Reddit for science communication (UPDATE: now with a link!)

If you’ve dabbled in science communication you’ve likely come across the difference between communicating AT people and communicating WITH people. Or maybe you haven’t. After all, science has historically largely subscribed to the deficit model of teaching: the “general public” is a bunch of people who are empty vessels into which we should pour in knowledge. Want to do science communication? Give a public talk! Write an article for a popular science magazine or for a newspaper! Get interviewed on radio or TV!

These things are all good. I won’t say they aren’t. Science communication can comprise many different methods. But these are all examples of communicating AT people. It’s a one-way street. It’s quite comfortable for the scientist. And it’s not clear that it’s particularly effective. I think that if we as scientists really want to engage the public, we need to start talking WITH people. And this is a lot less comfortable for us.

So in keeping with my taste for things that make me uncomfortable, I’ve recruited a couple colleagues and we’re going to do a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Thursday (tommorow!) at 1pm Eastern.

UPDATE: Here’s the link to our Reddit AMA!


What is Reddit? Apparently, it’s a well-known online place where people post links, comment, and have conversations. I just joined it. I’m obviously late to the party. But there are a LOT of non-scientists on Reddit who are really interested in science. So it’s a good place to start having these conversations.

An AMA is a particular type of Reddit discussion in a Q&A format, where someone (or a handful of people) answer questions on, well, anything. Many famous people have done AMAs, including celebrities, politicians, sports stars, musicians, etc. We are doing our AMA in a subreddit (a section of Reddit) called science which is subscribed to by millions of people. Importantly, the science subreddit is carefully moderated to suppress anti-science comments. Since I work on climate change research, this is a particularly nice feature. How it works is that starting at 8 am Eastern, people (including you!) can post questions for me and my colleagues to answer. Then at 1 pm, we will start answering them. People will hopefully keep posting questions and follow-ups to our answers. And we will have something like a discussion.

So on Thursday, come on over, ask us a question (about anything!), or just lurk and see what’s going on.

Permanent link to this article: http://ecologybits.com/index.php/2016/03/30/reddit-for-science-communication/


  1. Jeremy Fox

    This is a great idea, Margaret. You’re right that there are massive numbers of people on Reddit. For instance, every time somebody on Reddit links to a Dynamic Ecology post, we get a huge burst of traffic (many hundreds of views), bigger than we ever get from Twitter or Facebook.

    Curious how you arranged it. Did you just contact someone associated with the relevant subreddit and offer to do it?

    Re: talking with people vs. at them, as you say, there’s a place for both. Many people *like* and *want* to be talked at–that’s why they listen to the radio, attend public lectures, buy popular science books, watch science documentaries, etc. So I don’t think you have to subscribe to the “deficit model” to see those things as worthwhile. As for the relative effectiveness of talking with people vs. at them, well, I guess I’d want to see “effectiveness” defined and measured. One might talk with, or at, different sorts of people about science for all sorts of reasons and with all sorts of goals…

    1. Margaret Kosmala

      “One might talk with, or at, different sorts of people about science for all sorts of reasons and with all sorts of goals…”

      Totally agree. I have a longer post ruminating about this, but I didn’t want to put it in this one.

      “Curious how you arranged it. Did you just contact someone associated with the relevant subreddit and offer to do it?”

      It’s even easier than that. You go to reddit.com/r/science, scroll down and click the orange “Reddit Science AMA Submission Guide”, and then follow the instructions. tl;dr: write out a title, a headline, and a summary; pick a date from the calendar and send a calendar invite to the science reddit email address with your text. Ta da, you’re on the calendar. (And if you do it wrong, like I did the first time, they get in touch with you pretty quickly and tell you what to fix so it goes on right.) After that, all you have to do is log on at the right time and answer questions!

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