How scientists are profiting from Reddit


A hallway at Reddit's office in New York, with a large Reddit logo on the white wall

Reddit’s many ‘subreddit’ communities provide channels for discussing science and are of curiosity to social-media students.Credit score: Amy Lombard/New York Occasions/Redux/eyevine

It has been nearly 18 months since Elon Musk bought Twitter, now often called X. Because the tech mogul took possession, in October 2022, the variety of every day lively customers of the platform’s cell app has fallen by round 15%, and in April 2023 the corporate reduce its workforce by 80%. Hundreds of scientists are decreasing the time they spend on the platform (Nature 613, 19–21; 2023). Some have gravitated in the direction of newer social-media alternate options, comparable to Mastodon and Bluesky. However others are discovering a house on a system that pre-dates Twitter: Reddit.

The positioning was based in 2005, initially as one all-encompassing discussion board the place customers (often called redditors) might put up content material comparable to hyperlinks, texts, photographs and movies. Nameless consumer upvote (or downvote) and touch upon one another’s content material, deciding on what performs nicely sufficient to succeed in others’ feeds.

At the moment, Reddit is split into communities, referred to as subreddits, every with volunteer moderators who evaluate content material. These subreddits have names that start with ‘r/’ and are dedicated to all kinds of topics, comparable to literature, solo journey and Washington DC. Reddit is usually irreverent: r/bushes is for individuals to share content material about marijuana, whereas r/marijuanaenthusiasts is the place to have a look at bushes. It’s generally harmful — some communities have amplified conspiracy theories. And there are subreddits dedicated to science, starting from the broad r/science to extra particular ones, comparable to r/bacteriophages.

As of December 2023, in line with Reddit’s personal statistics, the location had 73 million every day lively customers, greater than 100,000 lively communities and had amassed over 16 billion posts and feedback. In February 2024, it was the eighth most visited web site on the earth, forward of each Amazon and TikTok (see And on 20 March, the corporate floated on the New York Inventory Trade, the place it was initially valued at US$6.4 billion. With most researchers now needing to pay to obtain helpful quantities of information on X, Reddit is one other choice to survey the Web hivemind. Though adjustments made final 12 months threaten researchers’ potential to drag information as simply as they as soon as did, Reddit says entry to its information continues to be free for non-commercial researchers and teachers.

“Because the social-media panorama began altering, we actually began desirous about the opposite areas apart from Twitter that persons are utilizing,” says Nicholas Proferes, a social media researcher at Arizona State College’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in Phoenix, who co-authored critiques on using Reddit for analysis1,2. Right here, Nature reviews on how Reddit is offering scientists with continued avenues for connecting with different researchers, gathering information and fascinating with the general public.

Networking and collaboration

Yvette Cendes’s journey on Reddit started in 2014. Cendes, who’s at the moment a postdoctoral scholar on the Harvard–Smithsonian Middle for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, discovered herself with some downtime throughout her PhD research in astronomy, and began poking round on the platform. She got here throughout a thread during which customers have been panicking over how imminent γ-ray bursts from supernovae have been going to wreak havoc and kill individuals — one thing that she knew to be unfaithful. She resolved to leap into the feedback and clear issues up, and this was the beginning of her science-communication profession.

Since then, Cendes has made a reputation for herself on Reddit and even created her personal subreddit, with almost 17,000 members. “It’s an excellent approach to get good data on the market,” she says.

Scientists additionally use Reddit to get suggestions and methods from different scientists. The r/biotech subreddit options information about biotechnology improvements and profession recommendation; r/datascience is a neighborhood particularly for data-science professionals. There’s even a subreddit dedicated to electron microscopy, from which customers can search steering on the expertise.

