…you just don’t want to say it out loud:
A new obstacle to scientific literacy may be emerging, according to a paper in the journal Science by two University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers.
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.“
Goodness! But…that’s just the science-ignorant general public, right?
Researchers found that even knowledge of science did not seem to mediate the effects of the comments.
Brossard said that realizing how potent online comments can be in undermining a factual report may help publications to better manage comments on their websites.
“I hope you’re not going to ask me, ‘What should we do?’ ” she said, laughing. “Because I don’t know.”
Really? Or are you just too polite to say?