Welcome to part 2 of the series on social media! This series of tips will focus on how to make your online reading more efficient.
Social Media Tip #4: Work Smarter, not Harder.
I love the internet. Billions of fascinating bits of information, lovely photos, and hilarious viral videos are uploaded daily.
That would also be the primary problem with the internet.
It’s easy to end up curled in a fetal ball under your desk just thinking about all the journals you aren’t reading, but that you think you should. And that’s the boring stuff.
What amazing podcasts and blog posts are you missing? What fresh hell of asshattery is some politician spouting off about? The most important corollary to Tip 4 is:
4.1. Give yourself permission to not read everything.
You can’t read it all. It’s impossible. So stop feeling guilty about it.
4.2. No. Seriously. Don’t try to read it all.
Later in this post, I will explain how you can have have all the awesomeness of the internet delivered to you automatically. That can then become an additional source of stress.
Journal Table of Contents in your inbox? For a journal you haven’t looked at in months? Unsubscribe.
Feed or bookmark for a blog that updates rarely, or doesn’t match your interests anymore? Delete.
Be realistic. If you have a bunch of stuff sitting in your inbox, and you haven’t read it in weeks? It’s not urgent, and you can just delete or archive it.
Before you start using any of the tools I’m going to tell you about, take a hard look at what you are doing right now in terms of your reading and work habits. What can you stop doing?
Look at your “dumb things I gotta do” list and get rid of items that are vague. Take a day and clean your inbox and workspace completely. Have you turned off your email notifications, so that you aren’t interrupted constantly? Everything piled up digitally or physically around you is taking up emotional space.
This paper (just pages 4-8 to skip the academic jargon) has a very nice summary of the Getting Things Done methodology. Give it a look. GTD made a HUGE difference in my stress levels when I found it 7 yrs ago.
Now you are ready, grasshopper.
4.3 Use tools to make the time you spend sifting and looking for information as short and convenient as possible.
Still clicking through a bunch of bookmarks to look at stuff? Dude. UR Doin’ It Wrong. You can have information delivered to you!
Many of my readers already know this, but I find that when I start talking about “RSS feeds” to my medium to low-tech-savvy friends, eyes tend to glaze over. So let’s have a very brief review, and then jump into tools I like.
XML is basically a type of web language that contains the content of a blog, newspaper, or many other types of media, stripped of formatting and packaged to be portable. XML feeds are usually indicated with an icon; this orange RSS one is the most common. Here’s the Bug Blog Feed, for example. Because of this packaging, you can have news, blog posts and comments, or journal Table of Contents ported into a web application or emailed to you at your convenience.
Personally, I try to avoid having emails sent, because it not only further clutters my inbox, but it is delivered to me when it’s convenient for the publisher, not me. Then it sits there in the inbox. J’accuse! You have not done your reading!
Email is such a bastard sometimes.
4.4. Sometimes being a tool is a good thing.
Here are my favorite tools to automate my reading; most of them work on a “dashboard” model that allows you to arrange your feeds into groups, and even play a little with colors. The key here is that I retrieve information when it is convenient for ME. Not when it is published.
- Hootsuite (Yes, the same tool that automates your social media posting!)
- Google Alerts
Hi All! I have been super busy, but there is such an awesome online entomology community of blogs and commenters, I know you aren’t starved for bug info.
I wanted to pass on some tricks I’ve learned to make your entomological social media efforts more efficient. These tips are not in any particular order, and the numbering doesn’t represent priority. I’m sure that people will chime in with additional suggestions in the comments.
Hopefully this will help you spread the gospel of bugs more effectively! You might also find reading things I’ve written about social media in the past helpful–they are linked at the bottom of this post.
Look for a series of posts on this topic over the next few weeks. Why yes! This is part of my
evil secret special plan for my BugMediaEmpire™.
Tip #1: Don’t be a fire hose.
I occasionally see folks post about 20 links in quick succession. That makes total sense if you are posting things as you’re sitting and reading; but it isn’t as effective as spreading your posting out over an entire day.
