The autism researcher firing up TikTok: A Q&A with Ben Rein | Spectrum

The autism researcher firing up TikTok: A Q&A with Ben Rein | Spectrum



Ben Rein

Postdoctoral researcher, Stanford College

Neuroscientist Ben Rein by no means supposed to get into science communication. However easy frustration drove him to it after a purchasing journey in early April of 2020, he says.  

Rein noticed so many individuals carrying face masks improperly that he determined to make use of the video-sharing app TikTok to file a 53-second clip. In that clip, he defined the way to correctly don a surgical masks — one thing he did often as a then-graduate pupil in neuroscience on the State College of New York at Buffalo. 

“I used to be intending to only create a video that I might put up on my private Fb and Instagram,” Rein says. However when he checked TikTok just a few days later, the video had gone viral, with hundreds of thousands of views. 

“I felt that impression of instructing individuals on the way to put on a masks, and subsequently perhaps saving lives,” says Rein, now a postdoctoral researcher in Robert Malenka’s lab at Stanford College in California, the place he research the neural foundation of social habits. If nothing else, he says, “I assumed this could possibly be a extremely nice platform for me to coach about neuroscience.” 

Since that put up, Rein has uploaded greater than 200 movies to TikTok and garnered 684,000 followers. He makes a speciality of debunking pseudoscience, such because the declare that individuals use solely 10 % of their mind, and answering questions comparable to “The place do ‘mind cells in a dish’ come from?” He has even acquired recognition as a finalist for the American Affiliation for the Development of Science’s Early Profession Award for Public Engagement with Science. 

Dr. Ben Rein on light blue backdrop with a brain model.

Spectrum spoke with Rein about his colliding worlds as an autism researcher and social media influencer, and the way he feels about combating science misinformation.  

This interview has been edited for size and readability. 

Spectrum: What sorts of reactions do you get whenever you speak about autism analysis on TikTok? 

Ben Rein: I’ve heard all of it. Good and dangerous. 

If I speak about, for instance, therapies for autism, I’ll get direct messages — individuals will say, “Please, no matter you are able to do. I want you to enroll my little one within the medical trials. We want assist; please assist us.” After which I’ve different individuals saying the alternative: “It’s repulsive so that you can suggest that autism ought to require any type of remedy.” 

All of my analysis has been targeted on finding out mechanisms of autism in mouse fashions, so I haven’t had a chance to really join with the autism group like I want I had. So having an opportunity to work together with the world and talk about the subject of autism has been very eye-opening. 

S: Has that modified the way you speak about autism analysis in your movies? 

BR: Yeah, I’ve tailored my very own perspective and my presentation type. There could be a extremely attention-grabbing Nature paper [on an autism therapy] that comes out, and it’s a breakthrough, and I would wish to make a video on it. However I’ll get people who find themselves indignant with me for even speaking about it. So, I’m at all times aware of that, and I make some extent to say that some of these therapies which are in growth are for these on the spectrum who might want therapy. 

I’ve begun attempting to coach the people who find themselves actually gung-ho about remedies, by saying, “You need to be conscious that perhaps not everybody needs these remedies.” However I additionally usually really feel like an imposter as a result of I’m form of talking on behalf of the autism group with out really being part of it. 

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S: Plenty of your movies fact-check claims comparable to “sugar is extra addictive than cocaine” or “you want 400 repetitions to construct a synapse.” Do you suppose you’ve modified minds with these posts? 

BR: Folks don’t remark and say, “Thanks, you’ve modified my thoughts.” That doesn’t occur. However I prefer to suppose that typically I would change minds. And extra importantly, if one thing is controversial sufficient that I want to alter somebody’s thoughts, then I believe greater than a TikTok shall be wanted. 

What I’m largely going for is a chance to handle a possible false impression hub earlier than it will get out of hand, and earlier than it convinces too many individuals of one thing that’s simply not true. 

Being a scientist who has studied autism, I’ve personally seen the harm executed by, for instance, the now-retracted examine that falsely presupposed to affiliate the MMR vaccine with autism. There are nonetheless many, many individuals on the market who consider that, and I’ve addressed that in a video earlier than and had blended responses. However that has proven me how one misunderstanding years in the past can proceed to linger and have damaging results. 

S: How do different researchers react to figuring out that you’ve got tons of of 1000’s of followers on social media? 

BR: I used to be terrified — for most likely a few 12 months — that my colleagues would giggle and mock my social media use. So I stored it very quiet. I hid it from my colleagues. And finally it began to leak out. I might go to work, and somebody would say, “I simply noticed you on TikTok! What the hell? You haven’t informed anybody about this.” 

And it seems, a lot to my shock and delight, persons are really actually completely satisfied and enthusiastic about these items. Most individuals are like, “It’s relatable and it’s enjoyable, however it’s additionally correct.” 

Dr. Ben Rein on light blue backdrop with a skull and brain model.

I at all times thought that conventional tutorial scientists would discover it foolish, however it seems that many, although not all of them, acknowledge the significance of connecting with most people. 

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S: How do you stability making movies which are enjoyable, however that additionally correctly symbolize the science? 

BR: That’s a problem: capturing all of the element and nuance of science, whereas leaving out a lot. 

I work actually, actually fastidiously to verify each phrase spoken in a 45-second clip is solely correct. It’s all about discovering the proper means: How can I take this five-figure paper and summarize the findings in a single 10-word sentence that doesn’t sensationalize or misrepresent the findings? 

I fear about being inaccurate. And I’ve been known as out a few times — fortunately, they had been minor issues, and I in fact corrected them and posted response movies. 

S: What recommendation do you’ve gotten for different researchers who need to have interaction extra with most people? 

BR: It’s necessary to know the platform you’re utilizing. Whether or not it’s TikTok, or Instagram, or Twitter, or YouTube, or Pinterest, LinkedIn, no matter — it’s necessary to know the algorithm for sharing content material and what viewers you’re going to achieve. 

And at all times write a script. You wish to guarantee that your wording may be very cautious. You wish to be delivering the message concisely and with out jargon. 

I’ve made most likely 1,000 movies on TikTok, and the primary 200 had been actually dangerous. I’m not saying the brand new ones are good both — it simply takes time to learn to do these items, so follow is absolutely, actually important. 

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