NPR Story
10:57 am
Fri February 1, 2013

Preserving Science News in an Online World

Originally published on Fri February 1, 2013 12:49 pm

Transcript

IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, I'm Ira Flatow. When you read a news article online, how much attention do you pay to the comments that follow at the bottom? What about how many times the story has been re-tweeted or how many Facebook likes it has? Do you pay attention to those?

A recent piece published in the journal Science found that all of these things can influence how readers feel about a topic, even if they don't realize it. So how does the online environment impact the public's perception of science? Can just the tone of the comments sway people's opinions about an article on, say, stem cells, climate change, even nanotechnology? Are comments sections still effective ways to spark discussions, or are they now breeding grounds for misinformation, and we've all seen how online trolls work.

In fact, we put this question out this week on our Twitter: Does moderating comments violate freedom of speech? And can such discussion of the question on our website, responses - you can see that discussion, and they were overwhelmingly in favor of moderating comments. That's what our Twitter audience thought when we put that out earlier in the week.

So we're going to talk about what some of the pitfalls of communicating science online are, and how can we avoid them and deal with them in the new normal about how science is published online and what's going on there. Let me introduce my guests.

Dominique Brossard is lead author of the Science paper, which was titled "Science, New Media and the Public." She is a professor at the Department of Life Science Communication at the University of Madison - University of Wisconsin in Madison, and she joins us from Madison. Welcome to the program.

DOMINIQUE BROSSARD: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Bora Zivkovic is the blog editor at Scientific American and organizer of the ScienceOnline Conference, which is going on right now in Raleigh, North Carolina. He joins us by phone from the conference. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

BORA ZIVKOVIC: Great to be there, thank you.

FLATOW: Thank you. John Hawks is a science blogger and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He joins us from Salt Lake City. Welcome to the program.

JOHN HAWKS: Thanks.

FLATOW: Dr. Brossard, tell us a bit about your piece in Science. Apart from the content of the article itself, what kinds of things did you find that could influence readers' opinions? Tell us what you studied.

BROSSARD: Well, we've been interested for quite a long time, let's say two or three years here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, investigating the effect of the online context for public perception of science. We have noticed that indeed people are moving from traditional outlets to actually rely much more on online environments to find out about science, let's say through searching or, you know, going to blogs and not going to traditional, mainstream newspaper outlets.

So the question remained, though: What type of effects do those new environments have, you know, on public perception of science and public understanding of science? And one of the things that we know that are very different in that online environment are those comments that people post on blogs or the potential likes, you know, that people put on their Facebook to show that they appreciate a particular piece or the number of ways people tweet about a particular topic.

But however, there is really not much as far as in people evidence showing us how much this impacts how people feel about science. So basically there was a starting point. It's like how can we rely on social science to help us understand how these new media environments will influence the public about, you know, that (unintelligible) science in the United States. And what can we do to actually offer the best possible environment for this audience to interact with the scientific content in a productive way?

And the study that you mentioned that called, you know, for a lot of attention around the online environment lately was that particular study that looked at the tone of comments. What happened when people are rude, you know, following a story that otherwise is very well-written?

And we chose the topic of nanotechnology because like a lot of new, emerging technology, new scientific topics, this is relatively unknown for the vast majority of the American public. So what happened when you find a story well-written, by a good science writer, that actually is followed by comments that may not be always extremely polite?

So if you did a study, randomly assigned people to different conditions, some people saw polite comments, other people saw the same comments but just, you know, with rude language such as idiot, et cetera. And what we found is that people that were exposed to those rude comments tend to become polarized about the issue that was covering the story, which was nanotechnology.

So basically just being exposed to rude comments, even if the content of the comments themselves was the same, made people react differently to the content of the story. So the question is therefore: What do we do, right, to encourage better understanding?

FLATOW: Do you have a suggestion?

BROSSARD: Well, I mean, and that's interesting because, you know, like my colleagues who are practicing bloggers and extremely fruitful doing so, that are on the show tonight, today, can actually tell us what they think. But what we can, you know, basically say is that right now, you know, it's much more the choice of the blogger himself or herself to decide how to manage those comments and not a lot of empirical evidence as far as how to do so.

What our study suggests is that indeed even, you know, slightly rude comments because, I mean, we were not even investigating trolling, we were not investigating, you know, how disruptive behavior, which obviously from a common-sense perspective, you know, everybody would take out from their comments thread, right. We're just showing, like, people that were getting a little bit, you know, into the discussion so much as to say you idiot, I think you should think like me, or obviously there are, you know, benefits related to this, you know, this technology.