If you post 20 things at 10am, and I’m stuck in a meeting from 10am to Noon? I might never see any of what you posted. The rest of the world is posting too, and piling on top of my Twitter and Facebook streams.
Don’t even get me started about the crazy way Facebook decides for me what I should see. GRRRR. There is a fair amount of data about how long a post is “alive” on Facebook. Basically, after 3 hours, your post pretty much ceases to be shown in the news feed unless it gets a lot of early Likes and shares. This makes the timing of a post on Facebook especially important.
Corollary Tip 1.1: don’t post about every damn thing you eat or wear, unless your topic focus is food and shoes.
Tip #2: The best time to post should be driven by your audience’s schedule, not yours.
Most people’s posting is driven by when they have free time at the computer. That may or may not match up to when your readers are online. But how do you know when the best time to post is?
You can find out when people are looking at your blog using Google Analytics, but that may not tell you when people are looking at your social media streams. Blogs take longer to read, and I’m less likely to look at them during work hours, for example.
You can ball-park your timing by paying attention to when you seem to be getting the most Likes, RTs, or Reshares. It’s a lot easier to use one of many websites out there that help you sort out what times people are reading based on traffic data. A utility like Topsy, for example, will give you specific traffic information for keywords. Lunchtime and from 3-5pm are generally the peak times people are mentioning “entomology” on Twitter in this particular sample, but you can also see that it varies from day to day, and that the effect is relative to the keyword.
If what you are posting includes a link, you can monitor your traffic that way too. Bit.ly is not just a URL shortener, but it also tracks how many people click your link, and where they are. There are also paid social media analytics like EdgeRankChecker that produce amazingly detailed data, but since I am a broke-ass academic, I don’t use them.
The easiest way to manage all of this, especially for multiple social media streams, is to automate your posting, and use a tool that will post your info at peak times.
Tip #3: Use an auto-posting utility to manage your social media streams.
I have 5 primary streams of social media content for the BugMediaEmpire™ that I actively manage: Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook (personal page), Facebook (official blog page), and Google+. I also have Pinterest and YouTube pages, but I don’t do much with them other than create insect-themed song playlists.
Professionally, I manage several university Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as FB pages, blogs, and twitter feeds for multiple non-profit organizations.
Um. Yeah. My name is Bug Girl, and I’m a social media addict.
The point is, I’ve got a lot going on.
A common question I get is “When do you sleep!? You are always posting things on Twitter and Facebook!”
I sleep a lot, actually; I just get up in the morning and set out a day’s worth of posts while I’m drinking my coffee. That way I can post something at Midnight EST for the West Coast crowd, or at 6am when the UK is going to sleep. That also lets me post things when I’m at work and forbidden to access many off-campus websites.
Here’s what my post stream looks like on an average day. This is actually just 3 main topics, repeated several times for different media streams. I also let Hootsuite decide when to Retweet (RT) people if it isn’t time sensitive, so we both get to share the optimally timed love.
Does it work? For the most part, yes. I do seem to get more Likes and RTs using the autopost timing feature. Unfortunately, the free version of Hootsuite is rather opaque about just exactly HOW it is coming up with this data. I’m sure if I had the paid version, it would become clearer.
The scheduling in advance feature is especially useful for the university and non-profit accounts that I manage. I can set out a whole semester’s worth of tweets and Facebook posts, or schedule reminders for a grant deadline months in advance. All I have to do is occasionally look in to make sure no one is posting nasty spam, and add a few timely news items or photos. Much, much less work. DON’T TELL MY BOSS.
So there you go, half of my secret to being omnipresent online. The other half is using online tools that allow me to organize what I read in more efficient ways. That’s the topic of my next tip post!
Caveats and Disclaimers:
- If you decide to use some of these auto-schedule or other social media management tools, be aware that you are giving them the keys to your digital kingdom. You give these applications the ability to post under your name everywhere. Make sure your passwords are very secure.
