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How to make the online dialogue between science and society on climate research work

How to make the online dialogue between science and society on climate research work

Professor Hannah Schmid-Petri, who holds the Chair of Science Communication at the University of Passau, has been put in charge of a new project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) that takes climate research as a case in point to study how researchers handle online input from society.

Scientists who post their views online are often subject to attacks. This has been the object of many a study. In contrast, there is only little research that has probed the strategies of dealing with such attacks and examined any precedents of successful online dialogue between science and society.

This is where the new project comes in: "UWIGO: Negotiating knowledge online: Climate research as an example of how scientists handle societal input". A team headed by Hannah Schmid-Petri, professor of Science Communication at the University of Passau, has been tasked with conducting frontier research over the next three years: It will be investigating cases involving "negotiations across limits". In other words, it will be investigating cases where knowledge in the modern scientific sense of the word is created together with social actors. The project is slated to start on 1 November. The BMBF has awarded the project a grant worth € 368,000.

Recommendations for constructive debates

"So far, we have little previous experience and hardly any 'best practices' for how best to deal with ideas, requests, demands or even attacks and criticism that come from outside," explains the Professor of Science Communication. In a bid to change this, she and her team will be using manual and automated text analysis techniques to study social media posts dropped off by climate researchers and the comments and reactions they receive. Such posts may include discussions on technologies for the energy, heating and transport transition, for example. The quantitative methods will be supplemented by qualitative interviews: selected researchers whose social media posts have been encoded will be asked in depth about their online communication behaviour and their thoughts and feelings about external reactions.

The University of Passau researchers hope the project will supply new insights into who actually uses "open science", i.e., online accessibility of science, and what obstacles these people encounter. Their question is: What has been preventing a constructive and productive dialogue online – from researcher side but also on the part of external actors? The team will use the results to derive recommendations for action and develop blueprints that show how the integrity of science can be maintained in case of crisis and conflict.

Researching change in science communication

Project researchers will have recourse to the Chair's expertise: Professor Schmid-Petri's focus is on how digitalisation is changing communication on topics like climate change. To this end, she uses manual and automated data analysis methods. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Bavarian Research Institute for Digital Transformation (bidt). At federal level, she is involved in the development of science communication in #FactoryWisskomm, the federal government's strategic discussion platform initiated by the BMBF. For her achievements in research at the interface between science communication and society she was awarded the distinction PRO MERITIS SCIENTIAE ET LITTERARUM by the Bavarian Science Ministry.

Principal Investigator(s) at the University Prof. Dr. Hannah Schmid-Petri (Lehrstuhl für Wissenschaftskommunikation)
Project period 01.11.2023 - 31.10.2026
Source of funding
BMBF - Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung
BMBF - Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung

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