Since the rise of social media in the early 2010s, more and more scientists have taken to various platforms to share their knowledge behind everyday products, current events, and the latest discoveries in science. From the chemistry of makeup to the new treatments for disease, you can find specialized scientific accounts that explain almost anything.
While it has its downsides, the internet presents a unique opportunity for scientists to educate a wider audience on an array of websites, forums, and apps. “Social media is often a great way to reach people who are worried about something but don’t know what to do, who are interested in the topic, but want to know more—or people who are already worried and already activated, but want a community of like-minded people around them to ask questions of and to get ideas from,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says.
Hayoe is active on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Quora, among others, and hopes her followers gain information why climate change matters to them and how they can make a difference. “Somebody who I don’t know, who I would never meet, could just ask me a question, and if I have time, I try to answer that question,” she says. “It’s just this tremendous opportunity for people to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever had that type of connection before, and that is the tremendous benefit of social media,” Hayhoe adds.
Biologist-turned-video creator Joe Hanson hosts an online YouTube series from PBS called “Be Smart,” where he gives in-depth answers to simple, but fascinating, questions about science and the universe. He covers everything from the universe’s mysteries, like why the color blue is so rare in nature and what fire is, to debunking myths about COVID-19 and climate change.
When people understand the world around them, Hanson says, “they’re able to live a more happy and fulfilling life where they understand their place in things, and they get to experience a genuine dent of what we would call ‘wonder.’ And by discussing their research and findings with the public, scientists can help break down the jargon and complex concepts associated with research and technology and make them easier to understand in a simple format.
“The more you find out about how strange and complex and sometimes unbelievable the universe is and how it actually works, you can feel very special for being a part of it,” Hanson adds.
Despite the wealth of information available from credible sources, there is still a significant gap in scientific understanding among the general US population. According to a 2022 report by the Pew Research Center, Americans’ trust in scientists has declined significantly since the 2020 pandemic. Individuals who had a “great deal” of trust in scientists to act in the public’s best interest dropped about 10 percent from 2020 to 2021.
“Current ratings of medical scientists and scientists have now fallen below where they were in January 2019, before the emergence of the coronavirus,” the report states.
It’s important to keep in mind that content on social media platforms is not always accurate, spreading misinformation and sometimes even conspiracy theories. “This is the double-edged sword of open access to information,” Hanson says.
That’s why it’s imperative to follow credible sources of scientific information: direct experts in the field or professional science communicators who rigorously fact-check themselves.
[Related: How to tell science from pseudoscience]
Thanks to the internet and social media, it’s never been easier to understand the world around us. Even with the plethora of information out there, there can be anxiety over wrestling with and adapting to the changes underway in the world. “I think of it like this: We have a lot up here in our heads. We know about global temperature and ice sheets and polar bears, but how does that connect to here?” Hayhoe says.
Some science content, especially about abstract theories, unfamiliar cultures, or planets light-years away, can seem irrelevant to our daily lives. So Hayhoe, for one, makes it a priority to show her followers how to “connect their head to their heart to their hands,” as she puts it.
“How does it connect to my life, my family, the place where I live, the things I enjoy doing? ’” she says. “A lot of what I share is ‘how are we making a difference?’”
Not sure where to start enhancing your science knowledge? Here’s a list of 19 top scientists and science educators in North America and the UK to follow on social media.
- Biologist and host of the YouTube channel “Be Smart” Joe Hanson makes creative, visually appealing, and informative videos about various scientific topics.
- You might remember him from your school science classes, but Bill Nye the Science Guy is still a very active science educator, especially on social media, and frequently updates his followers on scientific breakthroughs.
Archaeology and history of science
- Author, medical historian, and host of the Smithsonian Channel’s “The Curious Life and Death of…” Lindsey Fitzharris explores history’s most mysterious deaths.
- Archaeologist and space archaeology pioneer Sarah Parcak uses satellite imagery to uncover hidden archaeological sites and shares what she finds with the world.
- Paleontologist and science communicator Amy Atwater regularly shares videos of fascinating fossils and fun facts about them.
Astronomy and astrophysics
- Space science communicator Alexandra Doten, or Astro Alexandra, frequently posts space and planetary facts. If you want to learn more about the solar system or even faraway galaxies, check out her various pages.
- Astrophysicist and cosmologist Brad Tucker posts about space tech and unique celestial events. He explains cosmic phenomena, and advancements in space exploration along with stunning images of celestial bodies, satellites, and rockets.
Biology, climate, and sustainability
- Atmospheric scientist and climate communicator Katharine Hayhoe focuses on the intersection of climate science and society, and tackles misconceptions about climate change. She has a clear-eyed and hopeful view of climate science, and shares her explanations of complex topics online.
- Marine biologist, climate advocate, and founder of ocean conservation think-tank Urban Ocean Lab Ayana Elizabeth Johnson shares conservation and climate solutions.
- Sustainability scientist and climate activist Alaina Wood frequently explains current events, how to live sustainably, and positive climate news.
- Chemist Heleen Kibbelaar’s videos explain the science behind cosmetic, hair, and skin care products.
- Chemistry professor and science educator Kimberly Hilton, or Chemical Kim, explains the chemical processes behind everyday phenomena.
Health and psychology
- Stanford University neuroscientist Ben Rein covers empathy, psychedelics, social interaction, and more in his content.
- Renowned obstetrician-gynecologist, author, and advocate for women’s health Jennifer Gunter shares evidence-based information and debunks health myths.
- Practicing therapist and gender specialist Rebecca Minor shares trauma-informed and gender affirming care tips and other resources.
- Sleep scientist and author Matthew Walker shares insights into the importance of sleep and its impact on health and well-being.
Mathematics, physics, and statistics
- Mathematician, author, and radio and host of a Bloomberg show Hannah Fry analyzes concepts like love, artificial intelligence, and environmental protection through the lens of mathematics.
- Science journalist Natalie Wolchover specializes in physics and recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her James Webb Space Telescope coverage with Quanta magazine. She regularly shares new findings in the tricky field of physics.
- Data scientist, deputy editor and lead researcher at Our World in Data, and researcher at the University of Oxford Hannah Ritchie focuses on environmental sustainability, including climate change, energy, food and agriculture, biodiversity, air pollution and deforestation.