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Social Selection Nature’s snapshot of science on social media

When cancer researcher Ritankar Majumdar published a blog post about the collective names of doctors and scientists on 2 February, he had no idea he would inspire #scientistherdnames. Hundreds of tweets with the hashtag, including “a cloud of data scientists” and “a nucleus of physicists”, soon dominated scientists’ Twitter streams. Some tweets reflected the angst experienced in the lab. Erol Akçay, a theoretical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, tweeted:

A conversation with a lab colleague about humour and science writing prompted the post by Majumdar, who works at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. He quoted an excerpt from a 2002 article in the The BMJ: “Why is it that you can see a pride of lions, a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, and other such delightful collective terms, but only a boring crowd of journalists, historians, and doctors?”

Majumdar then issued a challenge: “I dare you to come up with more innovative names than what is already mentioned.”

Julie Blommaert, a PhD student at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, was one of the first to respond, tweeting:

Jason McDermott, a computational biologist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington, came up with:

Jacob Scott, a radiation oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida then coined the hashtag, explaining his love of collective terms:

“Herd names in general always fascinated me and it seemed natural to extend to our weird world of science,” Scott said in an interview. He continued the trend:

Richard Lenski, an evolutionary biologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, helped to spread the hashtag through dozens of tweets, including:

Sean Carroll, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, tweeted:

“I don’t think this joke is going to bring me any closer to understanding the emergence of space-time from an underlying quantum description, but it’s an amusing divergence,” Carroll told Nature.

John Coupland, a food scientist from Pennsylvania State University, joined in the fun, posting:

Zoë Ayres, a chemistry graduate student at the University of Warwick, UK, added:

Majumdar says he is surprised that his article resulted in the trending hashtag. “I had no idea that it would go viral,” he says. But “a good story spawns better ones.”