“It should at least seem scientific!” Textual features of “scientificness” and their impact on lay assessments of online information

Authors


  • Accepted under the editorship of Gregory Kelly.

Abstract

The Internet is a convenient source of information about science-based topics (e.g., health matters). Whereas experts are familiar with the conventions of “true” scientific discourse and the assessment of scientific information, laypeople may have great difficulty choosing among, evaluating, and deciding on the vast amount of information available online on the basis of their fragmentary understanding of science. The evaluation of science-based text information may require an (at least rudimentary) understanding of the norms of scientific discourse. Two studies investigated whether laypeople have an adequate grasp of what makes a text scientific and whether their perceptions of text “scientificness” contribute to their evaluation of the credibility of online text information. Furthermore, we investigated whether laypeople distinguish between their own judgments of science-based information and those they expect experts to make, indicating a divergence between their understanding of “official science” and their personal beliefs. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed96:187–211, 2012

Ancillary