Popular Science Kills Online Comments

Because they’ve discovered that trolls and jackasses in comment threads actively work against people taking science seriously.

Per this earlier discussion of comments, I think Popular Science is probably doing the right thing. The site doesn’t benefit from hosting dis-and-misinformers, and such folks are becoming more persistent and possibly more organized. Best to punt them entirely. They have their own places to stew; let them stew there. In the meantime the information in the articles will speak for itself.

74 thoughts on “Popular Science Kills Online Comments

  1. Personally I think MOST places should punt public comments. Do news articles NEED public comments? 99% it is just idiots on one side or another. Comments on a site like this are fine. That makes sense in this arena. But in most places it is just an attempt to drive traffic and serves no benefit to the reader.

  2. I love the fact that they’ve cited scientific evidence to explain why they’ve closed the comments. That’s clear dedication to the scientific concept of drawing evidence based conclusions!

  3. Probably they were embarrassed by all the cheering and praise they received. Just being modest, but nobody understands this ;-).

  4. This is indeed for the best (reading an open comment feed makes me want to poke my eyes out), but I bet the PopSci guys are going to miss their in-house “how soon will a commenter invoke religion to explain or debunk agreed-upon science” betting pool.

  5. Real name policies don’t do anything to improve comments, and they do a lot to hurt comments. Heck, I still can’t get a G+ account with the only name I actually care about the reputation of. (They theoretically allow nyms, but in practice they don’t, and their “appeals” process is totally non-functional.) So I have a G+ account using a completely and totally fake name which meets their standards for “looks like a real name”, so I can leave reviews on apps, and I don’t actually use G+ for any social stuff, because I can’t do so in a way that is meaningful or useful.

  6. I think you’re going to see this trend happening more and more in the coming months in the sector where commentary doesn’t really add to the article. In a site like yours (which we love), it makes sense. You have your opinions, you invite people to share theirs and/or build upon yours. Discussion continues. On a site like Popular Science, it doesn’t make sense. The article is talking about facts, processes and so on. They really don’t need some jackass questioning the methods when – to be fair – the entire process is likely not disclosed in a trade magazine (as opposed to a journal). I predict many news outlets will do the same. Let the discussions happen elsewhere – Google+, Twitter, Reddit – and keep that hassle out of your (Popular Science’s) court.

  7. My local paper site requiring Facebook for comments hasn’t slowed down the racists or homophobes at all. However it has allowed me to build a short list of local business owners that will never, ever see a dime of my money in their businesses.

  8. A comment system requires a moderator. For a huge site like that, probably a full-time moderator. That would be expensive. Better not to have comments than have a free-for-all.

  9. I’m just sorry that a few turds in the punchbowl ruined it for everyone else, and on something that should be as robust as scientific inquiry, but that seems to be the trend these days. No sir, I don’t like it.

  10. I wonder about the wisdom of sites that are there simply there to inform that allow public comments too. I used to think they were useful for news or popular science articles, and would sometimes politely chime in with my knowledge re biology if I thought something in an article might be inaccurate or overly simplistic.

    I’d inevitably be told I was stupid by someone who couldn’t even spell the word “stupid.”

    Then the accusations of the researchers “just” being PC or having a political agenda, or would digress off into attacks on Obama (if, God forbid, the study ties in with anything related to gender, sex, the environment or human cultures). And those kinds of comments always got a high thumbs up to thumbs down ratio. Really, the thumbs up and down thing was a mistake from the get go. Since when does popularity have to do with whether or not the results of a scientific investigation (or even a political opinion) is true or not? Since these sites are generally not moderated in any way, shape or form (or only respond to actual complaints, and then do so in a mindless and not considered way), what’s the point of the comment threads, really?

    Sites that are supposed to be about connection and debate are a different matter. But far too few of those are moderated, and they often descend into troll fests.

  11. @Seebs:

    Real name policies don’t do anything to improve comments, and they do a lot to hurt comments.

    Yeah, but nah… it’s funny how tens of thousands of newspapers and magazines have perfectly lively correspondence despite insisting their correspondents do so over their real names (and provide verifiable contact details) in the overwhelming majority of cases. Sure, there’s also ample evidence that doesn’t inhibit people from showing their arseholes in public, but so what? I’m old fashioned enough to think that unless there’s a real risk of clear and present danger in publishing something over someone’s real name, if you can’t say something nasty out in the open you shouldn’t be saying it at all. I certainly don’t want to publish it.