- Each one of the tools I’ve tried has some small aggravating glitches. Hootsuite, for example, will post to a G+ business page, but not to a personal account. It doesn’t have a way to autoschedule and select a date months in the future (although you can do that manually). On the other hand, all the tools I’ve mentioned here are FREE. Which pretty much makes them perfect.
- There might be a downside to using these third party applications to auto-post. Because of the way in which Facebook determines what you see, auto-posted items using third-party APIs may to be at a small disadvantage compared with posts done manually. It’s not clear how future Facebook changes will affect this in the future. I can say with confidence that Facebook will change the way that they display information soon, and it will piss us all off. Again.
Other things I’ve written about Social Media:
You may know that in my regular life, when I’m not Bug G. Membracid, I have a job advising students, among other things. In the spirit of “do as I say, not as I do” in terms of career advice, when someone recommended some online reputation tools to students, I wanted to try them out.
The first tool I looked at was Reppler. It sells itself as a way to find potentially damaging content that might spook potential employers.You have to connect it to your Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook accounts for it to work, which is the first hurdle. Essentially, you give them access to troll through your entire posting history.
I have the perfect paired test–My Bug Girl online identity, and my IRL identity. How did they compare? Well, looks like it’s a good thing that I kept those separate! Here is the rating for my Real Self: 88 out of 100. (The score was a 90 until I hooked up my Linked In account, which was “neutral”–that was enough to lower my score.)
When you look at my Bug G. Membracid score, well. Oh dear. Clearly there are some issues.
But what counts as “inappropriate content?”
Apparently, Arse is a dirty word. But fanny is not. You can see the categories that they search in this screenshot. Mentioning Alcohol is bad. In fact, on the post flagged here, I was explaining that I couldn’t drink beer, because I was allergic. It still showed up as negative content.
Reppler flagged the word “vagina” as adult content, even though it was a reference to the recent news story in Michigan. It also seems to know that “F**K” is a euphemism, and flagged it as “strong language.”
Sounds terrible–but what was my score, with all this negative content? 80. Only a few points lower than my IRL score! This makes no sense–why is my squeaky clean real identity score downgraded for being neutral, and my Bug Girl Profile rated so highly, despite vaginas and alcohol?
Well, you gotta have a gimmick, and online reputation monitors are useful for people that create online profiles and walk away, I suppose. For me personally, I laugh everytime I get the report (“You have 23 new Inappropriate Content Alerts!!”), so there is a high entertainment factor.
And this is all very interesting, but what do employers see? If you have everything marked private, they can’t find you, right? Not so fast. Take a look at the reports from Social Intelligence, a background checking tool marketed to employers. They managed to find a fair amount of embarrassing material on this writer. The good news is that most of the deep search tools are not free–but a major employer will almost certainly have a subscription to a service like SI and check you out.
Another tool commonly used is PIPL. With just my real name and state, I was able to find a list of everywhere I had lived for the last 10 years, plus my age and phone number. Yikes! Had I been willing to give up some cash, I could have gotten an extremely detailed report about myself that probably would have creeped me out for days. PIPL doesn’t tell you anything about your online reputation, but it will produce a detailed history of your movements and employment–which would be useful to an employer verifying your resume.
I was happy to see that PIPL picked up a lot of Bug Girls online that weren’t me, and that I still had my plausible identity intact.
In summary, the best way to keep your online reputation is to not do anything really stupid. If you are having a bad day, or are angry, walk away from the computer. And that advice is free, and requires no subscription.
Quite a few people, including PZ, have posted this video of a student completely loosing it in a classroom. From the school paper:
“Associate Professor Stephen M. Kajiura was reviewing with his evolution class in GS 120 for a midterm when FAU student Jonatha Carr interrupted him: “How does evolution kill black people?” she asked. Kajiura attempted to explain that evolution doesn’t kill anyone.…..The classmate reported that Kajiura was discussing attraction between peacocks when Carr raised her hand to ask her question about evolution. She asked it four times, and became increasingly upset each time Kajiura’s answer failed to satisfy her.