FLATOW: So even the tamer comments were influencing how people thought about the research?

BROSSARD: Exactly. So it was - that's the thing, and that's where, you know, when you asked me what we should do, I think obviously we should get rid of anything that's not polite, That doesn't follow civil discourse. And then we should, you know, discuss what does it mean to have a civil discussion online.

What are the social norms that we strive to establish in this environment, such as we have social norm, let's say, in - at the dinner table, right, where some things are, you know, implicitly not allowed because it's not something that should be, you know, considered polite. What is a polite, you know, behavior in the online environment? And I think we haven't yet decided what are those social norms.

FLATOW: Now we're going to talk about it. That's what we're talking about this hour. I want to get into that and other issues. Dominique Brossard, how do you deal with it? And I know you've been very vocal on the Internet in the last few weeks about - I'm sorry, Bora, how do you deal with it on your website?

ZIVKOVIC: Well, my website is hosted on Scientific American. So it is traditional media, which has a reputation and a brand as, you know, a 167-year-old magazine. So I cannot treat it exactly the same as I would me, you know, personal blog, kept completely independently somewhere there. So I need to keep always in mind that our site is an educational site where people come through searches or recommendations to learn about science.

And so this kind of discourse in comments is very important for me, and the study was very insightful to me that just the tone of comments can skew how our readers are learning about science because stuff that goes on our site is vetted in some way that it is corrected. It is accurate science. And so the idea that commenters may skew that is something that makes me nervous as an editor of our blogs.

FLATOW: So do you believe that they should be moderated, these blogs?

ZIVKOVIC: Yes, I think the ideas about comment amelioration have changed over the past, you know, 10 or 15 years, that these things exist online. In the beginning, I think there was the idea that this should be a free forum. And now there are so many free fora out there that I don't think a site like Scientific American should provide a free form for everything and everybody and all kinds of online fights to happen in our comments because I think the free speech applies to the Web as a whole, not to any particular site.

And I think the host of the site has to keep in mind what is the goal of the site, what is the reason why the site exists. If it's educational, then these kinds of comments need to go. And it's perfectly OK. It's perfectly legal to do it. So I think we need to have our readers in mind first and act appropriately.

FLATOW: John Hawks, you're a science blogger and a scientist, a professor of anthropology. You have definite opinions about this also, don't you?

HAWKS: Absolutely. I started blogging nine years ago, and when I started, I didn't have tenure. And so I was very nervous about, you know, putting my opinions out there and having people read them who might evaluate me. And so I sort of developed a voice that allowed me to be able to be critical of scientific research studies without being polarizing.

And I think one of the interesting things about what Dominique is finding with online forums is that the scientific literature is sort of like this. You know, it has these interactions. People submit comments to journals. Sometimes they put a lot of fire and personal invective into them, and it has always polarized the kind of work that I'm involved with.

Our research is in human evolution and genetics, and there are some big personalities in that field and some strong feelings. And you see people publish letters to the editor, and it just drives you crazy sometimes.

FLATOW: So you don't allow any comments on your site.

HAWKS: Yeah, I began - I began my site without comments. I could just see that it really took a lot of effort to create a community where you had people able to be confident that they could write what they were thinking and not be trolled and not have a lot of rudeness, you know, put on them.

So I began without comments. I experimented from time to time, you know, allowing comments on certain things. And I just have to say it is an enormous amount of work to look through what people are publishing and try to really encourage that community to build.

So I admire people who are able to do that online.

FLATOW: If they want to troll or get rude, start your own blog is basically what you're saying, stay off of mine.

HAWKS: Yeah, I started my own blog. Yeah, exactly. You know, I pay for my server. I have my own independent site. And if somebody wants to criticize me, they're welcome to. If they - if I write something that they don't like, they can send me a letter, and I will be happy to publish their thoughts about it. But the reality is that if somebody just wants to hang around and lob comments on things, I would rather that they spent the effort to build their own reputation that gave people a reason to listen to what they had to say.

