טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
Ph.D Thesis
Ph.D StudentSharon Aviv Jonathan
SubjectAn Outsiders' View and an Insiders' View:
Expressions of Science Literacy on Online Q&A
Platforms
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisor Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Abstract

For decades, educational systems have attempted to provide all students with science literacy. This persistent challenge is compounded in modern societies, in which institutional trust is fragile and misinformation spreads quickly. To deepen the understanding of this challenge, this PhD dissertation draws upon conceptualizations of science literacy as the ability of "outsiders" (laypeople) to adaptively interact with "insider" sources of scientific expertise. The main goal of this dissertation is to identify and characterize these interactions in online question-and-answer (Q&A) platforms, in health contexts. The three research questions relate to this interaction:

1. The Outsiders' View: What questions are asked about vaccines in online Q&A platforms, and from whom? What variables predict the perceived trustworthiness of answers?

2. The Insiders' View: What considerations guide experts' information sharing in online communities?

3. Looking Forward: Which components of science literacy are most pertinent to identifying misinformation in everyday life?

These questions are explored using a variety of methodologies, including content analysis, interviews and theoretical inquiry.

Firstly, I characterize 4,910 questions "outsiders" ask about vaccines on two online Q&A platforms, and the extent they are explicitly directed at experts and peers, using quantitative content analysis. Findings indicate that while different question topics are asked on different platforms, most questions on both platforms do not explicitly solicit answers based on professional expertise or parents' experience.

Secondly, I examine outsiders' assessment of 2,583 answers provided on Q&A platforms, through a content analysis and an online experiment. Both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine answers are proportionately represented among "best answers" on Yahoo! Answers. However, answers written by health professionals, are over twice more likely to be chosen as the "best answer," suggesting that in this context, "outsiders" value expertise. External raters determine rate pro-vaccine answers more favorably, corresponding with their own stances towards vaccines.

Thirdly, I characterize the considerations experts use when writing answers in online Q&A platforms, using twenty stimulated recall interviews. These considerations are grouped into three goals and two constraints: countering misinformation, establishing benevolence and establishing competence while maintaining integrity and clarity. The findings suggest that experts' outreach on Q&A platforms is bounded by legal and social constraints.

Fourthly, I conduct a theoretical analysis of science literacy to understand how it can help mitigate the ill effects of misinformation. I argue that four of the seven components in the National Academies framework are most likely to help individuals identify misinformation in everyday life: (1) Understanding of scientific practices; (2) Identifying and judging appropriate scientific expertise, (3) Epistemic knowledge, and (4) Dispositions and habits of mind, e.g., inquisitiveness and open-mindedness. I further argue that being a "competent outsider" requires reliably identifying misinformation in everyday life requires open-mindedness. Hence, I propose some ways to promote open-mindedness in the science classroom.

Taken together, this Ph.D. dissertation elaborates upon expressions of science literacy in everyday life with respect to online environments and misinformation. It offers ways to promote science literacy, drawing on science education and science communication, while feeding back into these fields and bridging between them.