Understanding the Use of e-Prints on Reddit and 4chan

How are scientific pre-prints being used to drive conversations on social media?


S. B. Yudhoatmojo, E. De Cristofaro, J. Blackburn (Binghamton University)

Supported by

Health Discourse Research Initiative


March 10, 2022

The dissemination and the reach of scientific knowledge have increased at a blistering pace. In this context, e-print servers have played a central role by providing scientists with a rapid and open mechanism for disseminating research without having to wait for the (lengthy) peer-review process. While helping the scientific community in several ways, e-print servers also provide scientific communicators and the general public with access to a wealth of knowledge without having to pay hefty subscription fees. Arguably, e-print servers' value has never been so evident, for better or worse, as during the COVID-19 pandemic. This motivates us to study how e-print servers are positioned within the greater Web, and how they are "used" on Web communities. Using data from Reddit (2005-2021) and 4chan's Politically Incorrect board (2016--2021), we uncover a surprisingly diverse set of communities discussing e-print papers. We find that real-world events and distinct factors influence the e-prints people are talking about. For instance, there was a sudden increase in the discussion of e-prints, corresponding to a surge in COVID-19 related research, in the first phase of the pandemic. We find a substantial difference in the conversation around e-prints and their actual content; in fact, e-prints are often being exploited to further conspiracy theories and/or extremist ideology. Overall, our work further highlights the need to quickly and effectively validate non peer-reviewed e-prints that get substantial press/social media coverage, as well as mitigate wrongful interpretations of scientific outputs.

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