FLATOW: All right, we'll take a short break, we'll come back and talk lots more about this. I'm sure you have a lot of questions. My guests are Dominique Brossard, Bora Zivkovic and John Hawks. Stay with us. We'll be right back after this break. Don't go away. 1-800-989-8255 is our number, and you can tweet us @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about the impact of the Internet and bloggers and commentaries on how the public perceives science. My guests are Dominique Brossard, professor in the Department of Life Sciences - Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin in Madison; Bora Zivkovic, blog editor at Scientific American and organizer of the ScienceOnline Conference that's going on this week; John Hawks, science blogger, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Our number, 1-800-989-8255. Does science, technology, health, medicine occupy a special niche in reporting and the way that commentaries and commenting should be handled on a website, as opposed to entertainment, even politics? You know people are going to badmouth and do all kinds of stuff there, but it might be - and that doesn't matter on those kinds of sites. Does it matter more, Bora, on a science site, where the research itself, if I read Dominique's research - her file, her piece that she published - is actually distorted, gets to be distorted by listening to the commentaries?

ZIVKOVIC: I agree. Maybe it's my bias because I come from science, and I'm now in the media. I think that when it comes to science, health and technology, this is less the matter of opinion and more or less of, well, what are the data saying about it. So I think the - kind of the he-said-she-said type of journalism is probably the least prominent now in science reporting, compared to, you know, political or others - but also because science bloggers bring expertise.

Many of them are working scientists or used to be working scientists. They are kind of the area of reporting or area in the media which was the first to, kind of, breach that wall, you know, the old war between journalism bloggers. I think journalism bloggers are now one and the same and working together and teaching each other and learning from each other and, kind of, together building this new ecosystem for online media reporting.

And, you know, we are here today at NC State campus with 450 people who are on the cutting edge of that, and it's really hard to say who is a blogger, who is a journalist, who is something else. Everybody is wearing multiple hats and seeing the things from all the angles.

So I think the science writers and journalists and science bloggers are - have been working together now for several years to improve the overall level and quality of science coverage, online and in other outlets. And one of the first things to go is to assign equal - let's say an equal truth value to all the opinions that are out there, because there are data that support a particular statement and no data that are supporting the opposite statement. So why let the opposite statement even go there.

That can be in the politics section or when you're discussing ideology or why people believe weird things. But when you're straight-out science reporting, there's really no need to include or allow inclusion of opinions that are completely unscientific.

FLATOW: But we live in an age, at least in the United States, where some people, now, in the last few years, possibly politically oriented, say that, you know, science is just another matter of opinion, you know.

ZIVKOVIC: Yeah, that's their opinion. That doesn't mean that opinion is correct, either. Because unlike other opinions, scientific opinion has to be backed up by empirical information, by empirical data, and it's a self-correcting - at least long-term - self-correcting endeavor. So an individual scientist may have biases or opinions, but science as a whole is a way of knowledge that actually is trying to represent nature as it really is.

FLATOW: John Hawks, how do you feel about this?

HAWKS: You know, I'm an American. I'm skeptical of people that have a lot of power. I don't think that we are spending our science dollars in the most efficient way in lots of respects. But I understand, as a scientist, that skepticism is important to science. And you have to play at a very high level of knowledge, of understanding what data are, of understanding what scientific methods are and how they work in order to make scientific progress.

There is a reason why we attribute an authority to scientists who have spent the time to understand an issue and are reporting to the best of their ability the data that they see relative to that issue. And I think that there's a misunderstanding of science, that somehow scientists are human - that's true - but then that somehow makes science just a matter of their opinion.

In fact, their opinion can't last in science unless it comports with what the data are showing us. And...

FLATOW: Let me - I'm sorry.

BROSSARD: Can...?

FLATOW: Go ahead, Dominique.

BROSSARD: Yes, so just to represent it again, I'm coming from a social science perspective that look at how scientific information is processed, by say, the (unintelligible). And I think we need to keep in mind that no - to some extent no reporting is unbiased. I mean, no - like everything that is written about science, or anything else, will be processed by audiences in the context of their own value predisposition, the context of what we call the perceptual filter that help them make sense of that information.

So when the Scientific American blogs about a particular issue, the readers will interpret the information, even if it's presented in the most objective possible way, in light of what they already have stored in their memory that helps them make sense of that information.

So when we get back to what we want to accomplish with scientific reporting, which I think is at the core of the matter here. If we want to enlighten, you know, let's say, the vast majority of the American public - and you all mentioned, and some people in the United States may think that scientists, you know, information is just an opinion - well, if you want to change this, my question is how do we do that.

