Exploring controversial science

Test tubes science

If you haven’t heard of Meryl Dorey, then maybe you’ve heard of her lobby group – the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network. This group is comprised of people who are ”very concerned about the lack of scientifically-based information on the ‘other side’ of the vaccination issue”. Meryl and her colleagues have involved themselves in controversy in New South Wales, Australia, over proposed mandatory vaccinations for children. 

A Facebook post from an Australian anti-vaccination lobby group, the AVN

Controversial science, like climate change or vaccinations, is the broad term we give all those unsightly arguments our policy makers, scientists, and ‘lay’ (in the science sense) people sometimes have. Often the controversy spans several years.  

In September last year, Popular Science (a website which reports on science and technology news) banned comments from headline stories. They made this fairly unusual move after a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported findings which suggested that even a minority of negative comments could impact perceptions of a controversial science topic. 

My question is, does removing comments lessen conflict over a potentially controversial topic, or does it increase reader ire? I also wonder whether removing the chance for interaction means that public understanding of science is still valued over public engagement with science. 

While I think on it, have a look at this brief video from Last Week Tonight on the climate change debate.


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