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Scientists’ Use of Reddit as Science Communication

Fri, September 1, 9:00 to 10:30am, Sheraton Boston, 3, Beacon G

Abstract

Traditionally, scientists use various means to help lay audiences to engage in public participation, such as policy making, dialogue, and knowledge production (Einsiedel, 2014). Science cafés and science exhibits have also been used widely, especially in Europe and Asia, for the purpose of creating a dialogue (Nielsen, et al., 2015). However, some scientists do not consider the interaction in science cafés effective (Mizumachi, et al., 2011). To reach out to the public, some celebrity scientists use other media, such as books, TV shows (e.g., Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey), and films. Recently, scientists are increasingly using social media to disseminate their research findings to both the general public and their colleagues (Collins, Shiffman, & Rock, 2016); in fact, Science (2014) has published the top 50 science stars of Twitter. While the use of Reddit by scientists has not yet become widespread, Reddit itself has attracted heavy traffic online; Alexa, which tracks daily visitors to websites, ranked Reddit 7th in the United States in early 2017. We investigate the sub-Reddit r/science, which has 15 million subscribers, in which scientists host AMAs (Ask Me Anything) threads. The scientists who have posted these threads ranged from an MIT computer scientist who created a Twitterbot to the celebrity scientist Stephen Hawking. We examine the online interactions that occur on the science subreddit AMAs. The results of the study shed light on a new form of direct science communication to the general public online, and we discuss implications for the process of democratization of scientific knowledge.

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