And what I'm concerned about is that by that heavy emphasis on science blogging by scientists, that at the end of the day will mostly be read by a population of people that are already interested in science, that already are, you know, the audience that doesn't have that, let's say, that, you know, like, subjective view of science.

Are we missing the boat, to some extent? The mainstream news outlet, where you have science that's reported in the middle of other type of issues, may be the way to reach that - those audiences. And our research has shown that indeed, the people that do go to the Internet to look for information about science, tend to be more educated, and slightly more males do so, than the general audience.

So, you know, like on the one hand, indeed, you know, like science bloggers are doing a great job. They have their blogs. They try to be as, you know, respectful of science as an enterprise as possible. But on the other hand, are we still replacing on the Internet, you know, what we have seen happen before with science museums, for example, science museums where you have already interested audiences that go there, you know, to find out more about science.

But basically they are not the one who would need it the most.

FLATOW: Let's go the phones, 1-800-989-8255. Nina(ph) in Santa Cruz, hi Nina.

NINA: Hi there, good morning. I'd like to ask the panel of what their opinion of what they think about Yelp? Yelp is a little different in that they mostly make money off of the negative review. Because when you get a negative review as a business, you have to sort of rally the troops, as it were. You have to get everybody from your mom and your brother, your customers to respond to the negative reviews because ordinarily, people don't write a good reviews.

They want to go someplace to complain. You know, Yelp is a giant complaint board. So I'm wondering what your panel thinks about this conflict of interest and how it's affecting online reviews.

FLATOW: All right, thanks for calling, Nina. That brings us - I'm glad Nina brought that up. She was reading my mind because I was reading today that Google has submitted an antitrust proposal to the EU because Google has been sued a couple of times - I think, at least once by the United States, it's dropped that suit and won that suit, Google did - about the fact that they massage - and maybe Yelp does the same thing - the accusation that when you Google something, they massage the kind of information they want to send you back for their own purposes.

And you may not find what you're looking for.

HAWKS: That's what I found very interesting about Dominique's publication is that they really thought about the way that how we find information online, how Google is giving us search results, is changing the way that people are actually learning about scientific topics. And I know that people hit my blog from Google, and it's completely things that I would never predict that I turn out to be what they find. And sometimes, the things that I'm most committed to, that I'm really the world expert on, I'm not on the top page of Google rankings. So it is really becoming a matter of algorithms how we discover things.

BROSSARD: Yeah, exactly, John, you couldn't have put it better, and this is something we saw most particularly in the context of nanotechnology when we try - when we tracked the keywords that people were using to search, you know, the issue of nanotechnology. And then, you know, we looked at the content they were likely to find, and we saw that, indeed, they were most likely to find content really to help even if at the start - as a starting point, they were looking for something (unintelligible) the nanotechnology and the environment.

So sophisticated algorithm that are based on volume of keyword searchers that are based on things like how often, you know, a specific story is forward through email, how many links you have on your website, et cetera. And honestly, we - hard to have access to the actual algorithm. We try to do that because it's constantly revisited to be able to reflect, you know, basically try to guess what people are looking for. And I think in the context of science, this is really problematic, because let's say going back to that issue of nanotechnology, it could be any issue, even evolution if you wanted to be more broader and, you know, something that more social implications right now.

But basically, we may give like a false perception of all the dimensions that can be attached to an issue by, you know, like letting those searchers govern to some extent the public discourse. It seems that basically, you know, people like you, John and Bora, that are doing the best you can to enlighten the public with really sound information about science. You have less power, let's say, than the algorithm behind Google.

FLATOW: Yeah. That's for sure. Let's go to Paul in Panama City, Florida. Hi, Paul.

PAUL: Hey. Thanks for taking my call.

FLATOW: Go ahead.

PAUL: I just wanted to say I rarely comment on any pieces that I read. But in my general Internet usage, if I'm not specifically researching something, when I come across a video or a piece that has the comments disabled, I just make it a habit, you know, eight or nine times out of 10 I just ignore it, and there's two reasons for it. First, I'm an adult, you know, I'm able to discern the intentions of the trolls and people who oppose whatever they're commenting on. And, you know, that can help me make my own decision.

The second, and more importantly, if you're willing to post an opinion, a belief, a statement, work, research, whatever, and you're not willing to discuss it, there's something in that that's visceral that just makes me not want to engage. And, you know, it's hard to explain but...

FLATOW: Well, let me have you talk...

PAUL: ...what sounds like (unintelligible).

