10 Projects, 1 Goal: Find Ways to Cultivate Healthier Public Disourse

In February 2017, the Scholio project was awarded funding as part of a new $2 million fellowship grant program sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute and funded by the John Templeton Foundation. Scholio is one of 10 innovative projects that were selected to explore the broken landscape of American discourse and create enduring strategies to spur and sustain open-minded, reasonable and well-informed debate and dialogue.

The 10 interdisciplinary research projects focus on balancing two key features of democracy: intellectual humility and conviction of belief. Carefully curated out of an applicant pool of 110, not only for their individual merits, but also because they work in complementary fashion, each project will investigate how networks and institutions meant to connect us may be pushing people apart.

“Arrogance is easy in politics; humility is hard. These projects aim to rekindle the sense that we can learn from each other, and thus to help us restore a more meaningful public discourse,”

says Michael P. Lynch, director of the Humanities Institute and Principal Investigator of the Humility and Conviction in Public Life project.

More information about the funded projects can be found here

The project


The public sphere around media outlets offers many examples of dysfunctional behaviours that undermine the quality of public discourse. This is particularly the case with online public comments sections on news sites that attract thousands of people every day.

Can re-designing comments platforms promote more reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue? This is the question the Scholio project aims to explore, through a large-scale field experiment.

The field experiment will recruit ordinary citizens who read online news and randomly assign them to experience different perspective-taking instructions and platforms that organise and visualise comments in different ways. The project will also field-test a set of measures for investigating intellectual humility in online environments.

The aim of the Scholio project is to develop a scalable model for how news media institutions, and others, can incorporate comment platforms that promote reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue.

Scholio is one of 10 projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation within the broader Humility and Conviction in Public Life programme at the University of Connecticut.

The project runs for two years from 1 March 2017.


Welcome to our development diary. As you know from our previous post, we received funding to test new ways of improve the comment section of online news. In this space, we will track what we are doing and how the project is developing. Our plan is to test the platforms from September until the end of the year in Europe and the US. Later in 2018 we will engage a global online community of citizens in the main experimental phase. This diary will provide updates on what’s happening!

Graham Smith, Michael Morrell, and Paolo Spada