Portrait of of Yvette Cendes

Yvette Cendes discusses astronomy as a science and a profession on Reddit.Credit score: Floris Looijesteijn

Not everyone seems to be as forthcoming with their names and credentials on Reddit, which might make networking a bit tougher than on different websites, says Cendes. However the pseudoanonymity can be helpful. Teams comparable to r/labrats provide protected areas for scientists to debate their analysis or dilemmas with others of comparable backgrounds (and these teams are generally utilized by science journalists on the lookout for article concepts). The anonymity offers some safety for individuals to put up with out concern of retaliation, and to hunt counsel. In a single dialogue, for example, a consumer laments how their principal investigator printed a paper primarily based on their analysis with out giving credit score, and considers hiring authorized assist.

Reddit can be an excellent jumping-off level for early-career scientists or these attempting to pivot between specialties. Kevin Ortiz Ceballos, a graduate pupil at Harvard College’s Division of Astronomy, occurred upon one in every of Cendes’ posts about methods to develop into an astronomer again when he was in secondary faculty. He credit it with serving to him to change from literature to physics and ultimately astrophysics. Partaking in conversations about skilled astronomy earlier than getting into the sphere himself was an enormous asset.

“The truth that Yvette made it so accessible gave me the instruments I wanted to take the mandatory steps to check and put together what I wanted to get into astronomy grad faculty,” he says. The 2 have since linked in particular person, and even collaborated on a venture that was just lately submitted for publication.

With all of its subspaces, Reddit might be overwhelming at first. Cendes encourages potential customers to take it slowly, discover the communities they’re most serious about and go from there — placing key phrases within the search perform and browsing the completely different subreddits that come up.

Analysis and evaluation

The knowledge embedded in posts and feedback from Reddit’s hundreds of thousands of customers can be a treasure trove for researchers learning on-line behaviours. In 2022, NASA collaborated with grasp’s college students on the College of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, to make use of Reddit information to find landslides (see The staff scraped the location for mentions of ‘landslide’, earlier than analysing and validating related mentions so as to add to the NASA landslides database. Based on the staff, this verification was wanted as a result of a Reddit put up in regards to the track ‘Landslide’ by the rock band Fleetwood Mac may “give us perception in regards to the adjustments and challenges of life, nevertheless it doesn’t do a lot for international catastrophe detection”.

A 2021 evaluate2 in Social Media + Society, co-authored by Proferes, chronicled 727 manuscripts printed between 2010 and 2020, that made use of Reddit information. These research spanned all kinds of disciplines — from pc science to drugs to social science.

One cause that Reddit is ripe for analysis is that there are few bureaucratic hurdles to clear in contrast with what’s required for different research involving human beings. “It’s a publicly accessible net discussion board within the US and so isn’t thought of to be human-subjects analysis,” says Proferes. Institutional evaluate boards view Reddit analysis as “exempt from moral evaluate”, he says.

Nonetheless, Proferes and his co-authors emphasize the necessity for intentionality and sensitivity when amassing information from the location. Take into account a subreddit comparable to r/opiates. Information on substance use are sometimes tough to obtain from in-person interviews or different social science strategies, however due to Reddit’s anonymity, persons are extra open to sharing such data on the platform. Nonetheless, utilizing the subreddit for analysis may very well be seen as invasive by a neighborhood that considers itself a semi-private nameless assist community. Sure communities on Reddit are additionally cautious of scientific researchers.

The 2024 evaluate co-authored by Proferes1 lists a few of these issues and suggests steps comparable to obfuscating usernames in printed work and collaborating with moderators.

“Academia and information populations have a really sore historical past of, frankly, teachers coming in and simply taking,” says Proferes. The web neighborhood “isn’t getting any profit in any way. It is extremely exploitative. There’s some actual historic causes, too, why of us could also be extremely suspicious or doubtful about researchers coming in, even in these digital areas.”

Portrait of Sarah Gilbert

Analysis findings derived from Reddit posts needs to be shared with customers, says Sarah Gilbert.Credit score: Steven Shea

“It’s very easy if you’re working with these giant information units to simply consider the info factors in them as literal information,” says Sarah Gilbert, analysis director of the Residents and Know-how Lab at Cornell College in Ithaca, New York, and a co-author of the evaluate. “Spending time in the neighborhood and studying the norms and truly studying it, it turns that information into individuals. It provides a greater sense of who’s going to be included, extra like human-subject analysis.”

