The role of networks in science communication and engagement with non-expert publics



In this ongoing study, I examine associations among scientists by analyzing scholarly publication data and Internet hyperlink relationships using a social network analysis framework. Unlike other studies of collaboration, this study does not start with an extant network of scientists who share a research focus, but rather groups who are networked for purposes of public and political engagement. I have chosen as my nodes two presumed “networks” of scientists: the group of 16 scientists who authored a January 27th', 2012 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal which suggested concerns about climate change were being exaggerated, and the group of 38 scientists who authored a response piece (supporting climate change science) on February 1st.

I have chosen climate science because of its scientific complexity that is of necessity interdisciplinary, and its scrutiny by non-expert publics. Building on the theoretical foundations of social epistemology, I examine how notions of the role of shared practices in engendering trust and knowledge-sharing among expert groups can be applied when the lines between expert and non-expert are contested in high-visibility public arenas. In exploring some of those questions, this study aims to discover if a social network methodology combining co-authorship data and hyperlink data can reveal patterns of association and engagement with traditional (e.g., scholarly publications) vs. non-traditional (e.g., web sites or blog articles) methods of communication and legitimation.

This study is intended as part of a larger research trajectory examining the role of social associations in influencing credibility and information trust decisions in areas where expert and non-experts must meet and negotiate shared meanings. These findings could suggest future directions for collaborative data sharing practices as well as support theoretical work in understanding how trust and credibility are granted in networked information environments.