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Popular Science Is Getting Rid of Comments 473

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-got-a-bit-too-popular dept.
Daniel_Stuckey writes "From an article announcing the sites' decision to do away with comments: 'It wasn't a decision we made lightly. As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter. ... even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests. ... 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.'" This comes alongside news that Google is trying to clean up YouTube comments by adding integration with Google+. "You’ll see posts at the top of the list from the video’s creator, popular personalities, engaged discussions about the video, and people in your Google+ Circles."
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Popular Science Is Getting Rid of Comments

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  • Moo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chacham (981) * on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:16PM (#44943801) Homepage Journal

    In other news, Slashdot has decided to get rid of the commenting system, noting that most comments are not informative, and only serve to derail the important points with discussions of overlords, hot grits, and first posts. Instead, only the Slashdot team will be able to comment, limited to which "dept" the story came from.

    The change on slashdot was well received according to the poll asking about it. The one choice, Cowboy Neal, which was explained to mean "yes", was the overwhelming choice by voters. The change is expected to make it easier on new users.

    Erstwhile administrator and founder Cmdr Taco, said simply, "In Soviet Russia, this is how we did it."

    • Re:Moo (Score:5, Funny)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:49PM (#44944479) Homepage Journal
      I have an easier idea—why not just get rid of first posts? Most of the trouble stems from those. The rule would be simple; if a news article has zero comments on it, no one is allowed to post until it has more.
      • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JabberWokky (19442) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @01:12AM (#44945047) Homepage Journal

        I have an easier idea—why not just get rid of first posts? Most of the trouble stems from those. The rule would be simple; if a news article has zero comments on it, no one is allowed to post until it has more.

        Actually, that isn't a terrible idea (yes, I get your joke). A more serious implementation would have the comments be invisible for the first hour. People can post them, but only people with moderation points can see them and moderate them. Thus the initial set of visible comments starts off pre-moderated, and presumably sorted by their score. People can game the system -- by putting in high quality replies directed only at the article (or editor/author/summary -- this *is* Slashdot), which is not a bad thing at all.

  • Sour grapes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geek (5680) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:18PM (#44943807) Homepage

    "Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again"

    And here I was under the impression that everything in science was always up for grabs. This is just the mag trying to silence dissent. I happen to agree with evolution but I have no problem debating it with people who do not. Nor do I believe evolution is settled science, we continue to learn a great deal and there is always a possibility of some groundbreaking new development to come along and rock the whole foundation.

    • Re:Sour grapes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:30PM (#44943893)

      THIS!

      When the ideas of science are no longer up for grabs then it ceases to be science and become religion.

    • Re:Sour grapes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:34PM (#44943923) Journal

      "Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again"

      And here I was under the impression that everything in science was always up for grabs. This is just the mag trying to silence dissent. I happen to agree with evolution but I have no problem debating it with people who do not. Nor do I believe evolution is settled science, we continue to learn a great deal and there is always a possibility of some groundbreaking new development to come along and rock the whole foundation.

      You might want to consider re-weighting the importance of various venues. Internet comment sections are not...exactly... a notorious haven of scientific enlightenment (regardless of topic). The SNR is shit, and it's basically just psuedoanonymous people regurgitating links and copypasta at one another (like some sort of horrible combination of wikipedia and what a decadent late-imperial roman would have considered a good party).

      It's perfectly possible for new developments to come along; but the probability that they'll emerge on a message board (rather than, say, during the course of archeological or gene sequencing work) is negligible.

      • Re:Sour grapes (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Evil Pete (73279) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:16PM (#44944259) Homepage

        Here's a perfect example. Yesterday I was reading an article in the News section of Nature online. There were three comments: one was about how the item confirmed Billy Meier's contactee reports with his meeting with the Pleidians; another was (if I remember correctly) arguing against AGW; the last one was a guy touting his own theory of everything on his website. This is one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world. The comments were just embarrassing. They should just ban comments in the news section.

        After that, this action from Popular Science looks positively enlightened.

    • Re:Sour grapes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by halexists (2587109) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:37PM (#44943937)
      Yes, but one hopes that debate carries some sort of rhetorical value. When the debate takes the form of "I believe in X and here are blatant falsehoods to support my view and you can't talk me out of claiming they are true," I can understand why Popular Science doesn't want to associate its brand with that.

