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.