“Comments are bad for Science”: News site blames trolls for forum shutdown

26/09/2013

Science and technology news website Popular Science has axed its comments section, blaming "trolls" and "spambots".

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The 141-year-old American magazine has decided that an open forum at the bottom of articles "can be bad for science".

In an article explaining the decision, Suzanne LaBarre, online content director for Popular Science said "Comments can be bad for science”, adding that “insulting comments and marketing spam had diminished the site's ability to foster "lively, intellectual debate".

The consensus surrounding scientifically validated topics, from climate change to evolution, had been "eroded" thanks to a "politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise", she added.

Citing research from a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, the magazine argues that exposure to bad comments can skew a reader's opinion of the post itself.

"Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they'd previously thought," Brossard wrote in the New York Times.

"If you carry out those results to their logical end," says LaBarre, "commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded – you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the "off" switch."

The news comes as Google rolls out comment moderation for YouTube users.

YouTube has long been a magnet for vicious comments left by anonymous viewers, so Google is now allowing some video uploaders to moderate the comments section on their videos using Google+ tools.

Comments would be listed according to their conversational relevance, not just their time stamp, and would also take into account the reputation of the commenter, YouTube announced.
Video creators will also be given the power to moderate comments and make conversations private or restricted to their Google+ contacts.

Read the popular science blog here

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