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.