Online comments influence how we interpret science news

When people read science news online, the posts they read in the comments section tend to affect how they interpret the information. That’s according to a new study led by life sciences communication professors Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele that was described in a Perspectives article in the journal Science last week. The main findings were explained in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story and this MIT Knight Journalist Tracker blog post.

In a nutshell, the experiment they described compares two groups of subjects: one group that reads an online news story about nanotechnology followed by negative comments and a second group that reads the same story followed by more civil/neutral comments. In the end, the group exposed to the negative comments felt there were more potential risks associated with nanotechnology.

At this point, it’s not clear how to counteract or control this phenomenon. Brossard and Scheufele plan to continue to study and raise awareness about it, and they encourage scientists to join an effort to make sure the public receives full, accurate and unbiased information on science and technology.

For more information, read this UW-Madison news release.