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Communications The Internet Science

Do Comments On Web Pages Ruin Science? 281

Posted by Soulskill
from the peer-reviewed-opinions dept.
GregLaden writes "Last week Popular Science shut down comments on their web pages citing the damage being done to the public perception of science as their reason. Earlier research suggested this might be a good idea because trollish, negative comments can color the perception by readers of a news story. However, some have taken Popular Science's move to be anti-science, implying that science itself is positively affected by web and blog comments, as though these comments contributed to the science being done itself. Here, I take exception to this and suggest that while comments are important in relation to the public perception of science (which itself is important) blog and web commentary never, or only rarely, influences the process of scientific inquiry itself."
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Do Comments On Web Pages Ruin Science?

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  • by noh8rz10 (2716597) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:23PM (#45019983)

    it's clear to me that the issue isn't with science itself, or how it's "done" in some sort of ontological sense. the issue is with how people perceive science, and how they perceive others' perceptions of science to be. These meta-perceptions are really what the whole issue is about.

    For a comment to further scientific discourse, not only does it have to contribute a constructive thought, but others need to perceive it as constructive and build further on it. Web comments are often exactly the opposite - people make a mental impression of your comment without fully trying to comprehend (or even read!) it, and respond based on that. So you get what we have here today. Trolls, shills, pedants, and grammar nazis.

    Actually, my favorite comments are at the right-wing rag Daily Caller. Every single comment thread devolves into one party accusing the other party of being closet democrats.

  • Moderation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Beardydog (716221) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:25PM (#45020011)
    Maybe instead of shutting down commentary, they should have implemented the kind of half-decent moderation system that the only usable comment sites have adopted.
  • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:25PM (#45020017)
    Since when do random websites have the moral obligation to provide comment sections?
  • Paid comments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:30PM (#45020061)

    I don't think that open comments systems can survive the onslaught of paid comments. If "winning" means having more comments (say) opposing global climate change than supporting it, that is very cheap to arrange if you have a modest amount of cash (or a suitable number of committed followers). Such tactics render the comments section value subtracting, and it is no surprise if they get turned off over time.

    That is especially true if there is not a strong community present on the site. Slashdot has that, and so it is doing better than most sites.

  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <> on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:31PM (#45020067) Homepage

    Is that if some scientist decides they've discovered X through Y, some dude across the world who's already gone down that path and found a flaw with Y can chime in. And then another one who found a fix to the flaw can also chime in. Thus science wins.

    Probability that this actually occurs on a popular website and that the original scientist reads it? I'd assume slim to none. Still, you're taking away the most globally significant feature of the internet by limiting communication.

    I'd guess the practical benefit to comments is that kids too young to decide their future might be able to get excited and participate in a discussion here. Nurturing excitement in STEM is always a good thing.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland @ y a> on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:41PM (#45020167) Homepage Journal

    It has nothing to do with dissident speech. It has nothing to do with squelching actual scientific discussion.

    Read the damn study.

    There is no such thing as dissident speech in science. Ignorant, fallacious, and incorrect speech is another thing.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:42PM (#45020173)

    I can speak like a drunken sailor and be utterly scientific or speak in ideal erudite diction and be utterly unscientific.

    Further they're talking about the perception of science which is itself unscientific since perception isn't scientifically relevant.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:49PM (#45020223)

    This isn't about squelching dissident speech in science ... not among scientists.

    It's when trolls, shills, and other many others with personal or idealogical agendas start posting lies, half-truths, propaganda or other questionable facts *as science* on these public forums. The public gets more content from the comments than they do the articles and/or studies. Pollute the comments and you pollute the facts & science the readers take away from the articles.

  • by notanalien_justgreen (2596219) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:50PM (#45020231)

    The common man may indeed have a scientifically useful thought to contribute to scientists. However the venue for expressing that thought to scientists is not the forum of a magazine's website. Scientific colloquiums are open to the public and always have QA sessions. Journal articles always have email addresses of the authors. There are many ways to contribute and communicate to/with science, but a comment section is not one of them - no matter how well moderated.

