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New potentials in the communication of open science with non-scientific publics: The case of the anti-vaccination movement

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Abstract

There is persistent pressure on science to be more open. But for all the fervour, scant attention has been paid to the full gamut of the potentials of openness, both positive and negative. These potentials are, in many cases, linked to open access to the formal communications of science made possible by digitisation, the internet and developments in information and communication technologies. A consequence of direct access to the formal communications of science is that traditional channels of communication are no longer the gatekeepers to the public’s understanding of science. Instead, new and different types of channels for the communication of science are proliferating in a society that is increasingly online and networked, and it is therefore reasonable to expect attentive non-scientific publics to access the communications of science. If this is the case, then open science introduces new trajectories in its communication that are best understood with reference to flows of information in the communication networks that define the network society. It is the direct access to the communications of open science by non-scientists that this thesis examines in order to answer the question ‘What are the potentials of open science in the communication of science?’. It does so by investigating the presence of two products of science – open research data and open access journal articles – in the online communications of a specific non-scientific community: the anti-vaccination movement. Specifically, it determines (1) whether the product is being accessed by the anti-vaccination movement as indicated by references in three online spheres (Twitter, Facebook and the web); (2) whether the product is being used by the anti-vaccination movement as indicated by the movement’s level of engagement in each online sphere; and (3) whether there are intermediaries in the online communication networks of the anti-vaccination movement as indicated by mapping the movement’s online communication networks centred around the products of open science. Findings show that the anti-vaccination movement is not accessing open research data. In the case of open access journal articles, findings show that online social networks allow the anti-vaccination movement to amplify its minority position by being selective in terms of the vaccine science it feeds into its online communication networks, and by being highly active without engaging closely with the scientific knowledge at its disposal. In part, the amplification was found to be attributable to the presence of different types and a disproportionate number of intermediaries. The consequences of the anti-vaccination movement’s use of open access journal articles in its online communications is the production and amplification of uncertainty around the safety of vaccinations. Science communicators will need to develop new strategies to counter the potentially detrimental health outcomes of increases in uncertainty and vaccine refusal in the broader population. This first foray into the potentials of open science shows that the development of such communication strategies will require further research to understand better how attention, influence and power function in a society increasingly defined by its global communication networks.
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... The achievement of complete basic immunization must pass various challenges, one of which is the public's trust in the immunization program. Schalkwyk (2019)explained that most of the antivaccine group movement use social media to spread misleading information about vaccines to strengthen the hesitancy of others in giving vaccines to their children (Schalkwyk, 2019). Social media is chosen because it is the only media currently used by everyone to interact, search for information, and to become part of a community (Joubert, 2019). ...
... The achievement of complete basic immunization must pass various challenges, one of which is the public's trust in the immunization program. Schalkwyk (2019)explained that most of the antivaccine group movement use social media to spread misleading information about vaccines to strengthen the hesitancy of others in giving vaccines to their children (Schalkwyk, 2019). Social media is chosen because it is the only media currently used by everyone to interact, search for information, and to become part of a community (Joubert, 2019). ...
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... Table 4 also shows that articles mentioned fall into two broad groups: one group of 5 articles (1.1, 1.5, 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5) in which the mentions by anti-vaccination accounts was found to be between 11% and 18% relative to all unique accounts mentioning the article on Twitter, and a second group of 5 articles (1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.1 and 2.2) in which fewer than 2% of mentions originated from anti-vaccination accounts. Table 5 shows that based on textual analysis of article titles and abstracts (Van Schalkwyk, 2019), there is a relationship between the proportion of anti-vaccination accounts mentioning an article and the indicative stance of the article vis-à-vis vaccination. Unsurprisingly, those articles whose titles and findings are clearly supportive of an anti-vaccination stance are more likely to be mentioned by the anti-vaccination movement than those articles that provide no support or contradict an anti-vaccination stance. ...
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