  12. Soon only Yahoo! will allow comments and it will become a black hole of stupid drawing in all of the interwebs.

  13. re rabbiadar – “Comments are only fun if there’s someone willing to wield a Mallet.”

    Amen. And to wield it in a spirit of loving correction ;-)

  14. Klout confirms that my now-and-then column on Facebook “Crackpots on Parade” is quite popular. There are half a dozen science-oriented Facebook Groups where I hang out daily. I have chosen the role of polite but persistent former Astronomy Professor and Math Professor who’s also taught Biology, Chemistry, and other courses, who keeps asking question of the crackpots who claim to have invented antigravity, perpetual motion, room temperature superconductors, or proven that Darwin or Einstein are wrong.

    There are usually enablers of the crackpots, who chide me for being rude in insiating of truth and coherence, and for denying their freedom to believe that (literally) “2+2=5″ or that gravity holds together the atoms in DNA, or that Tesla invented the computer, or any of a hundred other mind-bogglingly delusional claims. The crackpots are constitutionally incapable of admitting any error, however small, and begin to attack me, my family (wife being Chair of a university Science Department).

    They boast of being just like Copernicus, Columbus, Galileo, or Einstein. They accuse me of being a paid pawn of The Establishment, or being just like The Inquisition. Inevitably, their score on John Baez’s Crackpot Index convinces a majority in the group that the crackpot really is a crackpot.

    Oh, and they have sockpuppets galore. And they promptly move on to spam other Groups.

    So far I have gotten a 295,700 word (1,251 page) novel out of this: BATSHIT CRAZY, and a short story “Crackpots” And more. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. I’ll spare you examples here. If you’re on Facebook, c’mon over once in a while.

  15. The one time I saw public comments in such a place (including Huffington post, MSNBC, etc) be of actual use was on a local newspaper site during a wildfire. Real time comments (many of them later shown to be wildly mistaken of course) but useful nonetheless, of the “don’t go down Ridgeline Ave, the fire just reached it.” nature.

    Nothing that couldn’t be done on Twitter as well, but not ALL of the world is on Twitter, amazingly enough. It’s sad to lose that kind of interactivity with the crazy and the stupid.

  16. Managing a discussion forum to the point that it produces more light than heat is seriously hard work. Hard enough that writers can’t be expected to also be the ones producing the content that gets discussed on said forum. It’s a pity that original news sites haven’t gotten some magic formula for having a useful comments section, but at least there do exist news aggregation sites that do have it figured out well.

  17. Well, I don’t read popular science. But its purpose is to “popularize” science (i.e. make it accessible and interesting to non-scientists). To that end they’d have to deal with a lot of the misperceptions (intentional or not) of lay people. Having comments allows people to ask simple or stupid questions and have them answered.

    Look, PS is like a 200-level science course for non-science majors. Not allowing stupid questions to be asked in such a course would render that course practically useless.

  18. Jack Lint :Yahoo is already a black hole of stupid. I just stopped doing anything there years ago, beyond checking my email.

    I’m all for getting rid of comments sections unless they are heavily moderated. Trolls are everywhere, especially if any site you create appears on the first 2 or 3 pages of Google. Its impossible to hold discussion of any meaning without at least a little loving correction.

    I’m sorry that PS had to do this but I’m not at all surprised. Trolls will show up on even the most innocuous of websites. (Knitting! Really?) So certainly PS was bound to become infested. I feel its a burn it and salt it strategy but that site is much too large and attractive to trolls to do much else.

  19. I just don’t see why moderating comments isn’t a more viable option. By eliminating comments altogether, we’re risking losing the great potential for dialogue and the marketplace of ideas that is inherent in online media, and reverting back to the “broadcast to passive audiences” mentality of traditional media.

  20. @D. Travis North: I actually think that there is a role for laypeople questioning methods and interpretations. When it comes to discussions of the implications of results there’s no reason informed non-scientists shouldn’t be able to contribute. That’s why this is so sad: something that could have been a fantastic way for the public to engage in science instead became overwhelmed with people who were only trying to shout their own platform.

    @scorpius: If you read the article in question, the issue wasn’t that PS was tired of answering questions. It was that the ad hominem attacks and flaming was demonstrably causing people to perceive the issues being reported as more polarized than they actually were and hurting PS’s ability to communicate science. If all that was happening in the comment was that people were asking simple or introductory questions, the comment section would be alive and well today.

