PhD project

There is persistent pressure on science to be more open. But 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 no longer determine the public’s understanding of science. Instead, new and different types of communication channels 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 explore 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.

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 in the anti-vaccination movement’s online communication networks.

The consequence 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.

Candidate / Supervisor