טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
M.Sc Thesis
M.Sc StudentAsakly Doris
SubjectExpressions of Scientific Literacy in the Social Media: The
Case of Fluoridation of Drinking Water in Facebook
Discussions in Hebrew
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisor Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Abstract

This study explores authentic scientific discourse in the social media from a scientific literacy perspective using the socio-scientific issue of fluoridation of drinking water.

Little is known about the authentic expressions of adults' scientific literacy in their everyday lives. A scientifically literate citizen can use scientific practices, nature of science aspects and argumentation in understanding socio-scientific issues. This thesis examines these three aspects of scientific literacy in an authentic online environment.

First, I analyzed aspects of scientific practices and nature of science in a content-driven open Facebook group and page discussing the fluoridation of drinking water. A quantitative content analysis was conducted involving 895 items, addressing socio-demographics, topics of discussion, and stances regarding water fluoridation as well as framing used to support a position. Finally, it included the use of scientific literacy features according to the NGSS operationalization - assessing scientific practices and nature of science features.

The analysis showed that the discussion was dominated by male commentators (70%), and by those opposing fluoridation ( 81 %). Items opposing fluoridation tended to use a political framework (e.g. the Minister of Health decided to halt water fluoridation), whereas items supporting fluoridation tended to use an economic framework (e.g. fluoridation costs vs. public benefits). The shared scientific literacy features expressed by the commentators were 'obtaining, evaluation and communication of information' (36%) and 'analysis and interpretation of data' (28%) both of which refer to scientific practices. Also 'science as a way of knowing' (12%), referring to nature of science, was relatively rare. Supporters of fluoridation used more scientific literacy components in their items than opponents of fluoridation. This surprising finding is important since earlier studies reported mixed findings.

Next, to characterize argumentations, I analyzed 15 Facebook discussion threads consisting of 266 items, following a news clip story about the fluoridation of drinking water. Threads were analyzed to identify emerging themes using descriptive content analysis and argumentative practices based on argumentation structure (e.g. conclusion, qualifier), reasons (e.g. personal, authority) and skills (e.g. explicit/ implicit conclusion, opposition). Items and commentator positions regarding water fluoridation were also coded. Nine themes were identified, including conspiracy theories, politics, and media. The basic 'skeletal' structure was the common argumentation structure; authority and rule-based reasons were the most frequent argumentation reasons. In addition, justification and explicit conclusion were common argumentation skills.

Whenever there was no agreement between discussants towards fluoridation, they used more high-quality argumentation structures, reasons and skills. Here, proponents were responsible for the increase in argumentation structure and reasons quality. 

These findings can inform the fields of science education and science communication about public engagement with science among social media Facebook users, and scientific literacy usage in the real world. In particular, formal and informal education practice can benefit from the findings by developing and enriching curricula, especially by increasing explicit attention to the less common features of scientific literacy. Findings provide a much-needed feedback about public engagement with science, mainly on the way the public debate, analyze, communicate and present a position about the socio-scientific issue of drinking water fluoridation.