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esh_gaSeptember 25, 2013

Wow. Hard to believe. Or is it?

But even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests. In one study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject (are they wary of the benefits or supportive?). Then, through a randomly assigned condition, they read either epithet- and insult-laden comments ("If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you're an idiot" ) or civil comments. The results, as Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant's interpretation of the news story itself.
In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology - whom we identified with preliminary survey questions - continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they'd previously thought.

Another, similarly designed study found that just firmly worded (but not uncivil) disagreements between commenters impacted readers' perception of science.

If you carry out those results to their logical end--commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded--you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the "off" switch.

What do you think? I know we've seen some incredible comments on various sites before and I see where they are coming from.

Here is a link that might be useful: source

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tobr24u(z6 RI)

Hmm, sort of like efforts made on HT on a regular basis...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 7:32AM
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Fortunately, in many cases, commentary and general opinion do not affect specific decision-making. People who are easily influenced about an issue by commentary are clearly not experts in a subject.

A real-life example: in my neighboring town, there is a major intersection that was scheduled to be re-built and re-configured. The experts favored and recommended making it a rotary intersection, followed by a long period of review during which naturally every person in the county had an opinion. Most people were against the rotary (because they couldn't comprehend that a low-speed one-lane rotary is nothing like a high-speed two-lane version.

The project was completed about 5 months ago and is a spectacular success - what was the most difficult intersection is now the easiest. If decision-makers had allowed themselves to be influenced by commentary and opinion then an inferior intersection resulting in years of frustration would have been the result. It is generally best if most things are not controlled by the masses.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 7:45AM
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I think that would depend on what masses we're talking about... educated, critical thinking masses with normal problem solving skills... or otherwise.

People who use the internet have to know, or understand, that it's a double edged sword of information... with anyone being able to contribute, regardless of whether they write the truth, or not. So one has to use critical thought and common sense, and one can't rely on one story for the whole picture.

And then, we have a media that seems to have forgotten what real journalism is... so...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 8:09AM
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It's not hard to believe. I've often said that all news programs come with a bias either intentional or unintentional. That's why I feel it is essential to listen to several news sources with varying points of view if you can't get to the actual source.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 8:15AM
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tobr24u(z6 RI)

That's why I could only trust Dan Rather...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 8:32AM
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I agree with jhug.

I access several sources for my information......even FOX!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 8:52AM
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Think how often polling questions ask for people's opinions about factual matters (i.e., is the sky blue?), about which they know knowing. And then these polls have a bearing on dicision making.

When it comes to an engineering matter, how much weight should the opinions of people with very little factual information be given like that rotary.

Even the grayer areas like polls asking do you think someone is guilty of a crime make me a little perturbed. If you weren't in the courtroom the length of the trial, you haven't heard all the evidence (and even then...) How much weight should your almost purely emotional reaction be given to stampede the public?

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:01AM
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Brushworks Spectacular Finishes(5)

I give all news sources at least 3 days to discover the facts, then I listen in or read.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:23AM
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If you make your way to the study, you learn that a nasty tone and name calling have a negative effect on credibility.

Which makes sense. Personal attacks are cheap shots anyone can launch on impulse. Constructing an argument, or countering an argument someone else has made is a far more arduous and thoughtful process. It doesn't guarantee the person has arrived at the "right" conclusion. But we know from grade school that the folks who do their homework tend to get the right answers more often than those who don't, and when you haven't done your homework, it shows.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:30AM
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I guess the point I took is that that comments on blogs and articles, even comments of very poor quality, can significantly affect people's opinion of the data presented in the article.

So ignorant and nasty comments, even when not valid, can drag down the takeaway of the article.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:43AM
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tobr24u(z6 RI)

Definitely beginning to sound more like HT...