FLATOW: Well, let me have you talk to John Hawks who doesn't allow anybody to comment on his...

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: ...website. John?

HAWKS: Well, I completely understand that attitude. You know, I want to see what the diversity of people think, but there's a lot of information sources out there where you can find out that diversity and (unintelligible).

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL: Right. When I'm looking for - when I'm looking specifically at researching, I'll ignore that rule. But I mean your point earlier about trolls leaching off the reputations of, you know, the people they're commenting against, I mean that's very well taken. But I really believe that most people are intelligent enough to look past the trolls and to the deeper issue.

FLATOW: Well, we all hope so, Paul.

(LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Thank you very much.

PAUL: Thank you.

FLATOW: Our number, 1-800-989-8255. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow here with Dominique Brossard, Bora Zivkovic and John Hawks. You can also tweet us, @scifri, S-C-I-F-R-I. I'm going to read a couple of the tweets that came in. CGino(ph) says: When it comes to science and tech, it's less a matter of an opinion than when it comes to - I imagine - other things. All kinds of stuff like that. Can I ask the panel about crowd funding for research? What do we think about that? Crowd funding for research.

ZIVKOVIC: I really, really like this idea, especially with the new - kind of new world of science funding where the reduction of funds, there's a lot of researchers looking for money and less and less money for it. So I'm looking with great interest at all the new endeavors for people for doing crowd funding. There's three or four organizations or companies now that are organizing or coordinating crowd funding. For now, those are not going to be $5 million grants. People are asking for, you know, several thousand dollars for small projects that can be pilot projects that can then be turned into bigger grants for NIH or NSF funding.

But what I find very interesting about it is in order to crowd fund even, you know, several hundred dollars, one has to actually engage with potential donors which are the anonymous public. So you can't just write the grant proposal or, you know, make a video and put it online and hope that people will drop, you know, $5 for your project. You have to actually actively engage with them in order to sell them on the idea that they should fund your project. You have to promise them that once you get funded and do the project, they'll be the first to know, maybe get something extra out of it for some extra reputation for funding a project that worked out well.

So it's a very, very nascent field. It really started just within the last year or two. It's very, very interesting to watch how that is going to change the way researchers are interacting with the public if the public is directly funding them from their own pockets out of their own choices what they want to fund.

FLATOW: Quick question before we go to the break from James(ph) in Phoenix. Hi, James.

Hey. Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.

Mm-hmm.

JAMES: I understand the opposition, the comments and posts, and both sides are very interesting. However, my question about bad info. I've been doing some research on vaccinations, and it seems I cannot find a story on that, where there's somebody trying to say that, you know, they've just proven vaccine, autism today where conversations don't take that corner. So this essentially becomes a political debate, not related to science. I'm wondering if what the panel thoughts were on some kind of editorial discretion and the likes.

FLATOW: How would the...

ZIVKOVIC: I would say it really depends on the site. And there are bloggers who focus on this particular issue, and they actually provide a forum for discussing this and providing all the necessary information to counter those claims. A site like Scientific America has to be much more careful about it because all the comments are - that are published on Scientific American are published on Scientific American. So it is as if we did it, so we have to be a little bit more careful what kind of information to allow and then how to counter it the best way so people - the 90 percent who never comment, the onlookers, the readers get the right message in the end and I understand that people are coming to every news piece with their own preconception...

FLATOW: All right

ZIVKOVIC: ...with their own worldviews. But over time, people do change their minds. Nobody is changing their mind immediately.

FLATOW: All right, Bora. I got to interrupt though. We'll take a break and we'll pick this up right after the break. So stay with us. We'll be right back. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about the Internet impacts public perception to science and scientific research. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. Let's go in the few we have left to Phil(ph) in Rochester, New York - in New Rochelle. I'm sorry. Phil in New Rochelle, welcome.

BILL: Yeah. Hi, Ira, only it's Bill(ph). I see a lot of people in blogs that make scientific comments. They're a complete balderdash. I saw one this morning where a fellow said that it was the coldest ever in Alaska, minus Haiti. That proves it there's no such thing as global warming. And you see so many of these things, and they all support each other. And I'm starting to think of it as a superstition. And I wonder - I liked to hear Professor Brossard's comment on that.