  21. cranapia: I think the important thing to note about newspaper and magazine “letters to the editor” pages is those pages are moderated. Or, in the jargon of the industry, edited. For example, our city’s regular newspaper regularly gets over 300 letters to the editor per week. Readers of the paper will see about fifty to seventy-five of those – the ones which are published. The rest? We have no idea what they’re about, and we never will unless we wind up being employed as the hapless minion chosen to wade through the mailbag and pick today’s letters for publication.

    TL;DR version: moderation counts for a lot more than real names in that context.

  22. Damn, but this is necessary. Maybe Scientific American should do this, as well, and let their bloggers turn the comments on on a case-by-case basis.

    In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to do this. Then again, an ideal world would not have morons clogging up the IntraWeebs.

  23. In general, I’m for comments pretty much everywhere. I think comments are one of the best things on the internet.

    Folks tend to be so divided, so polarized, that I worry a trend in this direction will leave even more hard-lined thinkers trapped in their bubbles. At least with comments there’s a sense of diversity just about everywhere, even on sites known for leaning heavy one way or the other.

    At the end of the day, I don’t applaud anyone who tells the little people (folks without big platforms) that they don’t care enough about what they have to say to let them say it.

  24. In our current Age of Disinformation, apparently the only effective way to combat willful ignorance or malicious dissimulation, especially in the study of science, is to intentionally shut down those mechanisms that enable such activity. Too bad the same cannot be done in the political arena as well.

  25. I wonder how many people who are boosting the idea of Popular Science having a moderated comments page have gotten in touch with Popular Science, suggesting that they themselves would like to take on that task? Unpaid, of course.

    People are always willing to volunteer (someone else) for thankless jobs of this nature.

  26. At the end of the day, I don’t applaud anyone who tells the little people (folks without big platforms) that they don’t care enough about what they have to say to let them say it.

    Has anyone asked you to? If that’s what you got from the article, you might want to read it again.

    It wasn’t that they didn’t care about what other people said. Had that been the case, they’d never have had comments open. Instead, they looked at scientific studies of unmoderated comments, and realized that vandals in the comments diminish the credibility of the articles. That gave them a choice: a) allow the vandals to diminish their credibility, b) hire at least one, and probably more, moderators, or c) close the comments. Given that magazines aren’t exactly rolling in money nowadays, I’m not at all surprised that they chose c.

  27. I have no problem with Popular Science taking that stance. It’s obvious to me how malicious and persistent some trolls can be. Some actually feel very strongly about their positions but refuse to keep an open mind on the subject. What we’re seeing is the net equivalent of hecklers. On the net it’s too easy for them to populate a forum of otherwise reasonable people.

  28. Cally,

    You wrote: “Has anyone asked you to?”

    I’m afraid I fail to understand the point of your question. No one has asked me to either like or dislike the policy. I have chosen all on my own to either like or dislike the policy. Is commentary on the subject limited to folks who were invited to express an opinion?

    You wrote: “If that’s what you got from the article, you might want to read it again.”

    So I read it again. And I still feel my opinion is valid. To start, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the conclusion reached based on the results of the study. Nor was I impressed with the fact that only one study was mentioned, which happened to only rely upon a little more than a thousand test cases, which happened to be drawing conclusions from what amounts to unknown subject matter. Simply put, I don’t know how well written the fake post was, nor how well reasoned attacks against the fake post were.

    Regardless, I think it’s a good thing that people have shown a willingness to change their opinions based on discourse. Not a bad thing.

    In the article, the following was written: “If you carry out those results to their logical end–commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded–you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.”

    Let’s ignore that this is a slippery slope fallacy on its face.

    For discussion purposes, I’ll accept that public policy *to a degree* impacts what research gets funded. However, I don’t see any evidence to support the suggestion that comments there have sufficiently swayed public opinion enough to impact funding.

    And if that connection could be shown to exist, I don’t know that I would be particularly moved anyway. Consider this question: should public opinion have anything to do with what gets researched in the first place? If your answer is yes, then ask yourself why the public shouldn’t engage in discourse on such topics. Isn’t that healthier than being spoon-fed select information? If your answer is no, then who should impact the decision? It is, after all, the public’s money being utilized.

