Anonymous commenters undermining science have negative impact. We knew this.

This is further justification why we do not allow anti-science commenters on this site. It’s not a debate but the reader often does not know that.

Healthcare websites are attempting to educate about health risks but a new study shows, surprisingly, that readers may be influenced more by online comments than by credible public service announcements. We’re in trouble.

Opinions on vaccinations heavily influenced by online comments — ScienceDaily.

Writing in the Journal of Advertising, WSU marketing researchers Ioannis Kareklas, Darrel Muehling and TJ Weber are the first to investigate how Internet comments from individuals whose expertise is unknown impact the way people feel about vaccines.

Their study, “Reexamining Health Messages in the Digital Age: A Fresh Look at Source Credibility Effects,” comes after a recent outbreak of measles linked to Disneyland parks in California has affected at least 100 people in the United States and Mexico.

In one experiment, 129 people were asked to view two made up public service announcements followed by comments from fictitious online commenters who either expressed pro- or anti-vaccination viewpoints. The participants were not given information about the commenters. The participants were equally persuaded by the PSAs and the online comments.

“That kind of blew us away,” said Kareklas. “People were trusting the random online commenters just as much as the PSA itself.”

In the second experiment, when affiliations were given, people took that information into consideration. The researchers suggest that “supportive comments from noted experts be highlighted on health websites.” Anonymous commenters trying to undermine established science get far too much attention and credibility from readers and spread misunderstanding.

Meanwhile, misinformation has serious consequences: Measles Hits Chicago: Five Babies Diagnosed With Disease At Day Care

Today on Practical Skepticism: Trust experts or those who tell a good story?.

  11 comments for “Anonymous commenters undermining science have negative impact. We knew this.

  1. Paul Robinson
    February 5, 2015 at 4:39 PM

    People are weird (yes i know including me) when they disbelieve recommendations on company, and online sales sites, believing most if not all are written by company itself, then believe uninformed comments from anonymous commentators, with no credentials, or proof of their refutations of science. Seems sadly too true when earlier read that vaccination levels dropping dangerously low, and further outbreaks of easily stoppable things like measles, are becoming epidemics in some areas, as folk would rather believe anti vaccine scare mongering, when studies clearly rule out it’s cause of other ailments, despite some confusing surveys. Majority of these have no scientific background, and merely assumptions, or wrong conclusions, made by pro boycotting of vaccine groups. Oh science that’s a religion isn’t it? Or the other lot that say science is anti religion. Oh what a confused paranoid world.

  2. Benny Malone
    February 5, 2015 at 4:52 PM

    I remember Popular Science shutting off their comments – I’ve read other things too where trolls were found to negatively frame the whole thread on a subject and colour people’s whole perception of the issue. Sometimes if they can just obfuscate and create confusion then their mission is successful.

  3. Paul Robinson
    February 5, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    I hate this sort of thing, that’s often spread by social media, and texts, among like minded groups who somehow think they’re caped crusaders, saving the planed from evil scientists, or something equally stupid. They perform a gang attack on a sites articles, and troll others for same treatment. Sadly, dare i say it they are actually risking peoples’ lives, by putting people off getting vaccinated, having vital operations, etc. I can understand peoples’ fears, but their uninformed vitriolic attack on good science, and medicine sickens me. They are not asking relevant questions, but condemning science, without any real knowledge of what they are saying, but merely using scare mongering, and supposed , self believed moral high ground, which is anything but.

  4. Benny Malone
    February 5, 2015 at 5:07 PM

    Agreed, from the PopSci article – ”Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

    In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

    Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

    Another, similarly designed study found that just firmly worded (but not uncivil) disagreements between commenters impacted readers’ perception of science.” There have been other studies of this nature.

  5. Keith Kirk
    February 5, 2015 at 6:07 PM

    It seems like common sense has all but left our society. It’s like we are returning to the dark ages, Good Grief.

  6. Chris
    February 5, 2015 at 10:59 PM

    Just this week on a couple of science blogs (one dedicated to vaccines) someone has asked about if they or their child should get a measles vaccine. The only answer I gave was they needed to talk to their primary care doctor.

    I am amazed that people would actually think they could get valid medical advice for their own issues from strangers on the internet!

  7. Graham
    February 6, 2015 at 6:56 AM

    Think of it as post-modernism in action….

  8. Ronald H. Pine
    February 6, 2015 at 12:13 PM

    The idea that science is anti-religion is not such a far-fetched idea, unless “religion” is being spoken of in a vague, non-specific fashion, as opposed to the actual collection of belief systems adhered to by countless people in the real world. Many of these belief systems include statements about the nature of the natural world and human society, and the history and prehistory of both, that are contrary to the findings and working assumptions of science. And scientists are prominent in combatting these religious beliefs, as in the case of Creationism, as only one prominent example, and cite the findings of science as their reason for doing so. Also, the “scientific way of thinking” is antithetical to much of the sort of thinking that characterizes much of religious belief. This can explain why the percentage of non-believers of various sorts among scientists is relatively very high and I believe that I may have seen studies that showed that the more prominent a scientist is, the more likely she or he is to be a non-believer. I would say that it is perfectly reasonable for adherents of those religions that make many specific claims about the nature of things to regard science as an enemy.

  9. Graham
    February 6, 2015 at 1:35 PM

    I would agree that many adherents of religion ‘regard science as an enemy’. There is a certain purposeful effort where the aim to discredit science where there is a conflict with their belief.

    However, for science to be anti-religion would suggest that there is a purposeful effort against religion. There may be a very small expenditure with that as the driving force. I would suggest that the majority of conflicts from the science side is more due to happenstance than deliberateness.

  10. Russian Skeptic
    February 10, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    Dash, things are much worse than that. In Russia, thousands of people nearly instantly (in a year or two) became militantly religious, homophobic and anti-Ukrainian. You can see some specimens on the Guardian website where they are commenting in English under the news from Russia.

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