Should social media and networking tools be used by scientists to engage with the public?
The short answer is yes - scientists and their institutions should use social media to engage with the public. Scientists and their institutions have an obligation to engage with the public around their work. This obligation can be met in a wide variety of ways, but it includes both a requirement to share accessible information about science and a sincere effort to engage in two-way conversations about this science. This is not to say that each individual scientist must tweet or blog, but rather that social media can provide a cheap, efficient and effective tool that can be very effective for engagement. Social media use comes with risks (e.g., trolls, easily lost context/excess brevity). But the risks are manageable, and I think are typically outweighed by the potential benefits. I don't mean to suggest that every scientist must individually take on outreach and engagement as part of their daily duties. They may not be skilled or trained in this area. Time is always a challenge. Individual obligations can still be met through other means, for example, the efforts of professional staff working for scientists' institutions, who can facilitate public engagement (using tools such as social media). Even in this sort of scenario, however, scientists should be sufficiently active participants and ensure that information about their work is being accurately conveyed and that they are able listen and participate in conversations, if only indirectly via their intermediaries.