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How scientists are making the most of Reddit

Although she previously used X, PhD candidate Kelly Zimmerman thinks that Reddit provides a more engaging experience

Posted in: CSAM Students, Earth & Environmental Studies, Environmental Science & Management PhD, In The Media

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One way for scientists to try their hand at science communication on Reddit is through ‘ask me anything’ (AMA) sessions, in which researchers answer users’ questions in their own time. Moderators pull in verified researchers to provide responses — even renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking participated. (To schedule an AMA with r/askscience, you can e-mail the moderators).

With both AMAs and general discussion forums, there is an art to making sure that information is communicated effectively and succinctly.

We’re trying to keep it as scientific as possible, but in layman’s terms, so that non-scientists can understand cutting-edge science that’s coming out right now

Kelly Zimmerman, who also moderates some science subreddits

Nathan Allen, a synthetic chemist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a former moderator at r/science, likens it to writing a persuasive e-mail. “On Reddit, you have got to convince the general public that this has some general interest to them, and you’ve got to develop it and build the message and make sure people stay on point,” he says. “You get a lot of practice writing concise explanations of complicated things that people who aren’t necessarily scientists are able to digest and understand.”

When using Reddit in any capacity, Zimmerman encourages scientists to make sure to read the rules before making a post or comment, and to mind their manners, just as they would on any other social-media platform. “Be polite,” she says. “Just because you’re an anonymous username doesn’t mean you should be rude to other people.”

Jennifer Cole, a biologist and anthropologist at Royal Holloway University of London, notes that using Reddit for scientific communication is not without its problems. Moderators do a lot of work behind the scenes and often face a torrent of abuse for trying to maintain standards, says Cole. And although using people’s real names can help with credibility, it can also make academics and experts targets for harassment and abuse. Although the site does not provide support for users who experience abuse, a spokesperson for Reddit noted that the platform has policies to prohibit both harassment and the sharing of personal or confidential information, and that these policies are enforced by the internal safety teams.

It can also be used to spread falsehoods. R/conspiracy has repeatedly posted misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Climate deniers are also present on the platform, although a decade ago the science forum specifically banned climate change deniers. Asked about misinformation, the Reddit spokesperson said that because Reddit is governed by upvotes and downvotes, quality and accurate information tend to rise to the top.

Interviewees agree that Reddit is at its core a social media platform, and social media has the potential to be toxic. But when scientists engage, there’s also a lot of great scientific communication and debunking of misinformation.

Don’t be afraid to talk to the people. Those who are not scientists are just as curious as we are. There’s nothing special about being a scientist. We are like everybody else, and sometimes folks forget that.

Kelly Zimmerman

Read the Full Article in Nature