Clickbait or conspiracy? How Twitter users address the epistemic uncertainty of a controversial preprint

Authors : Mareike Bauer, Maximilian Heimstädt, Carlos Franzreb, Sonja Schimmler

Many scientists share preprints on social media platforms to gain attention from academic peers, policy-makers, and journalists. In this study we shed light on an unintended but highly consequential effect of sharing preprints: Their contribution to conspiracy theories. Although the scientific community might quickly dismiss a preprint as insubstantial and ‘clickbaity’, its uncertain epistemic status nevertheless allows conspiracy theorists to mobilize the text as scientific support for their own narratives.

To better understand the epistemic politics of preprints on social media platforms, we studied the case of a biomedical preprint, which was shared widely and discussed controversially on Twitter in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Using a combination of social network analysis and qualitative content analysis, we compared the structures of engagement with the preprint and the discursive practices of scientists and conspiracy theorists.

We found that despite substantial engagement, scientists were unable to dampen the conspiracy theorists’ enthusiasm for the preprint. We further found that members from both groups not only tried to reduce the preprint’s epistemic uncertainty but sometimes deliberately maintained it.

The maintenance of epistemic uncertainty helped conspiracy theorists to reinforce their group’s identity as skeptics and allowed scientists to express concerns with the state of their profession.

Our study contributes to research on the intricate relations between scientific knowledge and conspiracy theories online, as well as the role of social media platforms for new genres of scholarly communication.

URL : Clickbait or conspiracy? How Twitter users address the epistemic uncertainty of a controversial preprint


The odd couple: contrasting openness in innovation and science

Authors : Maximilian Heimstädt, Sascha Friesike

Over the last few decades, two domains have undergone seemingly similar transformations: Closed innovation turned into open innovation, closed science into open science. In this essay we engage critically with recent calls for a close coupling of the two domains based on their apparent commonality: openness.

Comparing the historically-specific ways in which openness has been defined and mobilised, we find substantial differences between open innovation and open science. While openness in innovation was developed as an analytic concept and redefined quite flexibly over time, openness in science was created as a programmatic concept and its initial definition has been preserved rather rigidly.

Contrasting openness in innovation and science helps anticipate some of the unintended consequences that a close coupling of these domains might yield. A close coupling might alienate advocates for change within the academic community, marginalise maintenance-oriented collaborations between science and practice, and increase the dependence of science on profit-oriented platforms.

Reflecting upon these unintended consequences can help policy-makers and researchers to fine-tune their concepts for new forms of engagement across the science-practice divide.

URL : The odd couple: contrasting openness in innovation and science