Author: Marie Boran – Dublin City University, Ireland

This study examines online comments to the most-commented upon science news articles (N=646; N=1,108; N=922) on the topic of artificial intelligence appearing on The Guardian website in the period September-November 2017. We evaluate the potential of the comments section as a space for public deliberation of emerging technologies by analysing 1) comment content relative to the original journalistic text and 2) inter-commenter interactions or dialogue in the course of discussing these stories on artificial intelligence.

Science journalism has a history embedded in pedagogy (Logan, 2001) that mirrors the deficit model in science communication but the advent of reader has created the possibility of dialogue. We argue audience engagement in the comment section is of value as a digital public sphere within which science can be engaged by the plurality of views and perspectives required in a post-truth age where scepticism and lack of trust in emerging technologies may be better understood in terms of social and political factors and not simply a lack of understanding of science.

Reader comments represent a unique space in that they directly follow journalistic coverage of science and technology while allowing for public participation. This pairing of a science story and reader comments creates a new relationship between the science journalist and her audience, opening up the traditional science narrative to audience involvement and “reframing of issues” (Secko, 2011).

Walsh (2015) suggests the comment section is a space for proto-deliberation of scientific issues; in the case of evidence-based advice around breastfeeding, commenters were found to engage in deliberation of scientific evidence through the lenses of social and personal experience (Len-Rios, Bhandari, & Medvedeva, 2014) while an analysis of reader comments in the Daily Mail’s coverage of Climategate revealed how stereotypes of science and politics are appropriated in climate science discourse (Jaspal, Nerlick, & Koteyko, 2013).

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Stories
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice

Author: Marie Boran

This paper provides a state-of-the-art on participatory journalism practices within mainstream science journalism. It explores the concept of Participatory Science Journalism as a well-defined format that can contribute to the future of science journalism and public engagement with science. Ubiquitous internet access, the advent of social media and widespread use of smartphones have all lead to the development of a new type of journalism: participatory journalism. The modern audience experience goes beyond consumption and routinely involves contributing to the news story through User Generated Content (UGC) from eyewitness videos to reader comments. We explore the current and future development of what we refer to as Participatory Science Journalism, a unique space with far reaching possibilities for meaningful public engagement with science. If we look at the story and accompanying commentary as a set, the science journalist is no longer in a position of authority to deliver a finished product (Secko et. al, 2011). In an online environment, the traditional roles of the science journalist have changed, leading to new roles and practices (Fahy and Nisbet, 2011). Our pilot study of semi-structured interviews with working science journalists (who write for the online platform of a print media company) explores Participatory Science Journalism in terms of journalists’ attitudes towards and perceived value of an interactive audience as well as their thoughts on best practice for implementation of this format. We explore current experimental implementations of Participatory Science Journalism such as OpenSciLogs’ crowd-funded exercise in open, participatory science journalism where the reader is invited to contribute directly to the story through an online, editable document using Google Docs.

Author: Marie Boran

In the past decade, the science journalist’s relationship with her audience has changed remarkably. In order to voice an opinion, the reader doesn’t have to rely on a Letter to the Editor. Reader comments offer a public space for “the people formerly known as the audience” to engage with the author, the story and fellow readers. This rich body of public discourse on scientific issues and topics can be used by science communicators to understand how the public engage with science journalism. This panel will discuss their research on this area. Dominique Brossard and co-authors designed an experiment to test whether uncivil comments below a blogpost on nanotechnology had any effect on the reader’s risk perception of this emerging technology. It was found that uncivil comments had a polarising effect on readers and in some cases changed their interpretation of the story itself. Esther Laslo (and co-author Ayelet Baram Tsabari) examined reader comments below news stories on animal experimentation and climate change with the finding that expressions of scientific literacy do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with the scientific consensus: while more expressions of scientific literacy were found in comments supporting animal experimentation, more expressions of literacy were found in comments opposing the scientific consensus on climate change (the skeptical position). Marie Boran will moderate this panel, asking panelists to reflect on the usefulness of reader comments as a barometer for public engagement with science, and whether trolling and other uncivil interactions make it acceptable to shut down the comments section, as Popular Science chose to do in 2013.