Friday, January 4, 2013

Communicate science in a brave new online world

A perspective piece in Today's Science talks about the challenges in communicating complex and sometimes controversial science in the online environments. 

1) Science journalism.   "Today, audiences turn more and more to blogs and other online-only media sources for information about specific scientific issues and much less to online versions of traditional news outlets. Almost half of Americans currently rely on nontraditional online sources, and only 12% turn to science news from online content provided by traditional print newspapers and magazines".

2) The effect of algorithms and/or audience metrics (such as how often an online story is “clicked on” (viewed), forwarded to others via email, or posted on social media).  "there are often clear discrepancies between what people search for online, which specific areas are suggested to them by search engines, and what people ultimately find. As a result, someone's initial question about a scientific topic, the search results offered by a search engine, and the algorithms that a search provider uses to tailor retrieved content to a search may all be linked in a self-reinforcing informational spiral in which search queries and the resulting Web traffic drive algorithms and vice versa".

3) The effect on how information and spreads among citizens.   E.g. "Exposure to uncivil comments (which included name calling and other non–content-specific expressions of incivility) polarized the views among proponents and opponents of the technology with respect to its potential risks. In other words, just the tone of the comments following balanced science stories in Web 2.0 environments can significantly alter how audiences think about the technology itself."

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