Author: Zheng Yang – The University of Sheffield, United Kingdom

The label “Citizen Scientists” refers to citizens who initiatively take the societal responsibility originally belonging to scientists, such as producing scientific knowledge, communicating scientific knowledge, participating in scientific policy making. Previous attention to citizen scientists has mostly focused on the process of production of scientific knowledge based on citizen science projects. However, in the process of science communication, there is also a group of citizen scientists. This study investigates citizen scientists in the Chinese knowledge-sharing network Zhihu, the biggest Chinese online knowledge-sharing platform. The methods of discourse analysis and social network analysis are used in this study to analyze the behavioral and discourse characteristics of the citizen scientist group in such online knowledge-sharing network. Research findings show that more than 40% of the answers about Genetically Modified food on Zhihu with the most likes were provided by citizen scientists. And they have tried to challenge the absolute discourse authority of scientists via deconstructing this scientific topic from various perspectives, such as politics, economy, entertainment, daily experience and so on. Meanwhile, the answers provided by citizen scientists on Zhihu tend to use a series of discourse techniques to narrow the distance between themselves and the audience, which is different from the scientists’ answers which tend to establish a discourse boundary between scientists and the public as audience on Zhihu. Based on this, the discourse ecology of online science communication is no longer the one-way linear model that scientists as communicators, the public as audience, but a plural-communicator system.

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Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Transformation