Gilbert additionally recommends sharing no matter printed analysis comes out of trawling by means of Reddit information with those that supplied the knowledge. “Hopefully what you learnt is useful to the neighborhood to allow them to see information is used for one thing,” she says.

Connecting with non-scientists

Reddit generally is a method for scientists to make use of their experience to reply any questions most people might need, says Cendes. She is a daily on r/house, educating customers about matters such because the James Webb Area Telescope.

Kelly Zimmerman, a PhD candidate in ecology at Montclair State College in New Jersey, has linked with and educated different customers on Reddit. When she began on the platform about 12 years in the past, she principally used it to search out journal articles of curiosity on r/ecology and r/biology. However, like Cendes, she seen how curious customers have been about scientific matters that have been in her space of experience, and he or she now usually engages in discussions on subreddits comparable to r/whatisthisbug.

Though she beforehand used X, Zimmerman thinks that Reddit offers a extra participating expertise. “I felt like I used to be simply speaking right into a void — there wasn’t plenty of response on Twitter,” she says.

A technique for scientists to attempt their hand at science communication on Reddit is thru ‘ask me something’ (AMA) classes, during which researchers reply customers’ questions in their very own time. Moderators pull in verified researchers to offer responses — even famend theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking participated. (To schedule an AMA with r/askscience, you may e-mail the moderators.)

With each AMAs and normal dialogue boards, there’s an artwork to creating positive that data is communicated successfully and succinctly. “We’re attempting to maintain it as scientific as potential, however in layman’s phrases, in order that non-scientists can perceive cutting-edge science that’s popping out proper now,” says Zimmerman, who additionally moderates some science subreddits.

Nathan Allen, an artificial chemist primarily based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and a former moderator at r/science, likens it to writing a persuasive e-mail. “On Reddit, you’ve got to persuade most people that this has some normal curiosity to them, and also you’ve bought to develop it and construct the message and ensure individuals keep on level,” he says. “You get plenty of observe writing concise explanations of difficult issues that individuals who aren’t essentially scientists are in a position to digest and perceive.”

When utilizing Reddit in any capability, Zimmerman encourages scientists to ensure to learn the principles earlier than making a put up or remark, and to thoughts their manners, simply as they’d on some other social-media platform. “Be well mannered,” she says. “Simply since you’re an nameless username doesn’t imply you ought to be impolite to different individuals.”

Jennifer Cole, a biologist and anthropologist at Royal Holloway College of London, notes that utilizing Reddit for scientific communication isn’t with out its issues. Moderators do plenty of work behind the scenes and sometimes face a torrent of abuse for attempting to take care of requirements, says Cole. And though utilizing individuals’s actual names will help with credibility, it may additionally make teachers and consultants targets for harassment and abuse. Though the location doesn’t present assist for customers who expertise abuse, a spokesperson for Reddit famous that the platform has insurance policies to ban each harassment and the sharing of private or confidential data, and that these insurance policies are enforced by the inner security groups.

It can be used to unfold falsehoods. R/conspiracy has repeatedly posted misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines. Local weather deniers are additionally current on the platform, though a decade in the past the science discussion board particularly banned local weather change deniers. Requested about misinformation, the Reddit spokesperson stated that as a result of Reddit is ruled by upvotes and downvotes, high quality and correct data are inclined to rise to the highest.

Interviewees agree that Reddit is at its core a social media platform, and social media has the potential to be poisonous. However when scientists interact, there’s additionally plenty of nice scientific communication and debunking of misinformation. “Don’t be afraid to speak to the individuals,” Zimmerman says. These “who aren’t scientists are simply as curious as we’re. There’s nothing particular about being a scientist. We’re like everyone else, and generally of us neglect that.”


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