    Regardless, much of the argument put forward in the article strikes me as willfully acknowledging a desire on the magazine’s part to shape public opinion without challenge. Which sounds dangerously close to propaganda. If I believed in any human’s ability to be non-partisan then I’d at least respect the spirit of the end goal. However, when Popular Science is publishing articles titled “Republicans Block Proposal For National Science Laureate, Fearing Science” I have to question their actual objectivity.

    If you simply put forward that there’s no scientific disagreement in regards to climate control then I have to disagree, specifically because I know for a fact that there is disagreement. Whether the folks who do disagree are right or not is a matter that can ultimately be settled with predictive models that actually work. Now, I recognize we, you and I, might not get far in the conversation, because one of us might be married to the idea of being right, but that, in my opinion, is part of the problem, an overall lack of civil discourse.

    Though you haven’t asked me, I’ll nevertheless say this: I’d prefer to live in a world where diverse opinions and interpretations are capable of being discussed. I fear a world where lines are drawn starkly between polarized factions. There are enough people living in political bubbles already. I don’t want to see more.

  29. Having been flamed, for having had the temerity to have had a car accident, on Yahoo news, I think news sites should indeed punt comments into the wastebasket forever, but PS has done itself no favours by not bothering to look after their comment streams at all.. I looked at one or two, and there were elderly “try my medication” and “buy my product” all over.. Not very hard to get rid of these things.
    I’ve turned Anonymous comments off on my blogs, and moderate everything, but I’m small. If John can manage it, so can others..

  30. Nor was I impressed with the fact that only one study was mentioned, which happened to only rely upon a little more than a thousand test cases,

    A thousand is a sufficiently large sized sample to be fairly confident about the results. I’m not sure why that would seem insufficient to you.

  31. Folks tend to be so divided, so polarized, that I worry a trend in this direction will leave even more hard-lined thinkers trapped in their bubbles. At least with comments there’s a sense of diversity just about everywhere, even on sites known for leaning heavy one way or the other.

    The thing is, Johnathan, some forums are made with the assumption that people who subscribe to it have a real interest in the material and are well informed. For example, why would someone who challenges the legitimacy of science frequent a forum based on science? What’s the purpose? To disprove it? What’s to disprove? It’s science. It’s proven and measurable. I’m not interested in hearing someone rattle on about how metaphysical beliefs should supersede something that is quantifiable and measurable and can be consistently manifested through experimentation. That’s for another forum entirely.

  32. Oh so this is really about the AGW arguments. I still remember working as a volunteer in the school library when PopSci was talking about the coming Ice Age because of the cooling trend. While binding up the year’s magazines with a hot glue press, you had time to read all the mags.

  33. Why aren’t these sites using some version of Slashcode for comments?

    Everyone upthread here is going on about how moderators are expensive because they have to be on duty all the time and so on, but Slashcode allows a quasi-random subset of commenters to act as ad-hoc moderators (with a limited number of “mod points” to assign, and they can’t all be used on the same comment), plus it has a karma system where those people who repeatedly make good, cogent comments become more trusted members of the community and get mod privileges more often. Also, getting karma often becomes kind of an end in itself, motivating people to make good comments. And the karma system allows people to upvote or downvote comments based on what *kind* of comments they are (e.g. “+1, Insightful,” “+1, Funny,” “-1 Off-Topic,” “-1, Troll”) and these settings are probably configurable.

    Slashcode is also open-source and endlessly customiseable, and there’s already a large body of knowledge around on how to operate a site using it, and it does support having full-time mods. It’s also really, really mature, having been around since the late 1990s that I’m aware of.

    I know WordPress and Disqus pretty much own the mindspace right now, but they’re really not the best option for this sort of thing. Slashcode communities don’t work perfectly, but IN GENERAL, the trolls, paid shills, derailers, FUD-spreaders, and other inviters of Malleting tend to sink to the obscurity of “Bad comments not shown.” The NYTimes does something similar, only without the rotating ad-hoc mods and karma system, and it seems to work relatively well, particularly for lurkers, who are especially important in this scenario.

  34. “Let’s ignore that this is a slippery slope fallacy on its face.”

    No, I think you ought to at least try to support that assertion. Otherwise, it looks like you may be trying to poison the well (speaking of logical fallacies).

  35. Doc,

    Fair enough. First, if you don’t mind, let’s see if we agree with what a causal slippery slope fallacy is.

    Slippery Slope Fallacy: “If A happens, then by a gradual series of small steps through B, C,…, X, Y, eventually Z will happen, too.
    Z should not happen.
    Therefore, A should not happen, either.”

