31 October 2013
Sign of The Times: Popular Science Closes Website Comments
Posted by Dan Satterfield
First ,it was the LA Times who (earlier this month) announced that letters calling climate change a hoax or conspiracy would no longer be published. Now, Popular Science has announced that reader comments will no longer be allowed on most news stories. Here’s why in their own words:
“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.”
I’m sure there will be howls of protest over this, but I think they made the right decision. If you want to convince someone that accepted science is wrong, then learn the subject and submit a paper to a peer-reviewed journal. That’s how it’s done. All opinions are not equal, and while everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs, they have no right to see it published on any website other than their own.
Popular Science points out that allowing comments that have no factual basis do have an effect on the perception of a story by readers. A good example is the large number of Americans who believe that scientists are divided about whether increasing greenhouse gases are warming the planet. They are not, but when someone sees a new report, or reads an article in print media that has even a small section devoted to “The other side”, they end up with the wrong impression. This “false balance” is not journalism, it’s acting as a court reporter.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune is also now the subject of a petition drive from readers, who understand the difference between good journalism and a false balance. The usual defense employed in cases of false balance is to assert the claim of giving both sides, but good journalism is finding the real balance, and judging sources by their expertise. Unfortunately we live in an age where the executives of some print and media outlets have found they can get high ratings by telling their audience what they want to hear, whether or not it’s based on fact.
When 42% of Americans have not read a non-fiction book in the past year, it’s pretty obvious that a large segment of Americans live in a bubble created by these outlets, and have no real idea of what the facts are. As he left Independence Hall, a woman asked Ben Franklin what kind of government they had been given. He replied ” A republic madam, IF you can keep it”. When only 58% of Americans are reading a non fiction book each year, that republic is in jeopardy.
To those who will cry censorship over these new policies, here’s the best way to get your comments published: Do your homework first, and listen to a variety of opinions. Then, check out the facts and make some observations all without cherry picking. By the way, there’s a name for this process.
As we begin to achieve true artificial intelligence, publishers should be able to filter out political comments, and retain the legitimate scientific comments automatically. Social media must change. It wastes too much time with little real news. Facebook needs a user selected filter like a spam filter. I am just about sick of what are clearly political advertisements. The curiosity is the public that doesn’t show up to the polls to vote. Only half registered voters vote. I bet many of those pushing political opinions aren’t even registered voters.
Darn, I loved leaving snarky comments on denial rags like the DC Caller first thing in the morning. Maybe even more than morning pancakes or sex.
Also we may want to examine what happen to Egypt when the government turned off the social media. Citizens started to pour into the streets once their expression was cut off, and the rest is history.
Unlike what happened in Egypt, internet users still have endless online options to express their opinions. I’m sure you can find them if you truly need the entertainment before pancakes and sex.
There is a purpose to my comments: Its a seed. But, it’s also a howl of anguish and fear that allows me to get on with my day by putting it smack firmly in front of me. Some people stretch in the morning, I do that, for me and my loved ones.
And, the DC Caller, et.al, does not deal with facts. Not even close. And, it’s purpose isn’t to inform.
Here is a sample climate denial comment posted by mememime this week:
“Prove to your readers that science has ever agreed that a CO2 crisis will happen eventually not just “could” happen “possibly”. Not one IPCC warning says; “inevitable” or “unavoidable” and nothing beyond “could be” swimming in “maybes”. You climate blame believers cannot say it will happen because science has not. Deny that. What has to happen for science to end this debate and finally give us a real warning for a real crisis.”
So, if I can set them straight, or plant the seed, I’m glad to do it, but it would be nice to just have the pancakes and sex in the morning.
Love this post, think its right on. First and foremost.
Second, citing statistics about the number of non-fiction books read in the last year seems awfully arrogant. I am a scientist, and many people I grew up with in rural America don’t read non-fiction books, or books at all. This does not mean they are uneducated or uninformed. Most are very intelligent and have insightful opinions. Number of non-fiction books read is not an accepted metric of intelligence or how informed someone is. Like you, I have no data on this, but I suspect it has more to do with how bookish your background is. I only bring this up because you rally against uninformed opinion, and then select a statistic that has no real connection to your argument.
AND AGAIN- I don’t mean to hate, this article was great and spot on.
I’m confused about the non-fiction measure of relative understanding. First of all, books are rarely subjected to peer review. A lot ill-informed and simply wrong fringe ideas are published in ostensibly non-fiction books. Furthermore, a lot of fiction deals with real and substantive current and historical issues and ideas in ways that can be more balanced than many non-fiction books.
Agree. Seems like a shallow metric for well intentioned and informed people.
My point was that a large minority of people are getting almost all of their information from TV or radio. Neither of which has time to give anything more than an extremely brief summary. You cannot understand any issue by those two alone. Guess I should have put that in terms that were more clear. That said, among well educated people, you would find the percentage of people who have not read a non-fiction book in the last year to be VERY low. VERY low.