This is a good reason for the comment policy on this site. The results of this rather large study is not surprising. Tone matters.
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.
“the tone of the comments . . . can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself”
Did you get that? It’s IMPORTANT.
It’s also a reason why I moderate the comments here rather heavily. Please read our comment policy if some of your comments never make it onto the post or suddenly disappear. It may be because I don’t agree your tone is helpful to the discussion. I have judged a comment trash if it’s pointless, may derail discussion, or present a distorted view of the story. The goal of Doubtful News is present a certain viewpoint. We are BIASED towards reason and scientific consensus. There are plenty of other places you can go where science is debased and disregarded in discussing these topics. Or, where ad hominem attacks are allowed or encouraged. Thus, I do not allow derogatory comments unless there is a clear response that can illustrate an issue. Otherwise, those types of comments are a platform for those who aren’t serious about understanding the issue..
I can’t help but wonder if this tone argument also applies to other perception besides understanding science. I can’t see that it wouldn’t. If you represent your website with a certain keyword – whether that be religious, atheist, freethinking, parenting, fashion, medical, skeptic, feminist, whatever – and your comment threads are full of sniping, name-calling, and nastiness, what kind of image are you presenting? It’s not serious or professional. It’s certainly not discussion worth reading for understanding the issue. You want nastiness, there are plenty of places like that. Not here. For good reason.
Tip: CFI’s Morning Heresy