Societal Impact and Social Media (SSHRC)

What is the nature and extent of societal impact of research that we can observe through the public’s engagement on social media?

Are the Public’s Concerns about Diabetes Addressed in the Research Literature?

Fereshteh Didegah, Zahra Ghasseminik, and Juan Pablo Alperin

Diabetes is a growing public health problem, with more than 400 million people affected worldwide. As rates continue to rise throughout the population, more and more researchers are turning their attention toward the disease. Yet despite these efforts, surprisingly little is known about the impact of their research on the general public. Do the interests of today’s scholars reflect the actual concerns of the people living with diabetes? Are their findings connecting with those who stand to benefit from them?

This study aims to uncover the areas of public interest and needs, as seen in online platforms, and their relationship to the published research. Using topic modeling, we investigate to what extent the language used on a popular diabetes forum aligns with the language used in published research articles and on Wikipedia pages about diabetes. By analyzing the degree of alignment—or misalignment—between scholarly research interests and public discussions, we aim to uncover the key understudied areas that are of high interest to the public, providing the scientific community and health policy makers with a better understanding of the issues that truly matter to those affected by the disease.

Identifying Diffusion Patterns of Research Articles on Twitter

Juan Pablo Alperin, Stefanie Haustein

How does knowledge spread in the age of social media? What can these platforms tell us about the reach of scholarship among members of the general public?  

In the current study, we are examining dissemination patterns of academic research papers on Twitter—one of the most popular platforms for sharing scholarly outputs with the public. To do so, we explore a new method that involves identifying open access articles that are frequently shared, then analyzing the follower network of users who tweeted each article. 

By understanding how knowledge diffuses on this platform, we aim to start a wider dialogue among Public Understanding of Science researchers about the impact of scholarly work among members of the general public. Our hope is that the proposed approach and indicators can serve those interested in the public understanding of science, science communication, or research evaluation to identify when research diffuses beyond insular communities. 

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