Americans may be embracing social media and online publications faster than research can determine its effect on science communication, and science understanding can be skewed by the increasingly personalized Web, asserts an article in the Aug. 13 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
As early as 2006, 70 percent of Americans searched online for answers to science-related questions, noted Dominique Brossard, a professor of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, but search engine algorithms could mean public opinion about controversial topics -- like climate change or stem cell research -- is impacted by how those search engines list the results to a query.
Researchers themselves are increasingly turning to social media to keep up with the most recent scientific developments, according to a report from the National Science Foundation. In 2010, one-fifth of neuroscientists and a quarter of physicians surveyed said they read blogs or used social media one or more times a day. "Science as an institution is, more than ever, in need of public support as federal funding is shrinking and scientiﬁc issues become more and more entangled with social and ethical considerations," the article reads. "A theoretical understanding of the processes at play in online environments will have to be achieved at a faster rate if science wants to leverage the online revolution for successful public engagement."