Are Comments Bad for Science?

Via Slate.  The website Popular Science has shut off its comments section.  “Comments can be bad for science,” explained Suzanne LaBarre, the magazine’s online content director. She pointed to “trolls and spambots” who “overwhelm” the magazine’s efforts to “spread the word of science far and wide.” Thanks to these trolls, she went on, “the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”

The Washington Post agrees: “Down with Comments”   says Alexandra Petri.  Will Oremus at Slate says this is a bad move:  “LaBarre’s metaphors conjure an image of science as an ancient and immovable stone fortress, from which the anointed few (Popular Science staff writers, say) may cast pearls in the direction of the masses below, but which might crumble to dust if the teeming throngs aren’t kept at bay. This conception is antithetical to the spirit of free inquiry that has always driven scientific discovery.”

 

What do you think?

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2 responses

  1. The editors of a magazine like Popular Science have a right to refuse to print comments that are not relevant to the discussion; comments that are rude; or comments that are incendiary, mean-spirited, or personal/nasty. To shut off the comments completely deprives readers of intelligent discourse.

  2. Ultimately whether or not a website chooses to enable or disable comments is their decision. Comments do serve various beneficial purposes. They can help engage readers in the discussion as well as allow readers to critique the article and to call out the author on an article that the commenters may find to be biased or slanted or that has a misleading headline or a headline that is not supported (or even contradicted) by what is said in the body of the article. On the other hand there are negative comments, that can involve lies, slander, sincere or insincere misinformation (for instance about Autism and vaccines, as we mentioned in class a couple weeks ago) and of course spam/advertisements for all of things and links to “malicious” (i.e. sites that spread viruses and other harmful programs) websites.

    In general it seems to me that it would be a better idea for a site to allow comments but moderate them, than to just disable comments altogether (though perhaps in some cases, especially on some “hot-button” topics it might be better just to disable the comments). Of course moderating comments requires personnel (or maybe just programs) and leaves moderators and the site vulnerable to accusations of partiality in their moderation (“you guys censored my post” or “you deleted my post, but not his. His is just as bad if not worse. It’s just because you disagree with my point of view”).

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