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Blog comments take sheen off science online

Posted on Feb 15, 04:45PM | IANS

Washington, Feb 15 : Blogs on new discoveries, inventions and technologies often bristle with comments casting science in a negative, disparaging light, says a new study.

"Wonder how much taxpayer cash went into this 'deep' study?" or "I think you can take all these studies by pointy headed scientists, 99 percent of whom are socialists and communists", "Yawn. Climate change myth wackos at it again", are some of these instances.

For rapidly developing nanotechnology, a technology already built into more than 1,300 consumer products, exposure to uncivil online comments is one of several variables that can directly influence the perception of risk linked with it, according to University of Wisconsin-Madison study, the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication reports.

Dominique Brossard reported the results of a study showing the tone of blog comments alone can influence the perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scales, according to a Washington statement.

The study sampled a representative cross-section of 2,338 Americans in an online experiment, where the civility of blog comments was manipulated, according to a Washington statement.

For example, introducing name calling into commentary tacked onto an otherwise balanced newspaper blog post, the study showed, could elicit either lower or higher perceptions of risk, depending on one's predisposition to the science of nanotechnology.

"When people encounter an unfamiliar issue like nanotechnology, they often rely on an existing value such as religiosity or deference to science to form a judgment," explained Ashley Anderson, postdoctoral fellow in the Centre for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, who led the study.

Highly religious readers, the study revealed, were more likely to see nanotechnology as risky when exposed to rude comments compared to less religious readers, Brossard noted.

"Blogs have been a part of the new media landscape for quite some time now, but our study is the first to look at the potential effects blog comments have on public perceptions of science," said Brossard.

These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.