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Nanobots in Danger
Online trolls are taking a toll on science.

According to a study by researchers at UW-Madison, nanotechnology is facing an immediate threat – unpleasant blog comments.

The study, which sampled a representative cross section of 2,338 Americans, showed that in the realm of online science news, the blog comments we often dismiss as uninformed – if not shockingly ignorant – actually have an impact on the world outside of the blogosphere.

At Thursday’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, UW-Madison science communication researcher Dominique Brossard reported that the tone of blog comments alone can influence the public perception of risk posed by nanotechnology, the science of manipulating materials at the smallest scale (think the width of a human hair divided by 100,000).

The study, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, manipulated the civility of blog comments on otherwise balanced blog posts and gauged study participants’ resulting perception of risk associated with nanotechnology – a technology that is already built into more than 1,300 consumer products but remains relatively unfamiliar to the public.

Overt disagreement and name calling were two factors shown to sway reader perception. Highly religious readers were also more likely to see nanotechnology as a threat when exposed to rude comments compared to less religious readers.

Here are some examples of damaging comments:

“This article is 100 percent propaganda crapola.”

“I think you can take all these studies by pointy-headed scientists, 99 percent of whom are socialists and communists, and stick them where the sun don’t shine.”

“Yawn. Climate change myth wackos at it again.”

The study failed to address whether or not movie villains who use nanobots to spread deadly viruses – like those in the upcoming movie Iron Man 3 – are also a drag on public opinion.

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