Science on YouTube – What do people find when they are searching for climate science and climate manipulation?

Author: Joachim Allgaier

Traditionally journalistic mass media and compulsory and informal science education were the main sources of citizens’ knowledge about science, technology and medicine. The availability of new online media has changed the media and information infrastructure. The use of digital and social media for scientific practice and science communication and its impact on public perceptions of and citizens’ knowledge about science, technology and medicine still need to be examined.

From the point of view of scientific institutions the problem with social online media is that virtually everybody can post content there. There are no gatekeepers and hence no quality control is taking place. Social media websites must also be understood as social communities where conspiracies, false and potentially harmful and inaccurate information on scientific topics can be disseminated. However, they can also be powerful tools for disseminating useful and correct scientific information and to engage and involve citizens with and in scientific research.

The research presented here is particularly interested in the role of online video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube, for the public communication of science. In many countries YouTube is the second most popular search engine after Google. Many citizens do use it as a source of information about issues concerning science, technology and medicine.

In the presentation results from an empirical pilot study on climate science and climate manipulation on YouTube will be presented. The results indicate that YouTube can be a very valuable tool for informing citizens about science for some key issues. However, users of YouTube are also confronted with conspiracy theories and erroneous and misleading information that strongly deviates from scientific consensus views. Hence, the public communication and discussion of science via YouTube offers new opportunities but also faces serious and difficult challenges that should be addressed by combining science communication and (social) media research.