Giving a TED Talk? Expect More Visibility, but Not More Citations

While giving a TED Talk may raise an academic’s visibility online, it has little impact on how researchers are viewed within their own disciplines, a new study suggests. Specifically, the study found that giving a presentation at TED, an annual conference on technology and society, appears to have no effect on the number of citations a scholar’s work receives after a video of the presentation goes online.

The study was led by Cassidy R. Sugimoto, an assistant professor of library and information science at Indiana University at Bloomington. An article describing its findings, “Scientists Popularizing Science: Characteristics and Impact of TED Talk Presenters,” was published on April 30 in the journal PLoS One.

In the study, Ms. Sugimoto and her co-authors sought to shed light on how science is popularized within a field as well as among the public. Their findings dispute one conclusion of a 2002 study that decried the news media as contributing to negative public perceptions of science and technology. But the media outlets for scientific communication have expanded rapidly since then, particularly in online formats like TED Talks, which surpassed the one-billion-views mark last November.

The authors of the new study found that TED Talks given by academic presenters were actually preferred by those watching the videos online, demonstrating “positive associations with science and technology information.” However, they found no corresponding increase “in the traditional metric of academic capital: citations.”

Additionally, the study sought to analyze the characteristics of TED Talk presenters and the relationship between those characteristics and the popularity of a TED video. Most presenters, it determined, are male and are not academics. Presentations given by academic speakers—who were largely male senior faculty members from the United States—were more commented on and more liked on YouTube, compared with presentations by their nonacademic counterparts.

Ultimately, the authors concluded that given the changes the news media have undergone in recent years, “it may be time to reassess the ways in which the public consumes scientific information and the relationship between these modes of consumption and subsequent perceptions and knowledge of science.”

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