  • by xevioso (598654) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:54PM (#45020257)

    "Only a few of us can actually decipher the bullshit enough to know that both sides are out to screw the American Public."

    Which itself is bullshit, because each side believes earnestly they are in the right. Neither side believes that in the long run it's position is worse for America, but is instead better. One or both sides may be incorrect in this belief...but each side believes in the truth of their fundamental principles.

  • by tmark (230091) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:54PM (#45020267)

    "blog and web commentary never, or only rarely, influences the process of scientific inquiry itself"

    If so, then what does it matter whether or not commentary is allowed ?

    What almost certainly happens is a bunch of pseudo- or anti-science gets posted. People then read this stuff and see it as legitimized by being on Popular Science, when they forget - or fail to see the distinction - that the dubious claims are on in a comments section.

    Honestly, I believe that the Internet is modern science's biggest boon, and it's biggest threat. When know-nothings have a voice that can be as heard by as many people as experts, we're in trouble, and the Internet has brought that to us in spades.

  • Re:"The Study" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:02PM (#45020347) Journal

    Fine by me. I long ago stopped reading anything by science journalists, who, save for an exceedingly small number of them, deserve neither the title "science" or "journalist".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:10PM (#45020417)

    We all know who/what the culprit is. Why are we so afraid to name it?

    It's right wing paid manipulation of social media. Either primary by paid shills, or secondary by brainwashed followers of right-wing media. There are rich people out to manipulate the public for their own means and they are grossly in one camp. If you believe the "Dems" or the "Left" are equally culpable you have a severely warped sense of perspective and scale, probably induced by exposure to said propaganda outlets. (Or as a coping mechanism to rationalize your pre-existing world view. Nobody wants to believe that their heros are evil.)

    It's a systematic attack on the public mind. Ranging from the sabotage of public education, the positioning of public debate, the capturing of media outlets, and the dissemination of propaganda through churches and other religious organizations.

    You are being assaulted. The time for compromise and discourse is over. We are being brutalized by mindeless savages that have their morals and rationality removed. It's time to stop being polite.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:15PM (#45020467)

    Scientists, in my experience, typically respect dissident thought. (I am not going to say that good dissident ideas are always embraced, but they are generally listened to if there is serious thought behind them.) Dissident speech devoid of thought, on the other hand, is generally ignored in science. (It is, after all, not a democracy.)

    My mileage varies. If your "dissident thought" would negatively impact funding, like the study of AGW, scientists neither respect "good dissident ideas" nor do they ignore them. They are, in fact, quite abrasive about it. I've seen this is the local papers especially. Someone writes a letter to the editor about AGW that the scientists don't like and there are immediate public responses shouting them down.

    Stop being silly.

    Scientists getting grumpy about anti climate change letters to the editor have nothing to do about funding. They have everything to do about the fact that no serious scientific discussion goes on in letters to the editor. You get random gripes, political diatribes, and rants there. You aren't exactly getting novel scientific ideas in letters to the editor in your local paper.

    If somebody writes a letter to the editor questioning evolution or gravity or whatever, scientists will get grumpy about that too. But that random letter to the editor will have no effect on their funding.

    Scientists just don't like being called out as incompetent at their job by people who generally have no idea of what they are talking about, which is generally what you have with letters to the editor on climate change. I don't think that this is an unreasonable reaction to be honest.

  • by Dzimas (547818) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:17PM (#45020485)
    This is a brilliant example of how comments don't work. It's emotional, obscene and grammatically incorrect. Comment sections don't foster debate, they tend to foster name calling and repetition of the same damned arguments over and over again.
  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:19PM (#45020493) Journal

    When it comes to AGW or evolution, the two topics I've paid the most attention to so far as comments from non-scientists, the bulk of the "skeptics" information seems to come from a very small number of organizations whose sole purpose is to spread anti-science FUD. Whether it's the Koch Brothers and their various shills or Answers in Genesis, it's all the same strategy; muddy the waters by making it look as if there is still huge debate on the scientific theory they're attacking. Throw in a bit of "consensus is evil, only believe dissenters" nonsense, they can give the appearance of a theory being total dreck, without ever having to bother actually publishing a single article in a journal to support the claim. Of course, it helps they have nasty little shills like Michael Behe and Roy Spencer who happily cash the cheques and publish anti-science material with their PhDs prominently displayed, but when you look at their actual publishing history in the journals, never publish anything to support the claims they so eagerly make on blogs, editorial sections or comment sections.

