We’d like to preface this blog post by giving a shout out to all of the scientists conducting and publishing research, mentoring, bringing attention to and affection for STEM, and all of the avenues in which scientists are furthering science. Now, let’s try to get into this topic without offending anyone.
In 2014, genome scientist Dr. Neil Hall introduced to the world the K-index, otherwise known as the Kardashian-index. His paper broke.the.internet. Understandably so, the science community had and has had much to say about this measurement. Some readers may be wondering why we are writing about an article published in 2014. In the eight years since, social media has established itself as the avenue to communicate and share information in the 21st century. And a number of peer-reviewed journals have published papers about this measurement in a variety of specialties such as cardiology, interventional radiology and pathology.
If you haven’t heard of the Kardashian-index, here it is in a nutshell:
The Kardashian-index is calculated as follows: Hall derived a formula for calculating the number of Twitter followers a scientist should have based on one's citation count. The K-index is the ratio of the scientist's actual follower number to the follower number "warranted" by the citation count. A high K-index indicates an over-blown scientific fame while a low K-index suggests that a scientist is being undervalued. According to Dr. Hall, researchers whose K-index > 5 can be considered 'Science Kardashians'.
We suppose one must first define a Kardashian before we can jump into ‘Science Kardashians’. The Kardashians are a family famous for being famous. Arguably the Kardashian with the highest Kardashian-index is Kim Kardashian. In 2014 when Hall’s paper was published, Kim K. had 20 million Twitter followers. Her Twitter follower count today: 72.4 million. She has amassed over 52 million Twitter followers in eight years. Her celebrity has brought on countless endorsement deals for “nutrition” (diet pills), a burger joint’s new salad commercial and even “Couture'' lollipops. We’re not saying these endorsements don’t merit the amount of followers Kim K. has - but do they? Put Kim Kardashian’s face or name on any product, and it’s likely going to be an overnight sensation. She, along with her family, are seen as experts for a variety of products even though they may have little to no background in what they are endorsing. Enter the ‘Science Kardashian’.
Individuals with high-profile scientific blogs and social media feeds are seen as leaders in their field, often shaping public opinion, without having published their work in peer-reviewed journals. With 87% of the most highly-cited papers among ∼1% of scientists and with most high-performing scientists not yet embracing Twitter, citations may not be the only merit to a high Twitter following.
We believe celebrity does have its place in science. The main players are leading the way and truly directing content to audiences across the globe. Celebrity helps physicians get speaking engagements and opens up ample opportunities for research collaborations. In part one of The Science of Social Media, you heard from physicians who have realized significant opportunities because of their social media presence. We are by no means calling any of the physicians we interviewed ‘Science Kardashians’. We’re just saying it’s not such a bad thing if you fit into this loosely developed category.
New research tweeted out could inadvertently catch the attention of another publication or perhaps another researcher or institution. This could then lead to more research - a win for science. Does it matter if a ‘Science Kardashian’ was leading the way? Jonathan Eisen of the University of California, Davis says that consistently tweeting ongoing research at his lab has helped attract graduate students as well as two grants for science communication. He suggests an active social media presence might even aid applications for research funding, as it demonstrates a commitment to public outreach.
Of course, there are plenty of limitations when judging a scientist’s account by its K-Index. Mainly, the usage of social media and the K-index varies by specialty attributed to the fact that some subspecialties may be considered more in demand and attract more interest from the community and younger physicians and, hence, are more active on social media. As the use and reach of social media grow, it is expected to become a necessity rather than a choice. As this phenomenon unfolds, and more up and coming physicians from the younger “social media generation” become actively involved in academic research, K-index patterns should be expected to change in the near future.
Science in social media is a hot topic and one we will continue to cover in the coming months. We would love to hear your thoughts on the Kardashian-index. Just email Kristin at email@example.com or DM us on Twitter @instapathbio
Kurious about your own Kardashian-index? Calculate it here: https://theinformationalturn.net/kardashian-index/
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