Popular Science is shutting off their comments

by on Oct.11, 2013, under Articles, Culture, Science

Perhaps old news for some but this caught my eye and I felt like commenting on it.

Popular Science, the website/magazine, is turning off comments on their website’s articles citing that comment sections no longer support their goal of fostering discussion and debate about emerging science and technology. How is that? How can having the ability to comment on an article somehow making discussion worse? Well blame the trolls.

The article cites a study which show that readers who read civil comments after an article are unfazed in their opinion of the article, however readers who reads negative or uncivil comments have their opinions polarized, that is they grow a strong opinion, one way or the other, about the article and its content.

“Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.”

This is what I call the theater effect. If you watch a film in a theater with a bunch of friends and then discuss it afterwards, it is often the case that if at least one person disliked the film then the entire group will generally come to a negative consensus about the film, even if there is at least one person who vehemently liked the film. And in many cases, if such a person existed within the group, their opinion would not have been so overwhelmingly positive without the negative to spur it.

Popular Science points out that this gives a lot of power to relatively small amount of people, who can effectively interfere with the opinions of people on new ideas, new science, and new technology, by attacking the technology with baseless lies and irrational arguments. Combine this with the current state of social upheaval in regards to science and education and you get a rather stinky concoction.

“A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to “debate” on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

And there is the meat of the argument. Popular media and the internet has made it easy for people to talk but not everybody is informed and some even actively attempting to sabotage discussion. These types of people can and are taken as rational debaters in debates that shouldn’t even exist, and Popular Science feels that their comments section only aggravates the situation, which I can completely understand. It makes me sad, of course but perhaps it is a step in the right direction. Now readers can form their own opinions of a given article without immediate influence, and can discuss it elsewhere.



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