Authors:Noriko Hara (Indiana University)
Emma Frieh (Indiana University - Bloomington)
Paper short abstract:
On Web 2.0 platforms, both experts and laypeople contribute to debates on contentious scientific topics, including vaccination. We content analyzed source citations users presented when making knowledge claims in three online communities. Our results reveal an emerging form of science communication.
Paper long abstract:
When ordinary citizens look for a concise explanation of a scientific issue, the great majority begin with a search of the World Wide Web. Indeed, Web 2.0 applications have made it easier for laypeople to participate in the co-production of knowledge. As such, the practice of producing scientific knowledge is no longer the sole province of experts. Recently, the boundary work (Gieryn, 1983) differentiating experts from non-experts has been challenged (e.g., Konig, 2013). These challenges are evident when considering scientific knowledge that is especially contentious, e.g., the human role in climate change and the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Traditionally, scientific knowledge passed from the scientist to the layperson in a linear fashion, via professional intermediaries like journalists and government agencies. However, more and more, these types of contentious topics are being debated and negotiated on Web 2.0 platforms in which experts and laypeople are both free to contribute (Liang, et al., 2014; Setala & Valiverronen, 2014). We content analyzed data from three online communities that engage in knowledge construction and collaboration about the MMR vaccination. We chose this case since the topic is publicly perceived as controversial knowledge because of claims made and spread by a vocal minority, who argue that the MMR vaccine links autism. We examined which sources both pro- and anti-vaccination knowledge co-producers cite when making knowledge claims. The results of the study shed light on a new form of science communication and the process of knowledge co-production online.