    The argument being made is:

    If internet comments persist,
    public opinion can be swayed.
    If public opinion is swayed,
    public policy may change.
    If public policy changes,
    public funding may be impacted.

    Because public funding should not be impacted, internet comments should not persist.

    This seems to me like a fairly obvious example of a causal slippery slope fallacy.

    ***

    gwangung,

    My issues with the size of the sample group come down to three rough points.

    1. I’m unaware of the demographics of the sample group.
    2. How many folks in the sample group showed a change in opinion? All of them? Half of them? Ten of them? That information was not shared.
    3. Have these results been duplicated in further studies? Or do these results stand alone, relying only on the results of the eleven hundred participants?

    Basically, the study wasn’t linked as far as I could see. I haven’t, as yet, looked it up, but the article seemed to hang its hat on an op-ed piece written for the NYTimes.

  36. Hey, Johnny Knight:

    Slippery slope my big fat ass. There is nothing even remotely “slippery-slope”-like about permabanning RSHD or his craven lickspittles. “Slippery slope” only comes into play when a public (i.e. government or government agency) site starts moderating, and even then it’s pretty clearly wrong for a public site to moderate. For a private site, though, it is not only permissible, but preferable, for the comments sections to be moderated and/or closed entirely.

    For example, Scientific American went all wishy-washy “oh-we-don’t-want-to-seem-like-dictatorial-censors”, instead of using the fact that their website is technically private like a hammer, and now there’s a whole slew of AstroTurfing trolls paid off by the Koch brothers to spread AGW denialist lunacy all over the comment threads. They also give free reign to Bill Crofut, a self-described “Traditional Roman Catholic and Young Earth Creationist” who literally thinks that the sun goes around the earth, and julianpenrod, a conspiracy theorist who rants about how the evil “NWO” is using evil weather machines to cause Hurricane Sandy–or possibly to fake it; the penrod isn’t very coherent, and shows signs of advanced paranoid schizophrenia.

    When your top commenters include a filthy excuse for a human being who advocates that all cetaceans be exterminated and eaten, an obnoxious and abusive global warming denialist who seems to enjoy reciting the same tired talking points and insulting others’ sexual prowess, a goddamn geocentrist who says that he’d rather see rape victims die than let them abort the pregnancies they got from being raped, and the penrod, who thinks that electricity is “tiny aliens in the wires” and once accepted an offer from another commenter to buy a “Paranoia Deluxe” tinfoil hat for $9.99, then you need to clean up your website, fast. There is no “slippery slope” when these nuts are involved. They destroy the site’s reputation and make it less fun for all of the normal, sane, rational people like you and me who might otherwise read Scientific American.com.

    Essentially, government sites should be unmoderated (because they are public fora), but individual users should be able to ignore the nuts with customizable filters. Private sites, such as online periodicals and blogs, should be either heavily moderated (as Our Host’s inestimably glorious site is), or have no comments at all.

    On a lighter note, I think that the Kitten Setting should be used all over the IntraWeebs.

    Scalzi ftagn.

  37. Interrobang
    Slashcode can work, but I get mod points at Slashdot frequently, and I hardly ever post there. Or meta-mod. But maybe I built up so much karma over the past 15 years or so that I just automatically get the mod points.

    I do, always, read it at +2. Which eliminates the griefers.

  38. J Knight:

    You’re mischaracterizing PopSci’s argument.

    Interobang:

    The big problem with a site implementing Slashcode is that Slashcode requires a community to be trained in its use. That takes time and effort.

  39. Thank you, David. I was going to point out to JK that the paper was all of three clicks away, but I forgot.

  40. DAVID, thank you. I’ll read it fully this evening.

    ***

    Doc,

    You wrote: “You’re mischaracterizing PopSci’s argument.”

    How so? The exact argument Popular Science put forward was:

    “If you carry out those results to their logical end–commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded–you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the “off” switch.”

    Or, to paraphrase your earlier comment to me: Any chance you can try to support your assertion? Otherwise, it looks like you may be trying to poison the well

  41. Yes, that is what they said. What you said was:

    If internet comments persist,
    public opinion can be swayed.
    If public opinion is swayed,
    public policy may change.
    If public policy changes,
    public funding may be impacted.

    Because public funding should not be impacted, internet comments should not persist.

    PopSci is not arguing that “internet comments should not persist”. On the contrary, the article is quite explicit that PopSci believes internet comments to very often be valuable, and in fact plan to continue to open select articles up for comments.

