“I am interested in data visualisation.” – “Great! Try this cupcake.”

Imagine the following situation. You are at a party and chat with someone you’ve just met. You start talking about what you do and what you are interested in. You say something like “I like statistics, and especially how it applies to solving biological problems.” The person you are talking to smiles brightly and then says: “Fantastic! Have you tried braiding your hair?”

Now, this does not happen very often in real life (at least I hope not). But it happens online. See, last year, I decided to get a Pinterest account for work. I was interested in exploring new ways of organising my thoughts and ideas, and the Mood Board vibe appeals to me. I am not a prolific user, but I have found it very useful in situations where I need to collect information on a specific topic, say, for a seminar or a class. I also have a board collecting some of my scientific papers, almost like a kind of visual bibliography. I don’t use Pinterest for anything else than science (and science-related things), but I think there is a lot of potential in using it this way. I have only just scratched the surface, I am sure, of what’s possible.

And so has Pinterest.

In theory, the beauty of social media is that it should allow me to connect to other, like-minded people. It should go like this: By pinning my pins, I tell Pinterest, “I am interested in teaching lab projects for neuroscience” And then Pinterest should say: “Oh look, awesomescientist123 also finds this interesting, and here are some of her ideas.” Instead, Pinterest says: “Oh look, here are some sandals for Spring!”

I have pictures to prove this. Here is part of my board on data visualisation:

My Pinterest data visualisation board

And here is what Pinterest thinks I might be interested in:

what_pinterest_thinks
There seem to me to be two possible explanations:

1. Their data science is rubbish. This seems almost unbelievable in this day and age, but we probably all have stories about bizarre results from automated suggestion algorithms. Here’s one:

Facebooks thinks I should read Childrens' Books

2. There are not enough scientists doing science-y things on Pinterest. To this I say, let’s do something about it. My fellow science people, let us re-claim Pinterest from the crafters, nail artists and muffin-bakers of this world and use it to collect, organise, and spread our own awesome ideas!

PS: If you are a scientist who also happens to be into crafting, nail art or muffins, that’s totally cool, of course. Then you know what to do!

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