Researchers: Online commenters impair readers' scientific literacy

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

People who read newspaper and magazine reports on science "may be influenced as much by the comments at the end of the story as they are by the report itself," a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers says.

2,000 subjects who read "a balanced news report about nanotechnology" saw either civil or rowdy comments, Mark Johnson reports in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"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 a discussion, when you see people frowning, it influences how you feel about the discussion," Brossard told Johnson.

We couldn't help but look at the comments on the Journal Sentinel story. "How can anyone trust a study conducted in Madison, WI?" reads one of the comments. "Biggest group of non-truth seeking, agenda-pushing academians in the country."

Related: Retiring Ohio congressman hates commenters | Anonymous comments can be ‘a frothing, bubbling cauldron of insanity’ | Why we’ll never stop struggling over comment sections

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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