Accepted Papers:

How do climate scientists use social media? Collusion and collision of personal, professional and epistemic contexts  


Warren Pearce (University of Sheffield)

Paper Short Abstract:

Climate scientists are increasingly visible on social media, drawing on personal, professional and epistemic contexts to communicate. This paper illuminates these contexts through innovative interviews, informing our understanding of climate science, climate politics and social media platforms.

Paper long abstract:

The 'acute controversy' of Climategate provided an impetus for climate scientists to more publicly explain their practices through social media (Hulme, 2013). However, this online environment provides new communicative challenges. Social media platforms are sites of 'context collapse' (Marwick and boyd, 2011). Platform architecture facilitates both intentional collusion of contexts (e.g. as a means of maintaining weak ties across broad networks) or unintentional collision of contexts (e.g. through challenges to privacy management) (Davis and Jurgenson, 2014). Climate scientists' increasing use of social media has given rise to disagreements regarding the social context of climate science, and the extent to which these should be colluded or kept apart (Edwards, 2013; Schmidt, 2015; Pielke Jr., 2018).

In short, the entrance of climate scientists into social media provides rich potential for investigating the shifting social contexts of both climate scientists and climate science. Yet research into social media climate change communication has largely been restricted to big data textual analysis that reveals little about these substantial issues. This paper addresses this gap, presenting findings from the first set of interviews undertaken with climate scientists about their social media usage. It focuses on three different types of contexts which inform climate scientists' social media communications: personal (e.g. values), organisational (e.g. employers' policy) and epistemic (e.g. the relative value attached to knowledge validation through traditional journal peer review and post-publication peer review online). Findings inform knowledge on i) social context for climate debates and ii) theories of social media platforms.

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