Academics earn street cred with TED Talks but no points from peers, research shows

Jun 18, 2013
This is the TED Talks logo. Credit: TED Talks

(Phys.org) —TED Talks, the most popular conference and events website in the world with over 1 billion informational videos viewed, provides academics with increased popular exposure but does nothing to boost citations of their work by peers, new research led by Indiana University has found.

In the comprehensive study of over 1,200 TED Talks videos and their presenters, lead author Cassidy R. Sugimoto, an assistant professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Information and Library Science, and a team of researchers from and Canada, also looked at the demographic make-up of TED Talks presenters—only 21 percent were , and of those only about one-quarter were women—and the relationship between a presenter's credentials and a video's popularity.

Data gathered from the TED website and from YouTube also found that male-authored videos on YouTube were more popular and more liked than those authored by women—possibly because research has shown that females are less likely to comment on YouTube than males—and that videos by academics were commented upon more often than those presented by non-academics. While YouTube videos by male presenters were more viewed than those by women, this was not true of the TED website.

"Overall, academic presenters were in the minority, yet their videos were preferred," Sugimoto said. "This runs counter to past research that has argued that the public, because of a lack of on the subject, has a of science and technology that has been fostered by the media."

The new work instead finds positive associations with information and possibly, Sugimoto noted, some discerning characteristics in the public between presentations by academics and non-academics.

"While TED does not increase the impact of work by scientists within the as seen through more , it does popularize research outside of ," she said. "Academics are receiving greater online visibility, but there is no evidence that leads to an increase in the traditional metric of academic capital: citations."

Sugimoto said the Matthew Effect is likely in play—that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer—as it's possible TED academic presenters are chosen at least partly because they are already recognized scholars.

In general, most TED video presenters were male (73 percent) and non-academic (79 percent). Within the 21 percent that were academics, the researchers found that 73 percent of those held the rank of at least professor; 75 percent were based in the U.S.; 71 percent had their own Wikipedia page; and 77 percent were cited more frequently than the average. While viewers commented more on videos by academics than non-academics, viewers did not popularize one academic over another based upon age or university affiliation.

"Either university affiliation doesn't register with or is irrelevant to the online audience, or if it is relevant, it may be offset by those academics from less prestigious universities working harder to be invited to present at TED or have their video published," Sugimoto said.

And as far as boosting citations via TED presentations, the researchers looked at citations for an academic for three years before and after TED presentation and found no hike in citations after appearing on the TED website.

"The suggestion is that TED doesn't promote a scientist's work within their own community or that any positive impact is offset by questioning the presenter's motivations," Sugimoto said.

The team used both bibliometric (most commonly, academic journal citation analysis) and webometric techniques, which include biodirectional hyperlink analysis of Web-based products.

Co-authors with Sugimoto on "Scientists Popularizing Science: Characteristics and Impact of TED Talk Presenters," were IU doctoral student Andrew Tsou; Mike Thelwall of University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom; Vincent Lariviere and Benoit Macaluso of Universite de Montreal and the Universite du Quebec a Montreal; and Philippe Mongeon, Universite de Montreal. The new research appeared in PLoS ONE.

The work was funded by the Digging Into Data initiative, a multinational funding program to promote "big data" research. Teams must be composed of scholars from at least two countries and receive funding from one of a number of potential national scholars. The U.S. portion of this grant was funded by the National Science Foundation. For more about the initiative, see this previous press release on IU's Digging Into Data scholars.

As a researcher studying doctoral education and scholarly communication in the IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing, Sugimoto is interested in the public's perception of science, how the public consumes scientific information and the resulting relationship with the public's perception and knowledge of science. She received a Ph.D. in information and library science from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2010 and came to IU the same year.

Explore further: TED tailors 'ideas worth spreading' for TV

More information: www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0062403

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antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 18, 2013
The suggestion is that TED doesn't promote a scientist's work within their own community or that any positive impact is offset by peers questioning the presenter's motivations

I would argue that if the person is working on something which you might cite in your work then you know them already. The number of people working on the very same subject in the world is usually in the dozens (or less than that the more specialized you get).
TED is unlikely to introduce a scientist who has done his homework to an unknown in the field.

