Computational social science: the pros and cons of big data and digital research techniques in science communication research


“Automated data mining, social network analysis applied to the web, computational models used to understand how people interact, augmented reality, geospatial analysis, etc.”. The list of advanced computer tools used in social science to observe and better understand society is constantly growing. As Nico Pitrelli affirms, in his introduction to JCOM’s latest commentary, “science communication is part of the list of disciplines affected by the emergence of digital methods.” Along with him, a group of six invited authors contributes to explore some of the opportunities and limitations of the use of digital approaches in the research on science communication.

For example, in his analysis of digital communication strategies implemented for the anti-vaccination documentary Vaxxed, Davide Bennato attempts to illustrate how “science communication is changing as social media strategies are being introduced in the process of shaping public opinion.” Similarly, Federico Neresini underlines how digital techniques represent a great opportunity to innovate social research focused on science and technology contents published by newspapers. Yurij Castelfranchi focuses on patterns and statistical correlations which emerge from computational analysis of texts. Stuart Allan and Joanna Redden examine "certain guiding tenets of science journalism in the era of big data by focusing on its engagement with citizen science", reflecting on "potential risks associated with data quality, access dynamics, the difficulty investigating algorithms, and concerns about certain constraints impacting on transparency and accountability." Finally, Cristina Rigutto explains how a "cross-media approach together with digital multimedia tools can be used to develop a clear and engaging narrative to communicate complex scientific topics", although co-creation on the web can also lead to the decontextualisazion of such visul produts, and therefore misinterpretation.