Why We Are Shutting Off Comments

Popular Science Gets Rid Of Comments Instead Of Teaching Science

Why We Are Shutting Off CommentsPopular Science has decided to do away with reader comments.

This was not based on opinion or hurt feelings but based on science.  Studies have shown that readers comments, particularly less civil ones, affect how people view scientific news.

The magazine took the logical leap to say this is why science is struggling. One only needs to listen to climate-change deniers, anti-vaccinators, proponents of creationism being taught in schools and the like to realize how much loud minorities with distorted stories, Google, and a few rogue people with letters after their names, politics on their mind, and dollar signs in their eyes can bury heaps of strong research and scientific evidence.

Smart, caring, thoughtful people are confused and unsure — making up vaccine schedules and ignoring weather patterns and shrugging their shoulders. I have trouble defending some of it in daily conversations. Science is confusing. What makes a good study? Why is my personal experience not a good study? How can I get what I want in life and still believe in the science?

The last one is hard and personal. I want to believe in a Christian God, but this theory of evolution exists. (I believe in both.) I want to keep buying SUVs and iPhones, but this climate change evidence is creating droughts which destroy crops and farms and people’s livelihoods. (I’m not perfect in my going green because I like stuff.) I want to protect my children because feeling powerless against autism is hard and our immune system is confusing, but these studies prove vaccines are safe and protective given as they’re given. (The only reason I didn’t give my kids 4 shots at once was because I thought it would hurt too much after I got 2 shots at once.)

But I don’t think everyone is just looking for a biased way out. I think it’s more complicated. Science makes mistakes. Medicine is an art as well as a science. There is more to be explored within the human body and in nature. We are supposed to be skeptical and questioning within science. But we need a foundation of understanding first. What Popular Science could have done is created primers for epidemiology and definitions of terms. They could give more knowledge of basics. They could’ve had moderators to help. I don’t think shutting off comments gets to the root of the problem.

People need to understand their personal bias (“I want an easy answer to protect my children from harm”) and understand the term “bias” in a science study (when a “‘systematic error [is] introduced into sampling or testing by selecting or encouraging one outcome or answer over others’. Bias can occur at any phase of research, including study design or data collection, as well as in the process of data analysis and publication” (source)) so they can read an article, learn more about the author, and participate in the discussion. Both science, Popular Science, and the other readers would be better for it.

Instead, there are no more comments on the pieces, the same sort of problematic comments on Popular Science’s Facebook and Twitter, and a vocal minority who continues to not believe in the validity of science. I’m not sure who or what will change.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

4 thoughts to “Popular Science Gets Rid Of Comments Instead Of Teaching Science”

    1. It’s interesting that comments change our behavior because I often do read the comments on pieces but mostly op-ed pieces. I do know the cost of moderating comments who be high but I think shutting it all down seems like a higher cost in a more profound sense.

  1. I think shutting off comments is more good than bad.

    When you read something you’re likely to believe it. If you were to have read two scientific descriptions and later asked which was fake, I bet the results would equally probability for the vast majority of the population.

    The problem going on with anti-science is these people put their fingers in their ears because what science says conflicts with their personal beliefs. The more overwhelming the claim, the more evidence that needs to be presented. However, the more you believe something the more likely you are to dismiss evidence that doesn’t conform with your world view.

    So average Protestant American grows up hearing about creation and how the devil has put the idea of evolution into our heads. Average kid believes it more, the more he hears it. By high school, average kid can’t accept that their parents were wrong on this. Because if they were wrong on evolution, maybe they were wrong about sitting too close to the television or eating carrots?

    By college, average kid is distancing himself from those that trust evidence and surrounding himself with people that conform to his worldview. Now, at age 30 average kid doesn’t understand why 90% of his friends and family believe in creation, but those damn scientists keep pushing evolution. So he gets on the internet and only reads pages that add evidence to support his argument and thinks he’s helping humanity by educating them on the comments of places like HuffPo or PopSci.

    The problem here is that average kid was never taught to think for himself. When raising kids you can say, “this is the way the world is” or “why don’t you go talk to people and read books and sit in on forums, gather as much info as you can, and then decide how the world works.”

    This is a classic “teach a man to fish” situation.

    Did ancient Greeks believe in their gods less than present day Christians? So then how can average kid say Greeks were so silly to believe in what they believed in, without questioning their own world view? Guess what. Maybe the Greeks were right. Or, ok, maybe not the Greeks, but Egyptians were totally right. Good luck trying to find a church in average kid’s city that worships Ra. What kind of god or gods will people that laugh at us in 4,000 years believe in?

    If the papacy can say evolution is a proven scientific theory that does not conflict with the story of Genesis, why can’t average kid? Average European kid sure as hell accepts the idea of evolution. Pretty much the only ones with their head in the sand on that one are the U.S. and a few Middle Eastern countries.

    Average kid thinks in the same way you’d treat a gunshot victim at a hospital without proof of insurance, it’s his duty as a moral being to loudly speak his truth. You can’t blame average kid for that. But you certainly shouldn’t give him a platform for his misinformation.

  2. Ha. And then I totally went to your facebook page to tell you I left a comment and what did I find? That’s right, someone that has argued with me over the science used in modern agriculture…..

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