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 9:51AM
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Just about any on-line newspaper has a comment section after articles and opinion pieces. The degree of someone editing out the garbage seems to vary considerably. With the larger national papers, say the Washington Post, there will be thousands of comments within a few hours of posting the article - most of them sparsely worded, poorly spelled, inane partisan political blathering. I don't bother.

With the NY Times, they keep a much closer eye on postings and quickly erase the offensive garbage. If you filter them by 'readers picks', or 'NYT picks', they are usually worth reading for a different perspective.

This morning I was reading an article in the Denver Paper about the new laws regarding public school teacher evaluation - where their jobs depend on 50% student test scores and 50% in-class evaluation, the gist was that it was going to be difficult to attract decent teachers to the very poorly funded rural schools with lousy students.

The first comment was from a retired teacher, talking about how teaching had changed and how he advised his daughter not to go into the field. The second one was some semi-literate screed insulting teachers. Which was so off-putting that I just refrained from adding any comment at all - given that I feel somewhat strongly about state-mandated testing and hiring/firing of teachers who are not given the tools they need to work with.

Its an interesting phenomenon. And it certainly can be very polarizing and destructive of any informative debate.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 10:14AM
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I especialy love: "...boorish specimens of the lower internet phyla." heh

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 10:25AM
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Unfortunately the internet can make us overnight "experts" on topics of which we know nothing. That seems to give us the courage to spout out what we think are credible opinions about those topics.

This post was edited by blfenton on Wed, Sep 25, 13 at 10:51

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 10:48AM
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Posted by blfenton (My Page) on
Wed, Sep 25, 13 at 10:48

Unfortunately the internet can make us overnight "experts" on topics of which we know nothing. That seems to give us the courage to spout out what we think are credible opinions about those topics.

This post was edited by blfenton on Wed, Sep 25, 13 at 10:51


Or not even bother developing a credible opinion, just linking to someone else who does the thinking for you.

Although at times finding someone who articulates YOUR opinion better than you have the time to do can be a good thing, it is no substitute for researching, thinking, and articulating what one thinks.

Constant regurgitation of someone else's thinking doesn't require thinking.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 11:11AM
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bboy(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

During the old days out here on the western frontier the little bumpkins sometimes even killed young school marms sent from the east to tame them. So it getting tougher to teach in public schools could be yet another symptom of the polarization of American society and the creation of a vast peasant class.

Time to make cake a staple item on the cafeteria menu?

The obviously bogus Animal Planet (as I remember it) "mockumentary" on mermaids instantly attracted tens of millions of viewers, many of whom apparently thought it was on the level. I know at least one party myself who watched the show in my presence (it being on where I was at the time not being my choice) and seemed unable to tell contrived scenes from authentic. Another there argued against the actors pretending to be scientists really being actors, even after I brought up a list of their names on the computer.

Then there's the party that on another occasion showed me photos of mists blowing through their yard, told me with utter seriousness that these were fairies.

So, yeah, many contemporary Americans may not have fully informed opinions on technical and other serious issues.

This post was edited by bboy on Wed, Sep 25, 13 at 13:30

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 1:12PM
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Granted, it doesn't happen very often, but every once in a while there will be a comment that is informing and adds a fresh perspective. Or, explains things in such a way that it gives you pause and drives you to question further or, heaven forfend, makes you re-examine your conclusions.

You have to wade through a lot of venomous crap to find those comments. I pretty much ignore the mean-spirited, harpy types of commentary, although enjoy a well-crafted opposing opinion or an honest question that is prefaced with a reasoned and informed background.

Strategically speaking, if you are compelled to gratuitously insult and demean others, you quickly lose all influence and your comments sound like chirpy white noise - meaningless. Then most folks will just shrug and say "Well, there s/he goes again. Now let's move on to the topic at hand".

However, if someone is tasked with moderating public comments, it's a lot of work and it makes you cynical about human nature. How many people really have personality or mental disorders (or are really THAT stupid) that compels them to reflexively expose how stupid and shallow they really are?

Moderating is a thankless job.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 7:59AM
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