Overall, academic presenters were in the minority, yet their videos were preferred," Sugimoto said. "This runs counter to past research that has argued that the public, because of a lack of literacy on the subject, has a negative perception of science and technology that has been fostered by the media

Even the most science averse public knows that scientists are more likely to tell you something substantive than, say, a media person.
ValeriaT
1.7 / 5 (6) Jun 18, 2013
TED/TEDxyz has already overgrown its optimal scope and it just did become the platform for twaddlers.
VendicarE
4 / 5 (8) Jun 18, 2013
ValeriaT is just waiting for the day when Martini and Rossi explain how their E-cat Fraud works.
gwrede
1 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2013
Originally, I was under the impression that TED was about distributing excellent ideas that would be good for all mankind, in a venue that actually made it possible to earn exposure based on the merit of the idea or thought itself, rather than economic clout.

If academics want to boost their citations by peers, shouldn't they instead focus on publishing in peer reviewed papers in their own field??? --- In other words, TED neither was, is, nor will be a free venue for second rate papers.

ValeriaT
1 / 5 (5) Jun 18, 2013
ValeriaT is just waiting for the day when Martini and Rossi explain how their E-cat Fraud works.
"Martini", LOL... Well, if Rossi will succeed, he definitely will not waste his time with some TED lectures. He will not need it.
antialias_physorg
3.8 / 5 (6) Jun 18, 2013
In other words, TED neither was, is, nor will be a free venue for second rate papers.

And it was never supposed to be.

If academics want to boost their citations by peers

Where do you get that idea that anyone wants to boost their citations?
(And what exactly would it help to boost one's citations? Does that make a paper any better? Do you think scientists brag to one another about how often they get cited? It mostly just means a lot of people are currently working on the same subject.)

And the papers that are truly seminal papers take a few years before they are cited all over the place.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (4) Jun 18, 2013
Do you think scientists brag to one another about how often they get cited?
Of course they do - it's about their salary. For example, the scientists tend to publish unoriginal research (with many references to earlier work), rather then new, potentially controversial research (with few references to earlier work) (it's one of reasons, why we have so much of "duh" science)...

laxr5rs
not rated yet Jun 18, 2013
The more I think about the article the more it bothers me. Whoever said that TED was for anyone's curriculum vitae? "Oh, and hey, I gave a TED talk once." TED has no place in peer review, as far as I know.

This article is bogus and I think its publishing should have been avoided.
antialias_physorg
3.8 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2013
Of course they do - it's about their salary.

Erm - you are aware that scientist are mostly at state institutions the world over? And that their salary is therefore fixed no matter how much they publish?

If you think a scientist is in it for the money then you're dumber than rocks. Any scientist can make triple his salary in the industry doing a low-demand job - easily (and I'm currently living proof of that - and I didn't even haggle for my salary or demanded an increase over the salary of others due to my degree).

For example, the scientists tend to publish unoriginal research

Because most science isn't revolutionary. Science is baby steps. You have a very warped/childish/Hollywood view of what science is. Maybe you should go and try and meet some actual scientists.

TED has no place in peer review, as far as I know

Exactly. It doesn't go on your CV or publication list. It's for fun.
gwrede
1 / 5 (1) Jun 23, 2013
In other words, TED neither was, is, nor will be a free venue for second rate papers.
And it was never supposed to be.
Exactly. So we agree on this.

If academics want to boost their citations by peers
Where do you get that idea that anyone wants to boost their citations?
The authors of this article seemed to expect that. I think the title is right: "Academics earn street cred with TED Talks but no points from peers, research shows" and this is as it should be.

However, even gaining street cred should not be the motivation for speakers, but the dissemination of top quality ideas for the common good. As far as I understand it, this is why TED was created in the first place.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jun 24, 2013
The authors of this article seemed to expect that.

Well, he was wrong. And I'm certain none of the scientists appearing at TED ever thought about boosting their citation count (I actually don't know if anyone knows (or cares about) their own citation count. Certainly no one knows the citation count of anyone else - so it doesn't matter in any case to a scientist. My PhD adviser once got an email informing him that one of his papers was 'most cited' for a period of time in that specialty. But apart from "that's nice" there was no reaction - and after that it was business as usual. Citation numbers don't mean squat in academia.)

However, even gaining street cred should not be the motivation for speakers

And I'm certain no one goes there for the street cred, either. That means even less to a scientists. How much is the approval of someon who knows nothing about the subject worth? Nothing. It's like fan-approval ins sports. Worthless to the athletes.

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