Experts’ bounded engagement with publics: An Interview-Based Study of Online Nutrition and Vaccination Outreach

Author: Aviv Sharon – Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel


  • Ayelet Baram-Tsabari – Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel

Social media allow experts to form communities and engage in direct dialogue with publics, which can promote mutual understanding between sciences and publics. Moreover, it has been argued that the number and strength of the connections between experts and other stakeholders within a community can shape the community’s engagement with science. However, little is known about experts’ participation in online communities, or effective ways to prepare them for public engagement in communities. Here, we explored these issues with experts who voluntarily engage with publics on social media, to understand their public engagement practices. Stimulated recall interviews were conducted with 20 experts who participate in question-and-answer (Q&A) Facebook groups dedicated to vaccines and nutrition and analyzed using a naturalistic, qualitative approach. The findings suggest that experts employ diverse considerations in their outreach, partly to establish epistemic trustworthiness. These can be grouped into three goals and two constraints: countering misinformation, establishing competence and establishing benevolence while maintaining integrity and clarity. These goals and constraints are sometimes in conflict, and their relative importance may vary depending on the context: for example, on the vaccine group, experts tended to put forward features such as their competence and benevolence, whereas in less-controversial contexts, such as nutrition, this goal was less prominent. Empathic failure and burnout both emerged as factors that impair establishing benevolence. Thus, while the scholarly literature points to an untapped potential for scientists’ outreach via social media, our findings underscore structural, affective and practical constraints on this outreach. After the term “bounded understanding of science” coined by Bromme & Goldman (2014) we propose the term “bounded engagement” with publics to describe the ways experts negotiate these conflicting goals and constraints in their public communication practices. Future work could incorporate these insights into the design of science communication training.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Technology