      I'd say that Popular Science isn't trying to silence dissent as much as it is trying to not be party to this type of discussion, which is an affront to the scientific method. It is too bad that the quoted rationale centers around "established facts in science" rather than not wanting to legitimize non-scientific discussion of the sort that crops up in their comments section.
    • by the_B0fh (208483)

      There is a difference between reasoned debate, and trolling. You appear to lump both together.

      You are wrong. They are not one and the same.

    • by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:47PM (#44944469) Homepage Journal

      This is just the mag trying to silence dissent.

      I'm with you but I used to work in print and a decent editor would have have been able to mitigate the trolling.

      It's 2013 not 1813 and *any* editor-level staff member at Popular Science should have known that trolling on the comments can be mitigated with a points system or if need be require a login. Sometimes its not that easy but the solutions aren't expensive or prohibitively time consuming.

      Here's the thing: COMMUNICATING WITH READERS IS A NECESSITY

      Newspapers can't afford *not* to have a comments section. It's 2013...my grandma is on facebook.com...the expectation for interactivity and social networking integration is higher and growing...

      Part of the problem is that media *owners* have no idea what they are doing and just do the standard cost-cutting algorythm whenever they buy a newspaper. They cut out every function that isn't associated with ad revenue until the publication is so shitty and uninformative no one uses it.

      Popular Science is no different. Really it's just a brand name anymore...one of dozens of 'titles' owned by a conglomerate. In this case the The Bonnier Corporation out of Sweeden [wikipedia.org]

      Usually a company like Bonnier will contract with someone like Disquss or even Facebook.com to integrate all the comments on all pages to one system (that will then sell the commentors data on the advertising grey market).

      Just for comparison's sake, imagine if Apple were run by a person whose only business experience is running a casino....

      That is the kind of step down in management quality that crippled and ruined print media.

      The whole notion that 'print is dead' is bullshit excuses to cut staff and make generic news not local news. People are reading more text than ever before. People are writing more text than ever before. People have an expectation for distraction like never before. People want quality media in all forms across platforms.

    • Re:Sour grapes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lendrick (314723) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:49PM (#44944477) Homepage Journal

      And here I was under the impression that everything in science was always up for grabs. This is just the mag trying to silence dissent. I happen to agree with evolution but I have no problem debating it with people who do not. Nor do I believe evolution is settled science, we continue to learn a great deal and there is always a possibility of some groundbreaking new development to come along and rock the whole foundation.

      Groundbreaking new developments come from research, not youtube comments. The people posting troll comments about climatology and biology are almost universally unqualified to be making the statements they're making. If someone tells you that if you drop a rock it will fall upward, why do you need to give them the time of day? The fact that millions of people may believe very strongly in "intelligent gravitation" or some bullshit doesn't make it right. Some things in science are not up for grabs, at least not by random laypeople and corporate shills trolling on the internet.

    • Re:Sour grapes (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sg_oneill (159032) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:56PM (#44944513)

      The problem is, even on a site like slashdot where you'd think theres a degree of scientific literacy you still find people who actually believe climate change is some sort of vast left wing conspiracy, when we actually know that its both real, and overwelmingly caused by human CO2 output.

      Its not a debate in science but for some messed up reason its still a debate in the public. I can certainly understand why a lot of the scientific community is pretty fed up with having to deal with a nutbags flooding the real debates, namely how serious the problem is, and how to fix it, with deceptive or stupid denialist junk.

  • by dcollins (135727) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:22PM (#44943833) Homepage

    Between these sites slamming the door shut on public comments, walled login gardens, and NSA slimy fingers on everything, it's just super depressing. Feels like a mortal wound.

    Seriously, critique the Slashdot comment system if you like, but it's a thousand times better than 99% of the sites out there. And it's pretty simple. Sites not ripping off this system seem like they conscientiously want a reason to slam the door on public conversation.

    • The slashcode itself is pretty creaky; but the conceptual structure beats the hell out of most anything I've seen.

