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Delving into the Vibrant World of Science Communication on Reddit's r/science

Title: Ups and downs on “r/science” — exploring the dynamics of science communication on Reddit

Author(s) and Year: Jonas Kaiser, Birte Fähnrich, Laura Heintz ; May 2023

Journal: Journal Of Science Communication (JCOM) (open access (https://doi.org/10.22323/2.22020208) )

 

TL;DR: Reddit encourages a thriving community for science communication by allowing users to post and comment on scientific content. Study finds diverse science topics discussed on r/science (Reddit), with user engagement through comments and voting. Caution is needed for potential spread of false information and moderation's influence on content quality and behavior and the associated opportunities and risks in relation to user-generated science communication on the Reddit r/science subreddit.


Why I chose this paper: Throughout my years as a STEM graduate student, r/science served as an invaluable resource, keeping me constantly informed about the latest scientific breakthroughs and research. The passionate and lively community on this platform naturally sparked my curiosity about the intricate dynamics underlying science communication within its virtual walls.

 

What is user-generated science?


We all treasure those exciting moments when we discover something new and, almost magically, the internet instantly provides us with the solutions we seek!Apps and social media platforms exist to actively nurture our scientific curiosity in addition to being vibrant gathering spaces that unite people from various backgrounds. The popular subreddit r/science on Reddit exemplifies the democratization of science communication, allowing users to post, comment, and engage in debates on diverse scientific topics.

"User-generated content" refers to content that has been produced by people outside of the established journalistic or scientific communities and Reddit is a prime example of a platform abundant with such content. Since there is limited evidence available regarding the specific characteristics of user-generated science communication, it becomes an empirical question to examine the patterns exhibited by user-generated science communication and to what extent it aligns with expectations and criteria for effective, accurate, and respectful scientific communication.Science communication provided by the users of Reddit still lacks quality as sources of their feed are mostly untrustworthy. The authors concur that Reddit's scientific subreddits and discussions ought to mirror societal debates on science.

Therefore, the aim of this study was to look into the trends and norms of user-generated science content on Reddit to better understand science communication.


The Key Research Questions

This paper investigates the patterns and standards of user-generated science material on Reddit raising three main research questions -


a. How does science communication develop over time on r/science?

The authors used the full Reddit datasets available on Google BigQuery, supplemented with missing metadata obtained through the RedditAPI, to collect data between October 2007 and May 2018. The dataset included 694,147 posts with metadata, the majority of which had just one comment.

According to the data, there was a high concentration of activity among a small group of users on r/science, with the top 100 users accounting for almost 10% of all posts. Over time, the distribution of posts on r/science grew, peaking in 2013 and 2014. However, user activity decreased from 2015 to 2018, possibly as a result of the Reddit blackout incident and new moderation guidelines.


b. What are the sources of the information on r/science, and how are they assessed?

The authors analyzed sources of comments on r/science by coding a subsample of 1,000 sources using inductive category formation. They found that homepages like self.science, phys.org, and bbc.co.uk were frequently mentioned. They further examined the controversy of sources and identified that mass media had the most common posts, self-posts generated more discussion and controversy, and official websites attracted user attention but were not considered highly controversial on average. Table 1 represents the updown ratio of the posts with respect to the categories on r/science.

This figure depicts a table of the amount of sources divided by categories available on reddit (r/science) subreddit.
Table 1 - The table shows the sources that are most referred to on r/science. The up-downvote ratio reflects the controversy level of a post or source on r/science, with a ratio below 0.6 indicating higher controversy and a higher ratio indicating less controversy.

c. What subjects are discussed on r/science, and how much do these subjects spark debate?

Based on the up down ratio and the number of comments, the authors looked at the level of controversy for posts with at least five comments. In order to assess the level of discussion and engagement, the authors also determined the average number of comments for each subject or academic field discussed on r/science. They identified 37 different topics, with health-related issues, environmental topics, and gender-related discussions being prominent. Cultural studies emerged as the most controversial discipline, while life sciences and health-related topics also sparked controversy and generated regular discussions on the platform.


Takeaways Of The Research


This study's exploration of user-generated science communication on the Reddit platform, with a focus on the r/science subreddit, closes a knowledge gap about how scientific discussions occur in online forums and illuminates the subjects, sources, and levels of participation in this setting. By examining user activity, content sources, and trending topics, the study advances our understanding of the online science-society interface. It provides insightful information on the dynamics of science communication in online forums. It is important to note that Reddit's user-centric nature allows individuals to interpret scientific information based on their own perspectives. While this encourages diverse viewpoints and engagement, it also carries the risk of spreading false or inaccurate science-related information.


There is a need for further research to understand how controversial science content is perceived by users and the impact of moderator interventions. An analysis of r/science focuses on dialogical communication modes and offers fresh viewpoints on popularization of science and technology in the digital media landscape in order to help us understand user-generated science communication online. To advance the ongoing investigation of successful strategies for involving the public with scientific information and fostering informed decision-making, it is essential to promote public understanding of science and technology.


Edited by: Rebecca Dang and Niveen Abi Ghannam

Cover image credit: planthat.com



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