Thursday, August 15, 2013

On What Internet Comments Might Achieve in Science Stories

As per one study:

A new obstacle to scientific literacy may be emerging, according to a paper in the journal Science by two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.
The new study reports that not only are just 12% of Americans turning to newspaper and magazine websites for science news, but when they do they may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself.
In an experiment mentioned in the Science paper and soon to be published elsewhere in greater detail, about 2,000 people were asked to read a balanced news report about nanotechnology followed by a group of invented comments. All saw the same report but some read a group of comments that were uncivil, including name-calling. Others saw more civil comments.
"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 posted with the story," wrote authors Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele.
"In other words, just the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself."
I haven't looked at the study itself.  But if its results hold something similar might apply to other topics than science.  For example, angry MRA comments on anything that is written on women.  Or pick your topic, pretty much, because angry comments are the flavor of the day on the many and varied Internets.

So the deeper question (assuming, once again, that the above study is OK in execution) is what the benefits of having non-moderated comments are supposed to be.