lab, a news agency he founded in São Paulo, to help journalists turn this base of experts into a richer pool of sources. The team — which includes data analyst Lucas Gelape, designer Rodolfo Almeida, data journalist Renata Hirota and database manager Felippe Mercurio — bills Science Pulse as a “social listening tool to help journalists navigate scientific publications.”
The platform, supported by ICFJ, is currently in beta. In partnership with Brazilian science journalism agency Bori, it features the latest updates from more than 1,300 verified scientists and scientific organizations that are tweeting in English, Portuguese and Spanish, Spagnuolo said.
He gave a demonstration of the platform during the webinar, which you can watch here:
Reporters can use the free tool to discover new story ideas and find potential experts on scientific topics from COVID-19 to climate change.
They can also learn about which topics, scientific and otherwise, are popular within the scientific community.
“We thought that it would be really cool to include this sort of information, because it kind of humanizes the scientists. So they don't want to talk about science all the time,” he said. For example, many scientists have voiced their strong support of the Black Lives Matter movement, he noted.
To find potential profiles to include in the platform, Volt crowdsources, scours universities’ Twitter lists, and searches verified accounts. Then, Spagnuolo personally vets each one to make sure it’s a legitimate account from someone who will add to the conversation.
Volt developed the platform using the R programming language, and the project is open source. Volt is eager to hear feedback from reporters and editors and to improve Science Pulse before launching a refined alpha version later this year.
Jennifer Dorroh is a Senior Program Director at ICFJ.