The role of the YouTube-engaged public in generating discussions on the science of climate change


Review article: More than entertainment: YouTube and public responses to the science of global warming and climate change

Authors: Matthew A. Shapiro, Han Woo Park

With the rapid development of information and communication technology, new media play a significant part in disseminating various information, science-related information is no exception. Besides, new media featured with two-way communion allows the net users to participate in the discussion of a hot topic or a controversial issue.  We generally have a perception that social media are powerful in terms of gathering the public opinions, but does a high participation rate in comments mean effective commutation is achieved?

The article reviewed gives insights to the abovementioned question. They picked one of the most representative social media — YouTube as the study object to examine how effective the top 10 popular videos about climate change convey messages to people and how viewers respond by analyzing the comments.

The top 10 popular videos are the 10 most-viewed videos with high comment traffic. The study adopted both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze the comments so as to sufficiently understand how YouTube users contribute to the discussion of climate-change-related science.

They identify a total of 10 relevant narratives in the videos and found out several patterns. Firstly, no video contained the frame “expertise needed” no matter in the videos arguing against scientific or policy efforts or not. Secondly, most of the 10 videos employed the narrative “shared moral challenge”, five of which also conveyed global warming as representing a “solvable challenge”, implying the sense that people have the capacity and have moral responsivities to solve the problem. Besides, three videos instilled in the viewer a sense that taking no action would produce unavoidable consequences.


They extracted 50 most common terms from the comments of 10 videos, such as “American”, “cause”, “climate change”, “CO2”, “earth”, “global warming”, “people”, “scientist”, “time”, etc. Besides, some comments contain greater insights into how the science of climate change could be framed. 9 out of 10 videos comments referenced both the science of climate change and politized science, where the common terms in the comments were “NASA” (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), “IPCC” (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), “government”, “president” and so forth. But in short, the 50 most common terms from comments indicate at least moderate discussion of politicized science.

Semantic analysis was adopted to explore what YouTube users were trying to say. Three comments were selected as they include the term “scientist”, but the content of the first two are supporting for the science of global warming, whereas the third claims the science to be fraudulent.

CONCOR analysis was employed to find the correlations among 50 most popular terms. Results indicate that “science” and “scientists” were connected to apolitical terms. Also, their sample comments reveal that the discussion focuses in a significant way on how scientists, politicians, and private interest are all involved in climate change.

However, they also admit that most comments were in fact unrelated to their corresponding videos’ content. Therefore, they concluded that the comment section of a video played a role for discussing climate change in general and not for specifically addressing the video in terms of science-related comments. In addition, they deduce that YouTube users seek videos for watching by theme rather than by specific content.

This study might challenge the common perception that social media are good at collecting public opinions as the degree of participation of discussing in a topic may vary.


Shapiro, M. A., & Park, H. W. (2015). More than entertainment: YouTube and public responses to the science of global warming and climate change Digital humanities/Humanités numériques. Social Science Information (Vol. 54).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s