      Non-threaded boards are totally hopeless unless the number of comments per topic is tiny (Oh, sure, I want to sort through 30 pages of comments, manually parsing them to see who is quoting what... like hell); but the 'moderation is basically a presentation problem' approach( where you can, fairly easily, see whatever you want, nothing goes down the memory hole; but you can also get a quick 'b
    • by LordLimecat (1103839) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:58PM (#44944135)

      You actually have no idea what the web is about do you?

      Heres a hint: practically free self publication to an entire world with no effort. That part hasnt changed, and is easier than ever. Have Windows? 3 buttonclicks, and you have IIS up and ready to go. Have Linux? One or two commands and you have a LAMP stack ready to go.

      What youre lamenting is apparently that a few freebies are being retracted because people are figuring out that giving randoms a soapbox on your site doesnt improve the quality of your site.

    • ... these sites slamming the door shut on public comments,

      Seriously, critique the Slashdot comment system if you like, but it's a thousand times better than 99% of the sites out there. And it's pretty simple. Sites not ripping off this system seem like they conscientiously want a reason to slam the door on public conversation.

      Fool. That's precisely why all the sites should disable comments. They never needed them to begin with because sites like slashdot do a far better job of moderation. Focus on generating better content, we'll focus on aggregating and moderating better, you can stop being so damn melodramatic. Oh NOES! The comments that no one read are going away!

  • by Esion Modnar (632431) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:26PM (#44943855)
    And this why we can't have nice things. Thanks a lot!
  • Hurrah Slashdot! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rueger (210566) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:27PM (#44943863) Homepage
    Seriously. I can't think of a better system for comment handling. Just move the sliders aaaaaaall the way to the right and never see another troll!

    For some reason The Register also seems to have good quality comments. As does The Guardian, so it can be possible to build a commenting community that works. Maybe it's a British thing?

    On the other hand it's been years since I bothered looking at comments on any Canadian media site..... CBC pays a lot of money to contract out comment moderation and still manages to have a worthless stream of dreck.
    • by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:33PM (#44943913)

      Seriously. I can't think of a better system for comment handling. Just move the sliders aaaaaaall the way to the right and never see another troll!

      Sliders? I'm viewing this in Lynx.

    • by geek (5680) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:59PM (#44944137) Homepage

      For some reason The Register also seems to have good quality comments. As does The Guardian, so it can be possible to build a commenting community that works. Maybe it's a British thing?

      Good comments or comments you agree with? I ask because they aren't necessarily the same thing.

  • Amen: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Delusion_ (56114) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:46PM (#44944017) Homepage

    > A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics.

    True worldwide, alarmingly so in the US, where "it inconveniences my politics" carries the same weight in discussions as "there is no evidence for this hypothesis".

  • by iggymanz (596061) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @09:50PM (#44944065)

    there are no "bedrock scientific doctrines", the teachings and models of science get replaced or refined. Scientists want that and are glad when it happens.

    • by gnoshi (314933)

      There are "bedrock scientific doctrines". Like bedrock, they can change, but to change them requires something pretty impressive. Comments on an article are not that.

      Look at the first 5 comments on one of the articles they linked as an example [popsci.com] of the problem. The article is titled "What Happens To Women When They're Denied Abortions?"
      For convenience, reproduced here:

      The narrative of this article and the study on which it is based perpetuates the falsehood, in that it assumes pregnancy is not a preventable occurrence.

      What happens to the baby when it's denied an abortion?

      To piggyback off of [first commentor], this article also never explores the possibility of putting the baby of for adoption to a family that will love and look after it's well being, and cover a lot if not all of the mothers medical expenses. Adoption is an option!!

      My sister in law is a NICU nurse and has been in a number of different states, and she is baffled when she talks to girls that are considering abortion, all of which indicate that they were never told it was an option to put the child up for adoption. Come on, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people in this country that would do almost anything to have a child, to the point where they will go to Africa for a baby!! I mean when I dont want my dog or cat anymore I dont kill it I give to someone else who will care for it .....sigh....we're doomed.

      My mom had 9 kids (quite the opposite from Miss S.) and went through financial collapse and suffered poor health. She didn't ever once consider aborting, if she did neither my brother nor his son would be alive today.

      That said, I cannot feel sorry for a woman who hits hard times in spite of her best attempt to kill her child off.

      So some women get depressed when they are not allowed to have a government sanctioned murder of a baby. Outstanding...