A video taken by Bustamante shows Carr ranting and threatening to kill the professor and several students.”
I’ve discussed violence before that is motivated by anti-evolution, both directed against me and others.
Honestly, I don’t think this outburst had that much to do with evolution, although it’s certainly scary that evolution seems to be the topic that triggered the student’s outburst. What I was struck by, watching that video as someone who’s been teaching for over 25 years, is the behavior of the instructor and the other students:
- They tried to engage in dialog with a person that is clearly in severe mental distress
- They did not clear the classroom
- It took way too long before anyone called 911
- The students were more interested in filming the student’s meltdown than getting to safety
That? Honestly? Bothers me far more than what the woman was yelling.
If there is anything that needs to be discussed and post-processed about this, it’s that the area was not secured, not that she was angry about evolution.
Do you teach?
Do you have a plan for what you would do in your class if something like this happened?
Have you thought about how you might get all your students to safety in case of an emergency?
Have you recieved training–or at least instructions–about what to do with a distressed student?
If someone is this out of control, your best bet is to GTFO. Get the distressed person in a quiet room, or make the room quiet by getting everyone else out. But don’t expect rational discourse to work.
If you are going to watch this video, do it with an eye to how you would have handled this situation as an instructor.
And learn from it.
Sorry this took so long to create! This is the transcript of my Entomological Society of America talk that I posted last week. I have taken the liberty of editing and prettifying things up, and including some feedback on the draft version I got. You can download the PDF handout from this talk here, including some recommended links and resources.
I am still not happy with this, mostly because the topic is so huge, and there is so much very good info and thoughtful stuff out there. This isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but hopefully this will help you find some new ideas to chew on. Without further ado:
The Adventures of Bug Girl
OR: Everything you wanted to know about entomological social media but were afraid to ask
In a 12 minute talk, I tried to address these topics:
- Why do this social media stuff, anyway?
- Why was Bug Girl successful?
- How can you measure your success? (An overview; I’ll leave the question of tools you can use to measure and assess online success for a separate post/presentation.)
- How can YOU become an online entomology goddess?
If you aren’t a major bug nerd, you may not know what goes on at a big scientific meeting like the Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America. It is the largest insect meeting in the world. There are usually ≈4000 insect scientists of all kinds, from every continent. (Except Antartica. But if I’m wrong, let me know!)
Unfortunately, it’s not anything like a science fiction convention. Nearly everyone is in suits, and it’s a time to make professional networking connections and present your research. There are organized symposia about some topics I’m really interested in–the way in which media has covered Colony Collapse Disorder in honey bees, for example. Multiple bed bug symposia. I’ll be sure to report back about those topics, as long as I’m not revealing anything that seems to be publication bound.
Titles of talks or papers usually have formal names like “Update on medical consequences of bed bug biting,” although sometimes you get a bit more humor; I liked this one: “To Baetidae or not to Baetidae: comprehensive phylogeny of baeitid mayflies.”
Talks start at 8:00 AM and run until 9:00 PM at night. For 4 days. By the end you just feel like your brain is swollen.
It’s also a great time to hang out, talk to old friends, and commune with bug people. I’ll be distributing “I am Bug Girl” stickers in the spirit of “I am Spartacus” in order to:
- Confuse the issue on just who Bug Girl is; and
- Help bloggers and blog fans find each other at a huge meeting!
There will also be a Bug Blogger/Friends of Bug Blogs party Tuesday night; check out the Facebook Event Page for more details once we get on the ground in Reno and scope out venue and liquid refreshment options.
If you are an undergrad or a graduate student attending ESA for the first time: DON’T BE SHY! Seriously, entomologists are fairly laid back, even if they do insist on wearing suits. Anyone with an official ribbon–even the ESA President–will make time to talk to you. If you see someone with an “I am Bug Girl” sticker, odds are good they also are a good person to ask questions of as well. Don’t sit alone when you have meals–ever! That is a great time to sit down next to someone and start a conversation.
