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Why Do You Comment Online?

Last month I wrote an article about how giving scientists a few merit badges could encourage them to be more transparent about their work. Given the ongoing discussion about scientific methods, I expected the story to draw reader comments about the badges, how to make science more reliable, and issues like that.

Instead, what people seemed most eager to talk about was a line from the Mel Brooks movie “Blazing Saddles”: “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” I’d quoted it in the first paragraph of the article, and readers were rushing to email me and leave notes in our comments section and on social media to tell me that the line didn’t originate with “Blazing Saddles.” (Which I’d stated in a footnote! But that’s another matter.)

The experience got me wondering: What compels people to comment publicly online or contact an author in the first place? Only a small subset of readers ever comment or write to me. What makes people take that step? Why was it that I didn’t receive a single reader email about the badges themselves, only about the movie quote? What is it about certain topics that they provoke such passionate comments?

As a science writer, I’m lucky enough to get paid to answer questions like these. So I’m on a hunt to learn more about the psychology of what drives people to comment (or not). I’ve been poking around the research on this subject, but I want to hear from you. Whether you’re a regular commenter or someone who’s never offered an opinion online, I want to know why you comment or why you don’t.

Please take a moment to answer our brief survey. (It will take only a few minutes!) I’ll be back in a few weeks to share what I’ve learned.

Christie Aschwanden is FiveThirtyEight’s lead writer for science.

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