    There’s also nothing in the article that says that PopSci want’s public funding of science to be “not be impacted”. Their concern, as is abundantly clear from their article and the study they sight, is that trolling and abusive comments, in particular, can have an impact on policy that they are not comfortable supporting.

    The best response to bad speech probably is more speech, but no given private entity is obligated to provide the forum for that speech.

  42. My issues with the size of the sample group come down to three rough points.

    In other words, your issues weren’t with the size, but with sampling and methodological rigor–(size is irrelevant if your sampling is flawed in the design).

  43. JK: There are valid chains of process too.

    “If you let your 2-year-old wander freely, s/he may wander into the road. If s/he wanders into the road, s/he may get hit by a car. Getting your 2-year-old hit by a car is a bad thing, so you shouldn’t let your 2-year-old wander freely.”

    Is that a Slippery Slope fallacy? It’s certainly a sequence of possible events, but it’s not fallacious.

    What you haven’t done is show why the PS argument is fallacious.

  44. Also, JK, what I was doing, if it was logically fallacious, would not defined as “poisoning the well”, which involves preemptively calling an argument into question by association to some generally accepted, but largely unrelated, bad thing.

  45. For those who want to study up on logical fallacies. The fallacies are listed on hoverable icons that give a summary; if you click the icon it gives a more detailed description with an example. A very useful site for learning the names of things.

  46. A more advanced, comprehensive, and detailed list of fallacies. Use the other one for the basic stuff. Here’s their writeup for Poisoning the Well, which is actually a kind of ad hominem.*

    *A term much abused on the internet; if you argue that sugary softdrinks are healthy based on a study you present, and I point out you are a soft drink manufacturer and paid for the study, that’s not ad hominem. If I say we shouldn’t listen to you because you have 25 unpaid parking tickets (or are a Communist etc.), that is.

  47. Marlene, not so much, for intelligent people. For example, the article on PopSci, that we are discussing right here and now, doesn’t have comments enabled.

  48. TL;DR version: moderation counts for a lot more than real names in that context.

    @megpie71: Thanks for the reply – great point, well made. I just don’t think, from experience and observation, that it’s a coincidence that some of the more rancid keyboard cowboys I know have been… well, a damn sight more civil when I’ve been standing in front of them. Of course, making people sign their real names (and provide verifiable contact information) isn’t a magic cure for on-line arseholism. (Case Study: The chap who still thinks it’s the height of wit to call our host “McRapey”) But it doesn’t hurt.

  49. Cranapia, I agree with what you say, but can I point out that the “chap” is question, though his real identity is well known, to this day uses an online handle when posting in internet forums. (And an egregiously pompous and egotistical handle, at that.)

  50. I for one think this is infortunate, popsci is not always correct with their science, or at the least sometimes not up with the most recent research and challenges. Now people might be more apt to take everything that popsci says as an absolute. All of which is not what science is about.

  51. I’m pretty sure (personal opinion only) that PS is tired of wading through the mountains of trash that were deposited on its comment threads. When discussions spiraling into all types of irrelevant namecalling and far worse is the norm, it’s not surprising they elected to close most comment threads entirely rather than attempt to moderate them. Imagine several dozen threads like Our Host’s more vigorously debated ones, only with fewer polite, intelligible or intelligent comments. Sisyphus had it easy.

  52. I expect Popular Science will continue to publish criticisms from people who actually know what they’re talking about and have the appropriate credentials to prove it, in the form of letters to the editor. Blowhards who haven’t read, don’t understand, or refuse to believe the material really add nothing to anyone’s understanding of anything.

  53. I’m pretty sure (personal opinion only) that PS is tired of wading through the mountains of trash that were deposited on its comment threads.

    Yup – as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s really easy to say “more moderation is the answer” which is perfectly good in theory, but like most theories becomes slightly more complicated in practice. Especially you’re not the position where you either have to hire and pay moderators, or take staff off other things (like proof-reading, fact-checking or writing content) you might well find a more productive use of your already well-stretched resources. Reality, like karma, is a bitch.

  54. @Floored

    Damn, but this is necessary. Maybe Scientific American should do this, as well, and let their bloggers turn the comments on on a case-by-case basis.