I’ll be revealing the winner of the Ribald Tales of Entomology Limerick Contest later this week, as well as other updates.
[This is part of a series of posts about writing, entomology, and career development that are linked to my upcoming Entomological Society of America talk in November.]
I get a surprising number of emails from reporters asking for interviews, or podcast requests, or other questions related to some of the debunking posts I’ve published about different bits of media nonsense.
“Are you a bee expert?” one of the reporters asked once.
“No, I’m a bee pundit,” I replied. ”I’m like the Lorax, except I speak for bees, not trees.”
Later, I realized punditry was actually a pretty good description for where I’ve plopped myself in the blogosphere. I am, literally, a talking (blue) head that people accept as having some sort of authority about bugs. I don’t write about my personal research much, but I try to translate the insect research of others and life in academia into regular human speak. And I provide color commentary, usually with more F words that the average pundit, but that’s how I roll.
Had I used my real name, I could have quite a bit to add to my professional Vita (Curriculum vita is just a fancy academic way to say resume). In Academia, size matters. The fatter your vita is with publications and invited talks, the more well hung you are–in a scholarly sense, of course.
But I have stayed Bug Girl for many years, even at live appearances at Cons, and at the Entomological Society of America National Conference. Why?
I thought it might be helpful for students starting out as bloggers, or established scientists pondering blogging as a means of outreach, to talk about the tradeoffs between real name and anonymity and career implications.
I’ve actually used the nickname “Bug Girl” since the early 90s–it was my first personal email address in 1993. Back then in the land of listservs and bulletin boards, women were fairly rare, and it was helpful to not have an immediately identifiable identity.
I also had an….interesting career path, and I left my first tenured position over an academic freedom dispute. I wanted to teach evolution as a well-established fact. My position was similar to that of this recently fired prof:
“Science is the litmus test on the validity of the educational enterprise. If a school teaches real science, it’s a pretty safe bet that all other departments are sound. If it teaches bogus science, everything else is suspect…. I want a real college, not one that rejects facts, knowledge, and understanding because they conflict with a narrow religious belief.
It was useful to have a nickname where I could solicit advice online about the Dean’s instructions to soft-pedal evolution without publicly identifying myself. And over time, this led to path dependence–rather than making a strategic decision between My RealID and a pseudonym, I drifted into the online identity of Bug Girl because of a bunch of random decisions from 20 years ago. Those decisions were made well before blogging was a “thing.” It turned out, though, that it was a good decision, because as I began to be successful in my post-faculty career, I discovered that blogging was not only a thing, it was a bad thing as far as most of my bosses were concerned.
There are actually laws on the books on several states banning state employees from lobbying, or using their government positions to influence politics or the media. That is a reasonable restriction–it would not be appropriate for me to use an official .gov or .edu email, for example, to lobby for a specific candidate. If you are high enough on the food chain that you manage large sums of money, lots of people, or set policy, then linking your real identity to a sometimes ribald blog can be a big deal. Especially if you are in a job where you are not part of a union, not tenured, and basically serve at the pleasure of the provost.
I’ve tried to keep plausible deniability with my identity. By not linking my name and Bug Girl’s, I can at least make sure that a Google search by one of my students will not turn up a post of me yelling F-bombs at Nintendo or disclose details of my rape. My boss will not know for sure that I am an atheist (which, based on her comments that “those people have no moral compass” is probably for the best.) I’ve had several stalkers over the years, and I can be reasonably sure I won’t wake up, look outside my window, and see creepy dude #6 parked in my driveway. It also helps that there are a lot of other Bug Girls online.
There are a lot of reasons (which I have articulated in detail elsewhere) that this online identity makes me feel safer. Now that my new job has moved me near the Provost’s office, Bug Girl is honestly a better reflection of who I really am. Diplomacy and tact are now a major part of my day to-day-work life. Anyone who knows me realizes this is an inherently unstable situation. To paraphrase one of my favorite blues songs, “It’s in her and its got to come out!” Most of my friends call me Bug, and certainly my writing here gets several orders of magnitude more exposure than my scientific publications ever did or will. I AM BUG GIRL.
