Scientists popularizing science: characteristics and impact of TED talk presenters

PLoS One. 2013 Apr 30;8(4):e62403. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062403. Print 2013.


The TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference and associated website of recorded conference presentations (TED Talks) is a highly successful disseminator of science-related videos, claiming over a billion online views. Although hundreds of scientists have presented at TED, little information is available regarding the presenters, their academic credentials, and the impact of TED Talks on the general population. This article uses bibliometric and webometric techniques to gather data on the characteristics of TED presenters and videos and analyze the relationship between these characteristics and the subsequent impact of the videos. The results show that the presenters were predominately male and non-academics. Male-authored videos were more popular and more liked when viewed on YouTube. Videos by academic presenters were more commented on than videos by others and were more liked on YouTube, although there was little difference in how frequently they were viewed. The majority of academic presenters were senior faculty, males, from United States-based institutions, were visible online, and were cited more frequently than average for their field. However, giving a TED presentation appeared to have no impact on the number of citations subsequently received by an academic, suggesting that although TED popularizes research, it may not promote the work of scientists within the academic community.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bibliometrics
  • Credentialing
  • Humans
  • Internet*
  • Male
  • Research Personnel*
  • Science / education*
  • Videotape Recording

Grant support

This manuscript is based upon work supported by the international funding initiative Digging into Data. Specifically, funding comes from the National Science Foundation in the United States (Grant No. 1208804), Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) in the United Kingdom, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.