BROSSARD: Well, I mean, you raise a good point, which is that people will comment on and, you know, and try to portray their opinions about something. And I think these sort of question, what do you do with these kind of comments? And I think what would be important to keep in mind is that in this case, the person who's reporting, the blogger, may have an opportunity by interjecting in the discussion, within the comment and thread, to, you know, bring the discussion to a point where people realize that this is something that shouldn't be taken into account. So I'm - to be honest, like a proponent of the blogger, be more, you know, involved in the moderation by reacting, redeem the comments thread. And I realize that it's also not possible because of the volume of the comments themselves.

FLATOW: Good point.

BROSSARD: But on the other hand, research shows that discussion does increase learning. So, you know, like if you have a text and people discuss it afterwards, you know, that increase the potential for people to learn about it. So how can we do that in a conservatively way on line?

FLATOW: Bora, how do you do the - do you just block the blogger or do you use that, as a Dominique is suggesting, as a teaching moment?

ZIVKOVIC: I agree with Dominique completely. And in the piece I wrote last week about this topic, that was kind of the main point I was making, that the most important part of moderation of comments is for the author of the piece to show up. And often just by the fact that the author showed up, the tone changes. People say, oh, this is actually not just a, you know, a bathroom wall. This is actually somebody's place and somebody's watching and moderating and - their discussion and leading the discussion. And suddenly, people tone down. And many people who are coming in just to, you know, troll for ideology careers may decide not to join in because they sense it is a more controlled environment. And then those debates can happen, and it can be very constructive and very instructive and educational for the onlookers.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. That's a good point. Let's go to Derrick(ph) in Fort Myers, Florida. Hi, Derrick.

DERRICK: Hi. How are you doing?

FLATOW: Hi there. You're on.

DERRICK: Hello?

FLATOW: Derrick, you're there. Can you hear us?

DERRICK: Yeah, I'm here.

FLATOW: Turn your radio off.

I can hear you.

Yeah. Go ahead.

DERRICK: Well, I just - I wanted to say that I worked for Detroit Free Press as a writer for 23 years. And we went through the system where we allowed readers to comment on every story. I mean, our names and emails and phone numbers were on the bottom of every story. It got to the point where it was so toxic, the commentary, that we finally switched to a system where they could no longer be anonymous. They had to sign on through a Facebook system. And that got rid, I would say, of 90 some odd percent of the real masochists because a lot of these people, you know, I mean, they're cowards. And they were just looking for a place to sit and throw bombs. And when they could no longer do that, you know, from behind a screen of anonymity, it made a huge change.

FLATOW: Interesting.

ZIVKOVIC: I would like...

HAWKS: We...

ZIVKOVIC: ...to respond to this, just that it's a very important distinction between anonymous and pseudo-anonymous.

BROSSARD: Yeah.

ZIVKOVIC: A heading, a consistent pseudonym is very important for people who, maybe because where they work or who they are, would not otherwise be able to inject very important information into the conversation because of the fear of reprisal. On the other hand, I've seen people very proudly writing very noxious things under their own names.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Dominique, did you want to jump in there?

BROSSARD: Well, I mean, I think the caller brings a good point. I think it is easier for people, you know, like they're not tying up their name to be ruined in their own environment. But I think we should also bring back the discussion to what our piece was trying to show, that it's not - we're not talking about, you know, like outrageous trolling online. We were talking about where do we draw that fine line into, like, what's acceptable or not? And I think, you know, common sense would say, let's get rid of people that are not, like, let's get rid of feelings, let's get rid of comments that are not following the topic of discussion. Like, you know, like, if we're talking about nanotechnology and you have a climate change denier or, you know, comment that shows up. Obviously, we shouldn't leave that and also people that are outrageously rude.

But how can we, you know, make sure that we do leave things that are constructive but are not disruptive of the discussion? And that's the thing that I think we need to really ponder as we're developing into this online world. We don't have enough evidence right now to actually say what's the best way to go. We need more research on a whole (unintelligible) crowd of funding, you know, some research that would allow us to develop guidelines that everybody can use. And I think this is really something that we should think about.

FLATOW: And you've got the last - and she has the last word today. I'm sorry we have to let it go. Dominique Brossard is professor in the department of life science communications at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Bora Zivkovic is the blog editor at Scientific American and the organizer of the ScienceOnline conference, big conference which are going on right now in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bora writes at A Blog Around The Clock. And John Hawks is a science blogger and associate professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Thank you all for taking time to be with us today.

HAWKS: Thank you.

ZIVKOVIC: Thanks for having us.

BROSSARD: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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