Here’s something important you should never forget, though. Your secret online identity exists only because of the kindness of strangers. As hard as you try, you CAN be identified. It’s only politeness that keep your online friends and readers from outing you.
It isn’t hard to find examples where science bloggers that use their real names–and that have known employers–have had disgruntled readers contact their boss. It isn’t hard to find examples where a decision has been made by the higher ups that silence is better than controversy, even if the information provided online is correct.
There is no way to blog–anonymously or not– and never have it affect your career. Your blogging had better be something that you enjoy, and that you are willing to defend to your family and your boss. When you are outed, all the F-bombs you’ve dropped will come crashing down on you if the only thing you did with your bully pulpit was trash your coworkers.
Blogging is a great outlet for my creativity (which is not expressed by writing official memos, trust me) and for my warped sense of humor. I write for ME as much as anything, to challenge myself to make science as entertaining and interesting to non-scientists. I am amazed at how successful I’ve been, which I think has more to do with being in the right place at the right time than the content I produce.
The way to be a better writer is to write more. And so I did.
I think I’ve gotten better, but I still have a long way to go.
One of the things I do more or less full time now is give students unsolicited advice. I talk to both graduate students and undergraduates, and they are mostly worried about the same things:
- Did I make the right choice when I decided to study ____?
- Will I get a good job? Is *this* job (graduate program/major/whatever) the one for me?
I actually have a mathematical formula that I use to help people figure out when they are in the right major or the right job, or if a career change is a good idea. And I’m going to give it to you, for free, because you read my blog, and are, Post hoc ergo prompter hoc ipso facto, cool.
Here it is.
Job = Puppy
Yep. A job is like a puppy. When you first get a job (or start a degree program), it’s wonderful and cool. Here, look –>
Doesn’t that make you smile?
Puppies are awesome. And if you have an actual puppy, you realize that puppies also have some downsides. Like…..poop.
There is no such thing as a poopless puppy.
There is also no such thing as a job with no shitty tasks.
The trick is to find a job that maximizes what I call the cute to poop ratio.
In other words, the quantity
must be greater than one.
If the cute of your job is overwhelmed by the poop–it’s time to start looking for a new job.
I’ve made some really radical career changes–including walking away from a tenure-track faculty position. Each time it was because the amount of poop in the job became overwhelming, and drowned out all the fun and cute elements.
Obviously, right now is not the easiest time to be starting a career, or make a career change. Other things can modify this equation; health care benefits, for example, can turn a negative cute : poop ratio into a positive for me, at least in the short term. If you are someone just starting out on your career path, taking a job that is not exactly what you want may also balance out, so you can get your foot in the door and start building a resume.
Just don’t stay in a job where the crap piles up around you and you are miserable longer than you have to be.
Life is short. There has to be a balance.
Thus endeth today’s sermon. Back to bugs tomorrow!
One of the most common questions I get from students around this time of year is “Where should I look for a job?”
The question they actually are asking is “where ONLINE should I look for a job?”, and it’s the wrong question. The vast majority of jobs for students are filled informally, without a search.
I always have extra work, and when I manage to have money + work that needs to be done, I usually tend to hire people I know–either a good past student, or someone recommended by a friend.
For full-time jobs, the question is a bit more relevant, but still, applying online doesn’t yield the results that using your network of contacts will. If I happen to know someone involved in a search, and I send them a copy of your recommendation letter directly….yeah, that immediately moves your resume up to the top of the pile.
So, before I give you my list of places online to look at: Let me ask, what is the ratio of time you are spending pasting your resume online to the amount of time spent chatting with your friends and professional contacts about where you want to go?
My favorite places to look for Ecological/Environmental type jobs:
- Ecolog-l (includes graduate assistantships)
- Society of Conservation Biology (includes graduate assistantships)
- Student Conservation Association
- Environmental Education Jobs
- Audubon Society Jobs
- Nature Conservancy Jobs
- National Association for Interpretation (sadly, all jobs require a login)
- Society for Plant Biology (includes graduate assistantships)
- Studentjobs.gov (The feds consider you a “student” up to a year after you graduate!)
