Giving a TED-talk as a scientist won’t grow your scientific impact

This research published on PLOSONE shows an interesting oversight of who’s who in TED-talks:

The majority of presenters of the investigated 1,202 TED videos were male (73%) non-academics (79%). This suggests that science popularization is only a small part of the function of TED talks, which includes presentations by technologists, designers, and entertainers. However, introducing scholars on the same stage possibly mediates the way in which these academics present their work. Of the academic presenters, females tended to be younger (in terms of academic age) than males. Academic presenters were typically senior faculty (73% at professor rank), from United States-based institutions (75%), featured on a Wikipedia page (71%), and cited more frequently than average (77%). The fact that academics featured on TED also tended to be the successful elite fits the traditional demographic previously found for successful science communicators. However, it is notable how few academics comprise the pool of TED Talk presenters.

But does it help to have an impact in the scientific community?

Giving a TED presentation appeared to have no impact on the number of citations subsequently received by academic presenters. This suggests that either TED does not promote the work of scientists within their own community or that the positive impact of publicity is offset by any negativity that accrues due to the tendency of fellow researchers to question the presenter’s motivations.

But maybe, if I think on some specific scientists who became popular on TED, it’s because there are some differences between what they do scientifically and on stage?

Abstract of the research that can be read here:

The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference and associated website of recorded conference presentations (TED Talks) is a highly successful disseminator of science-related videos, claiming over a billion online views. Although hundreds of scientists have presented at TED, little information is available regarding the presenters, their academic credentials, and the impact of TED Talks on the general population. This article uses bibliometric and webometric techniques to gather data on the characteristics of TED presenters and videos and analyze the relationship between these characteristics and the subsequent impact of the videos. The results show that the presenters were predominately male and non-academics. Male-authored videos were more popular and more liked when viewed on YouTube. Videos by academic presenters were more commented on than videos by others and were more liked on YouTube, although there was little difference in how frequently they were viewed. The majority of academic presenters were senior faculty, males, from United States-based institutions, were visible online, and were cited more frequently than average for their field. However, giving a TED presentation appeared to have no impact on the number of citations subsequently received by an academic, suggesting that although TED popularizes research, it may not promote the work of scientists within the academic community.

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