Online science news: There’s more to the story

More research is needed, say researchers in Science.

Reading science news online is not the same as flipping through a newspaper or magazine in obvious ways. Less obvious, though, are the consequences of the online environment on readers’ perceptions of news. In light of this changing online news environment and its unintended and largely unknown effects on readers, Dominique Brossard and Dietram Scheufele call for more research about online science news in a “Perspectives” article in the Jan. 4th publication of Science

"The day of reading a story and then turning the page to read another is over," Scheufele says. "Now each story is surrounded by numbers of Facebook likes and tweets and comments that color the way readers interpret even truly unbiased information. This will produce more and more unintended effects on readers, and unless we understand what those are and even capitalize on them, they will just cause more and more problems." Image: chluna

Reading news online is the norm, and is the online environment is changing how news is perceived. “The day of reading a story and then turning the page to read another is over,” Scheufele says. Image: chluna

Brossard and Scheufele, both Life Sciences Communication professors at the UW-Madison and SCIMEP researchers, recommend that more scientists get directly involved in the communication process of their research and fields. “It’s not because there is not decent science writing out there. We know all kinds of excellent writers and sources,” Brossard says. “But can people be certain that those are the sites they will find when they search for information? That is not clear.”

Accessing science news online often includes using a search engine to look up scientific information and reading comments on articles. When search engines suggest search terms, like Google offering “nanotechnology medicine” to a user who types in “nanotechnology,” some searches become more popular than others. The suggestive nature of searches is one part of a broader picture of the internet narrowing public discourse about emerging science and technology, as research by Brossard and Scheufele indicates. Recent research also shows that the tone of comments on an article about emerging technology affects how risky the content of the article is perceived.

“The day of reading a story and then turning the page to read another is over,” Scheufele says. “Now each story is surrounded by numbers of Facebook likes and tweets and comments that color the way readers interpret even truly unbiased information. This will produce more and more unintended effects on readers, and unless we understand what those are and even capitalize on them, they will just cause more and more problems.”

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