      How selfish is humanity that we condone murder of babies instead of dealing with 9 months of inconvenience, embarrassment, and adoption....

    • There are bedrock scientific doctrines - most notably, empiricism. If it turns out the universe is not actually empirical, then no scientific result can be trusted.

  • by hsthompson69 (1674722) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:15PM (#44944255)

    ..."bedrock scientific doctrine"

    Do they even realize the inherent contradiction between "scientific" and "doctrine"?

    Science is the ruthless pursuit of truth through falsifiable hypotheses, and *requires* challenges to any "doctrine", and *requires* the admission of error.

    The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

    • by SylvesterTheCat (321686) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:02PM (#44944541)

      doctrine (from dictionary.com)
      noun
      1. a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government
      2. something that is taught; teachings collectively
      3. a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject

      I purposely left off their examples, which are religious, although there is no reason that doctrine is inherently so.

      Maybe I am not so bright, but I am not seeing a definition of the term "scientific doctrine" as anything more (or less) than "a body or system of teaching related to science."

      I suspect you may be confusing "doctrine" with "dogma."

  • by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:33PM (#44944375) Homepage Journal

    Gag me.

    Did someone really just use that term?

    cf. http://www.edge.org/conversation/a-philosophy-of-physics [edge.org]

    The term scientific certainty almost always comes up in terms of the Global Warming debate these days, although evolution has been in there as well. I'm sick of either side using it as a debate point, its unscientific.

    You can almost never be certain of anything. That's not how science works.

  • by epyT-R (613989) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:46PM (#44944455)

    Since when does consensus determine the truth of anything? I would side on open discussion because even the pros are human, and can make mistakes, and/or deliberately misstate things for emotional reasons. Open discussion prevents any one party from controlling the dialog for political reasons. Close it down, and one party gets entire control of the floor. The internet was about P2P interaction, and yes that includes dealing with people who don't agree with the stated position.

    The term 'troll' has been abused so much now by free speech critics that I'm not sure it has any meaning than as a pejorative for someone who uses whit and sarcasm to score a good point. If science is about extracting truth from the ether, then this person is no different. He's correct, or not. His style is irrelevant. 'trolling' is not an excuse to shut down communication. If that's what popular science wants, maybe they shouldn't publish on the internet and give monologues on public television.. I'm sure all 3 people watching will agree, wringing out their emotional tampons in sympathy.

  • by organgtool (966989) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:21PM (#44944641)
    I imagine that the reason Dice Holdings purchased Slashdot is to find ways to maximize profit from the company. Then why is it that they haven't attempted to license out the comment moderation system currently available on Slashdot? Yes, it might cannibalize some of their current readership, but they could limit that by licensing to web sites that do not specialize in technology.

    It's not like they would run into a lot of competition either. Right now, the most popular comment hosting site seems to be Disqus. Every site that uses Disqus lists the comments in reverse chronological order. That means that every poster is reading the last few comments and then chiming in with arguments that have already been made and maybe even debunked much earlier in the conversation. And the moderation system has no concept of karma or the capability to moderate posts via categories. Dice, use what you've got and start making money off of it from other web sites already!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @02:21AM (#44945301)

    i LIKE strange comments. i love youtube AS IT IS. i DO NOT want to see featured comments from "personalities." I like the offensive and non-PC stuff from unknown. That's why I watch YouTube and not other forms of media. I want the raw, uncensored, the good and the bad. I wouldn't be surprised if Google ruins it, as they're on a streak of ruining all of their products lately.

  • From different POV (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rosencreuz (1393933) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @03:09AM (#44945467)
    Maybe it's not a bad decision. Not because of the reasons listed, but because sites like this doesn't provide a decent comment structure to allow any kind of useful discussions. Maybe it's better to use slashdot, reddit, etc. for discussions. I'm not against separating content production from discussions. Social media features (commenting, sharing, connecting, etc) are a hype now, every site is trying to add something. Most of the are not really useful. Maybe instead of trying to providing social media they should focus on the content.
  • by master_p (608214) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @03:36AM (#44945535)

    Pay some people or give the better commenters the ability to temporarliy ban trolls. That's how you solve the problem, not by removing commenting.

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