Academic and author Michael Pollan giving at TED Talk, via Wikimedia Commons
Doing a TED Talk might get a professor recognized in the grocery store for the first time, but it probably isn't going to get him--and 3/4's of the time, it is a him--into a fellow academic's footnotes.
A new study from the University of Indiana looked at data from Youtube and TED’s website and found that videos by academics were more popular than those by non-academics; however, appearing in a TED Talk didn’t mean you were more likely to be cited by your academic peers.
"Academics are receiving greater online visibility, but there is no evidence that TED Talks leads to an increase in the traditional metric of academic capital: citations,” said lead author Cassidy R. Sugimoto in a press release.
This might be because the TED talker is selected because they are already fairly popular. Of the 21 percent of TED presenters who were academics, 77 percent of them were already cited more frequently than average.
Still one would expect some boost after appearing a TED Talk, right? Delivering a TT looks so cool; with the Powerpoint, the tiny microphone, the audience that paid a shit-ton to see you. How can academics resist someone who did that?
Looking at the number of citations three years prior to and after appearing on the TED website, the talk doesn’t correlate with a hike in citations. "The suggestion is that TED doesn't promote a scientist's work within their own community or that any positive impact is offset by peers questioning the presenter's motivations," Sugimoto said.
Even if it doesn’t lead to more citations, TED Talks give academics a chance to talk to the general public, and the general public responds. Videos by academics are commented on more often than presentations by nonacademics. "Overall, academic presenters were in the minority, yet their videos were preferred," said Sugimoto. "This runs counter to past research that has argued that the public, because of a lack of literacy on the subject, has a negative perception of science and technology that has been fostered by the media."
So your preconceived notions of TED and its mission will likely color your perception of this study. Maybe TED Talks are already picking the best and brightest, and are reaching a public that thirsts for knowledge. Maybe TED Talks are just style trumping substance, solicited by simpletons only capable of paying attention for 20 minutes with lots of visual aids.
Talk about an idea worth spreading.