Overabundance of information and a highly educated public have enabled an explosion of internet-based infotainmnent, amateur science, and crankery. Theories about the dangers of seed oils are one example. These theories have gained significant traction, yet have not been clearly adjudicated by the scientific establishment. This dynamic is frequently labeled a condition of “post-truth,” but we see these phenomena as paradigm shifts playing out over an expanded social field. Cases like these expose the limits—and perversions—of the official protocols for legitimating knowledge.
Knowledge protocols like peer review have evolved to enable vast amounts of information to be validated, but further development is required to process the information behaviors the internet has enabled. Specific recent cases, like the LK-99 room-temperature semiconductor replication craze, as well as broader trends like bloggers working to refute fraudulent academic publications, illustrate how new roles and processes are naturally emerging to turn internet fascinations into credible knowledge. This essay examines how protocol thinking might help expand who gets to participate in knowledge production, and increase the speed and certainty of developments in science.