How open access extends the conversation around climate change in the era of fake news

The Source
By: undefined, Mon Oct 21 2019

We are exploring the impact OA has around the globe by speaking to researchers from Argentina, Australia, Germany, Japan and the United States.

We spoke with Dr. Alexander Petersen, Assistant Professor in the Management of Complex Systems department at the University of California Merced, about his recent study – and why he chose to publish his results in an open access (OA) journal. How do “climate change contrarians” compete for authority with scientists in the attention economy?

“We found that climate change contrarians – who include a whole range of individuals from politicians with vested interests taking an outright stance against the climate change consensus to more legitimate academic sceptics – obtain disproportionately high media visibility, given their relatively low expertise in the field,” says Alexander.

His team of researchers showed this phenomenon is related to journalistic norms of balancing sources around contentious issues combined with the proliferation of new media sources.

“Our study objectively demonstrates that it doesn’t take much – if any – authority on climate change to nevertheless become an influential climate sceptic,” he says.

Alexander chose to publish these results in an open access journal because of the potential for reaching broad audiences.

“Any scientist or organization interested in how social systems are co-evolving with socio-technical information systems could probably find interest in this kind of work,” Alexander explains. “So that’s basically everybody – as we’re all inextricably embedded in a vast web of information systems that have scaled up the production and consumption of such information to levels that challenge traditional quality and veracity safeguards.”

Democratizing research

The article’s high Altmetric score demonstrates how widely it reached – with more than 2,590 tweets and coverage in 19 blogs and 34 news stories. The twitter demographics shows engagement with the research in countries across far-flung corners of the globe.

“For example, based on this data we can readily see that people have been tweeting about the article in places with traditionally less engagement, like Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia,” says Alexander. “So that’s one way that open access can really help democratize the dissemination and consumption of science.”

Alexander has been publishing articles in open access journals for around a decade. But he is aware that the fees can prove a barrier for many researchers – and where they are based is a major factor.

“I think there should be more financial needs-based exceptions for researchers in countries where there is no national funding system to support these costs,” he says. “Otherwise it’s an enormous burden that differentiates who can and can’t take advantage of the benefits of open access.”

Reaching the right audiences

Alexander can see that the way that scientists are searching across the deluge of published research is changing.

“Journals are becoming less important and it’s now more about disseminating articles through various kinds of socio-technical systems like Twitter or things like Mendeley,” he explains. “But it really depends on the topic and who might conceivably be interested in it.”

Given the sheer numbers of articles published every week, he suggests that researchers need to think more strategically about how to get their research in front of their desired audiences.

“The paywall that otherwise exists could make a significant difference to both the article’s initial and long-term visibility,” Alexander says.

His advice to others who are considering the best route to take for publishing their research is that “if your target audience is broad and difficult to define, it might make sense to make the article open access so that it can be readily shared through various electronic-only avenues.”

“I believe this is especially the case if the work is internationally relevant because there are many academic, public and private institutions that can’t otherwise afford to subscribe to the journals,” Alexander adds.

Discover more stories of researchers who have published open access. 


Dr. Alexander Petersen is an Assistant Professor at the University of California Merced, where he is a cross-disciplinary scientist applying concepts and methods from complex systems, statistical physics, and management science to study how innovators innovate, and how careers co-evolve in large multiscale socio-economic systems.

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