31 October 2013
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.