Tapping Networks to Stem Biodiversity Loss


by Courtney Quirin

Chris Martine

As wild and charismatic as lions on the African plains, the long-lived underdog of the biology world—botany— is breaking free of its ‘gardening’ stereotype and capturing the fascination of the world. Airing on open access platforms like Academia.edu, Chris Martine’s YouTube series, Plants Are Cool, Too, is recruiting a new cohort of environmentalists, something he believes is key to the future of biodiversity.

“The more new protocols, methodologies, and information that can be shared among scientists, the more it will help stem biodiversity loss. I see Academia.edu as one way to make that happen,” says Martine, who is an associate professor and botanist at Bucknell University.

Enticing a new audience with dynamic educational content on par with leading natural history platforms such as Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel, Martine is capitalizing on Academia.edu’s network to accelerate the field of botany and give it an edge. Reaching across disciplinary boundaries and into the classrooms of the youth, Academia.edu is helping Martine improve scientific literacy among the public, an obligation he feels is at the heart of being a scientist as well as central to stemming biodiversity loss.

“I thought Academia.edu would be a good way to spread the word about botany by taking advantage of the network of people that is already in place, a network of people who are already actively using the web as a means to find new scholarly output,” says Martine.

Early in his career Martine began to grow a sharp awareness of the power of new media to lure the interests of young and old— exhilarated by shows like Animal Planet, many of his biology students were captivated by wildlife, not plants. Botany’s lack of dynamic and progressive educational content, says Martine, is partly to blame. It was this revelation that inspired Martine to produce Plants Are Cool, Too. But Martine quickly realized that dynamic content alone isn’t enough to draw a crowd; attracting an audience also hinges on how content is shared.

Initially airing Plants Are Cool, Too on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, Martine found that he wasn’t reaching people outside of his own discipline, which, in a way, defeated the point of his series: to entice people of all backgrounds and age groups with the fascinating world of plants, and, in turn, build a larger body of naturalist and botanists as we head into the future. And that’s when he remembered his Academia.edu account and the network of scientists and science-minded people at hand.

Posting his YouTube videos on Academia.edu, Martine tagged each one with keywords resembling potential search terms of his target audience rather than those of scientific papers, a tip he picked up from an earlier Academia.edu blog post. Attracting viewers from across disciplines and countries, Martine got the readership he had hoped for. His latest episode, for example, has been getting the most play from scientists housed in geology.

“These scientists might not otherwise have known about this episode, because it’s primarily been promoted as a botany video. But Academia.edu allows me to reach other people in certain disciplines who might still be interested in it.”  

Strategizing for the future, Martine now looks at his analytics and asks, “If someone is going to use Google to look for a video for their kids or their classroom, what search terms would they use?”

Asking himself this question, and tagging accordingly, has helped Martine reach one of his prime audiences; tipped off by his keyword analytics, an influx of people looking for K-12 science education and outreach materials have found Martine’s YouTube series on Academia.edu.

Keeping tabs on the reach and viewership of Plants Are Cool, Too may also be key to sustaining the series. Having a hunch that showing the ‘real-time’ impact of his work will set him apart, Martine has been including his Academia.edu analytics in grant proposals to fund the next 10 episodes.

"We can always track citations more-or-less, but now that we can track that people are at least finding our work and reading it, that tells us so much more. Even though some of those people reading your work aren’t going to cite it, it might inspire some people to look differently at an area or give them a suggestion for the way to approach a problem or test a hypothesis. Those are ways that you can really influence people in your discipline, or be influenced within your discipline, that don’t translate into the traditional metrics. And that’s what I find really exciting about looking at my Academia.edu analytics."

“In a single day alone,” Martine adds, “my materials on Academia.edu were viewed by science-minded people in the US, Bulgaria, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Australia, India, and Iran. Without an Academia.edu profile, how else would I know that my work is reaching these places?”

Academic Bio:

Chris Martine is an associate professor at Bucknell University where he has been combining field studies and molecular phylogenetics to investigate the reproductive biology of wild eggplant Solanum in Northern Australia. A great concern for biodiversity loss inspires much of Chris’s research and teaching philosophy, which is why he dedicates a significant time and effort to producing outreach materials that highlight the role of scientists and the organisms they study. Chris is currently working on his third full-length episode of Plants Are Cool, Too, which features botanists and their subjects in the Adirondack Mountains.

Stay tuned for more of Chris’s work here.


by Courtney Quirin, Science Writer

Comments Mar 26, 2013
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