- Organization of Biological Field Stations
Two other things to try:
- There are a lot of new job indexes that basically work by harvesting other websites. Indeed.com is a good example of that type of service.
- Don’t forget to look at local university and state websites! While the funding may be shaky long term, for those starting out in the job market, there are usually lots of opportunities.
Have I missed an important resource? Please suggest it in the comments!
[Note: I will be especially harsh on spammers for this post--if you are suggesting a link, it needs to relate specifically to finding job postings in environmental science/conservation]
Additional Career Advice:
DEET is the gold standard for insect repellent. I’ve covered it fairly extensively at the Bug Blog–it’s the best thing we have to prevent a wide spectrum of insects from biting and transmitting an even wider spectrum of diseases.
Some new DEET research was published this month, and the media…well, has done a crappy job of covering it. Here’s the latest headline: Insect Repellent DEET is Neurotoxic.
One thing all the news stories have in common is a very alarmist tone, and reprinting freely from a press release that has very little connection to the reality of the paper. When you look at the research, they did NOT find that DEET is neurotoxic, and it does NOT cause nerve damage.
Here’s the take home:
If you decide not to use DEET insect repellent on the basis of this bad journalism, you are probably putting yourself in danger. DEET is really the only repellent we have that can deal with ticks, and also protects against a wide range of biting flies.
The results in this paper are preliminary, need to be confirmed, and even IF confirmed, remain irrelevant to the average person who might want to use DEET.
Right, that’s the message.
Now to the details.
Here is what the researchers ACTUALLY found:
Corbel, V., Stankiewicz, M., Pennetier, C., Fournier, D., Stojan, J., Girard, E., Dimitrov, M., Molgo, J., Hougard, J., & Lapied, B. (2009). Evidence for inhibition of cholinesterases in insect and mammalian nervous systems by the insect repellent deet BMC Biology, 7 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1741-7007-7-47
“electrophysiological studies were performed on isolated mouse phrenic hemidiaphragm muscles. We showed that 500 µM deet prolonged by about threefold the decay time constant of synaptic potentials on endplate regions of the muscle fibre…”
Here’s a translation into English (by me):
We put DEET directly onto mouse cells and insect neurons in test tubes. It had a mild inhibitory effect on an important enzyme. The amount of DEET we used on mouse cells was 500 times the level that was active for insect cells. The amounts we used were several orders of magnitude larger than you would ever encounter in life as a human user of DEET repellent.
The best breakdown of this story I’ve seen yet was at Neuroskeptic. In fact, Neuroskeptic saved me a whole lot of time and work by writing an excellent article that I will now swipe here and quote freely:
“the fact that DEET can act as a cholinesterase inhibitor in the lab changes nothing. It’s still safe, at least until evidence comes along that it actually causes harm in people who use it. You can’t show that something is harmful by doing an experiment showing how it could be harmful in theory.”
This paper, when combined with decades of DEET usage data with very, very few adverse affects reported, is really not news at all. It’s interesting, sure. But it’s not at all relevant to the average American trying not to be bitten while BBQing.
I also agree with this statement from Neuroskeptic:
“To be fair, there is one cause for concern in the paper – in the experiments, DEET interacted with other cholinesterase inhibitors, leading to an amplified effect. That suggests that DEET could become toxic in combination with cholinesterase inhibitor insecticides, but again, the risk is theoretical.”
In some situations, DEET is combined with other compounds that it could, potentially, interact with–but that almost never happens in the US. Those situations are more common in military and tropical uses. This is a good note to be careful, and to monitor that in the future. There is also some (laboratory) evidence that sunscreen can increase absorption of DEET, and the two should be combined with caution.
If you are using DEET sensibly, you have nothing to worry about.
What is sensible DEET use? Borrowing from The American Pediatric Society, as well as my own experience: