Readers of Science Stories Influenced By Comments as Much as Story Itself

Friday, 04 Jan 2013 03:59 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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Americans who read about science news on the web may be influenced as much by readers’ comments at the end of the story as they are by the story itself, two scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison say.

In their study, 2,000 people were asked to read a news report about nanotechnology — the manipulation of matter on a molecular scale — followed by a group of invented comments.

Alert: End of America's Middle Class a Startling Reality. Read More Here.

Some appeared to focus on nasty remarks about the article, while others concentrated on comments that were benign.

"Disturbingly, readers' interpretations of potential risks associated with the technology described in the news article differed significantly — depending only on the tone of the manipulated reader comments," wrote Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele.

"In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself."

The study, first reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, appears in sciencemag.org and in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Brossard said she was not surprised by the results.

"In a discussion, when you see people frowning, it influences how you feel about the discussion. So how does that translate to the online community?" she said.

She and Scheufele also found nine in 10 internet users in the United States turn to search engines to find information and 60 percent seeking information about specific scientific issues list the Internet as their primary source of information.

“This has created a new urgency for scientists to pay attention to these trends and to the emerging scholarly literature about communicating science in this brave new ‘online’ world,’’ they say.

Alert: End of America's Middle Class a Startling Reality. Read More Here.

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