PopSci has turned off its comments, citing research demonstrating that rude comments beneath an article polarise a reader’s opinion of its content, and tend to make people doubt the science involved.
Given their stated aims, it seems like a reasonable move – if they’re not going to be able to give the conversation the attention it needs, and especially if they’re facing coordinated astroturfing to undermine their science. They don’t owe anyone a platform.
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.
Has anyone yet tried a pre-mod commenting policy requiring scientific accuracy and cited sources in comments? That could be an interesting community – labour-intensive for the moderators and maintainers, but a fascinating place for expert discussion.