    I stopped reading Popular Science more than a decade ago when I realized they were presenting fringe science to the laymen (which I then was and in many fields still am) as though it were independently verified research. Scientific American has crossed that path more than a few times as well, but at least they mostly commission articles written by bona fide scientists. Not that professional science writers don’t get things right – they’re often more objective that the primary researchers – but scientists tend to be more leery of tarnishing their own reputations through any failure to present all pertinent caveats. Admittedly, I read Scientific American on dead tree scrolls, so I’m have no idea how infested the online comments are.

    @nellern

    In our current Age of Disinformation, apparently the only effective way to combat willful ignorance or malicious dissimulation, especially in the study of science, is to intentionally shut down those mechanisms that enable such activity. Too bad the same cannot be done in the political arena as well.

    Unlike what Popular Science has done, that really is censorship you just floated. I’m quite glad people who hold such as view as yours are free to tell the rest of us so, much like the rattle of a snake. Science is a quest to understand how the natural world works. Politics is a debate about what to do as a collective society. One is about how things are and the other is about how we want to try and make them. Only one has an objective truth to pursue.

    @kikstad

    By eliminating comments altogether, we’re risking losing the great potential for dialogue and the marketplace of ideas that is inherent in online media, and reverting back to the “broadcast to passive audiences” mentality of traditional media.

    Not exactly. People are still free to create their own spaces to engage in conversation over the topics addressed. Popular Science has merely declined to aggregate them in an easy-to-find manner. Whether this is a net positive or a net negative is certainly debatable, but people are free to get their science reading elsewhere, most especially on the internet.

    @Heather Milne Johnson

    I stopped reading comments quite a while ago. I don’t blame PS a bit. The loud and ignorant have way too much influence.

    I agree with your first two sentences. But the third is confusing. What influence does this take away from the loud and ignorant? Someone who uncritically reads comments (or even Popular Science for that matter) is going to be credulous whether they’re misinformed by Popular Science commenters or someone else. A failure of critical thinking cannot be remedied by trying to control access to information, and it can be exacerbated by it. Also, I think you mean loud and stupid, as ignorance is a state anyone begins in, but only the stupid steadfastly refuse to acknowledge. If ignorant people didn’t ask questions, they wouldn’t learn. Arrogance, on the other hand, is a flaw that’s unique to neither the ignorant nor the comparatively well-informed; we are all susceptible to it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think cutting loose the raft of crackpots is a great idea and more power to Popular Science for lightening the load. But ignorance is something else altogether.

  55. @ Gulliver: SciAm’s top commenter is a guy called G. Karst, who is a shill for the Koch brothers and likes insulting every aspect of his opponents. He has some sweetheart deal with the editors, so that he has never been banned, despite his ad hominems being in clear violation of site policy.

    That’s their top commenter. The comments sections are essentially a polluted mess now.

  56. @Floored

    There are actually very few places I delve into comments (this obviously being one). It’s not for lack of interesting comments elsewhere, but for the interminable morass of cow dung through which one must wade to reach the gems. Even if I had the kind of time, shit trekking is no way to spend it. I personally have no moral objection to un-moderated comments; I just think they render that particular feature effectively useless in that few reasonable people will ever give it a glance, certainly not if they value their precious daylight hours.

  57. @ Gulliver: I agree. It is (occasionally, when you’ve got nothing better to do) mildly amusing to mock creationists and similar trolls on comments threads. There’s this guy called David Marjanovic on SciAm who is a brilliant paleontologist with the world’s worst case of SIWOTI syndrome. The poor guy literally searches for creationists to debunk, which he does in a beautiful, clever, articulate fashion. It’s like watching Gary Kasparov play chess with a pigeon. The one makes this clever strategy to trap the other in hypocrisy, and the other just knocks down all of the pieces and declares victory by ignorance.

    I don’t advocate doing this with any regularity, though. It can drive you nuts.

  58. Sad to read this, but I can’t blame them one little bit. “We” commenters have managed to “foul our own nest” on far too many websites. (And I don’t blame this completely on trolls or spambots.) We’ve all forgotten that it’s their website – their “playground” so to speak, and they can set any rules they want. Sad indeed to see news like this, but many folks hanging around know that they have no one other than themselves to blame.
    Once upon a time, the Internet was actually a place to visit for civil discussion and dialogue. I’m not sure at all what it’s going to evolve into – just pretty sure that I’m glad I won’t be around to see the final (filthy) product…

  59. My local paper has required people to use their Facebook accounts and the racism and overall hate has decreased dramatically. Imagine that.

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