  • by SleazyRidr (1563649) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:20PM (#45020515)

    Science isn't a democracy. There are no scientific dissidents. There are jackasses who are too stupid to understand science, and they yell loudly about how it must be wrong. If you think that a conclusion made by scientists is wrong, we would absolutely love it if you could prove them wrong. People being wrong is how science moves forward. Going into the comments section and telling people that the earth isn't really getting warmer does not count as proving anyone wrong.

  • by Endovior (2450520) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @07:47PM (#45020747)

    Uh, no. *Some* of the people on each side believe they're right. I'm pretty sure that John Boehner is just trying to protect his job (position as Speaker of the House) and wishes the Tea Party never made the demands in the first place.

    And what gives you such deep insight into the minds of others, to accurately judge who is sincere or not? Remember, no one sees themself as the villain of their own story; most people have layers upon layers of rationalizations, justifications, and excuses, which combine to form a 'moral code'. It's entirely possible, even probable, for someone's motivations to be completely consistent with an earnest belief that they are in the right, even when observers see their actions as corrupt and self-serving. Even serial killers and child molesters typically have worldviews that frame themselves in a positive light. It takes an unusually honest disposition to admit to flaws in one's own character, even to oneself... and politicians are not generally known for such honesty.

  • by SirSlud (67381) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @08:42PM (#45021173) Homepage

    Lastly, can I be the first to point out that Popular science has very little to do with science and hasn't in well over 50 years? They are to Science what the Enquirer is to hard news sites. ... which makes people that care about Popular Science's move sound even more out of touch. People making a big deal out of this mystify me.

  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @09:13PM (#45021373)

    They do not, but any scientist does have a scientific obligation to not try to repress dissent. Science thrives on dissent.

    There is a big difference between legitimate dissent, and useless argument. If a scientist posts a discovery of a newly discovered fossil, is it the scientist's duty to answer every one of the hundreds of claims of the Earth being created in 4004 b.c.e.? How about the person who wants to argue about Phlogiston theory when people are trying to discuss the large hadron collider? Some things just aren't open to debate any more

    I've worked with many scientists, and just about universally, they welcome challenges and problems. But real challenges, not someone telling them they are going to hell because they don't believe in things that the accuser does.

  • by Ol Olsoc (1175323) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @09:22PM (#45021443)

    Respond with your best reasons, rationally, unemotionally. Don't let yourself get caught in the flame war, instead go on with your life. Why do we need to suppress speech again?

    When someone is trolling in disagreement, you simply ignore it.

    Arguing with creationists, tobacco industry lawyers, birthers and deniers is pointless. You'll never change their mind, and their only purpose is to disrupt you.

  • Re:My Opinion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Wootery (1087023) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:06AM (#45022927)

    Arguments on web sites don't make them swing. They are thinkers.

    {{Citation needed}}

    Also, you are implying that 'thinkers' are somehow above being swayed by argument.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @04:36AM (#45023013) Journal

    Perhaps it's different in other disciplines, but I've never seen an idea that could negatively affect my funding, and if there were one it would not be a dissident idea, quite the reverse. Grants aren't to prove that X is true, they are to explore the factors relating to X. If someone has an idea that is disruptive to an entire field (everything you were doing is wrong) then that produces more funding, not less, because now there are a whole new range of avenues of investigation. The things that negatively affect funding are (repeatable) results that show something so conclusively that there is no point in ever investigating it again, and those are very rare.

    The AGW example is particularly silly, because fields where there is deep division in the scientific community are the ones where it is easiest to get funding, as everyone wants to know which competing theory is correct (or that they're both wrong). Most climate scientists I've met would love for there to be some strong, evidence-backed, scientific theories countering their work, because then their next grant application practically writes itself.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp