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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 @05:23PM (#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.

    • Every single comment thread devolves into one party accusing the other party of being closet democrats.

      In San Francisco, the greatest insult you can call someone is Republican/Redneck/Bigot.
      On the other side of the mountains, in the central valley farmland, people will insult you and call you a liberal/democrat.

      It gets tiring sometimes.

    • by fermion (181285)
      n 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."

      popular science articles, especially when directed at the popular rather than technical community, never, or only rarely, influces the processes of scientific inquiry. I want one example of a major grant or new scientific theory that was prompted by Popular Science or Discover or Omni or whatever.

      I certainly agree that these magaz

    • by s.petry (762400)

      it's clear to me that the issue isn't with science itself, or how it's "done" in some sort of ontological sense.

      I disagree with the terminology here, because while "science" never changes the politics around what is approved for teaching has always been political. I believe that's much of the concern with shutting down blog posts, as is discussed very well here [dailytech.com]. If a person points out a typographical error, it's beneficial to the article. If a person points out a different study with different results, it is also beneficial to the science. Shutting down comments removes both of those possibilities.

      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.

      I disagree with

  • Moderation (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Beardydog (716221) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:25PM (#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 geekoid (135745)

      The mean factually incorrect things could still be modded up.
      Read the study on why that turns out to be bad.

      • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:06PM (#45020381)

        The mean factually incorrect things could still be modded up.

        There might be a way to combat that, though. You could possibly employ some sort of system where the moderations themselves could get moderated, maybe even allocate moderation points to those users who consistently make good moderations, and give fewer or no points to those whose moderations get consistently labeled as incorrect or inappropriate. I wonder if a system like that would work.

    • Moderation is what makes any comments section of a post work. Otherwise you have chaos. Not censorship, but putting useful stuff to the fore and useless stuff to the rear. Kinda like here, where +3 and higher comments get seen and the trollbait/average stuff gets passed.

      As for whether commentary does anything for science... 99% of the time, no. But there is that 1% of the time where someone says something you might not have thought of. Scientists collaborate and discuss things between themselves to fur

      • by notanalien_justgreen (2596219) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:50PM (#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 gl4ss (559668)

      that would need a pool of moderators.

      it's pop sci.

      likely only people commenting were "christian" scientists and perpetual motion douches. they would have been the moderators in user based moderating system..

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      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.

      That would only work if the moderators themselves had an understanding of the science so they could filter out Uncle Crazy and the Tin Foil Hat Brigade. Take Slashdot for example. Whenever there is a story about AGW/Climate Change, we get a virtual barrage of idiocy from people who clearly have absolutely no understanding of the basic physics and math (let alone anything more complex) claiming that the past 200 years of physics and chemistry have everything completely wrong. And sadly, a number of these idi

      • by s.petry (762400)

        Nope, they just need to understand a few very basic concepts of rhetoric (fallacy detecting) and skill with the language.

        a) Moderator sees "you are an idiot" and removes the post for ad hominem.

        b) Moderator sees "Obama's drone killing" in commentary for a fluid dynamics article is removed as "off topic". Does not matter if it was a strawman or red herring.

        c) Moderator sees a 2nd post pointing out a spelling or grammar and removes that post for redundancy.

        You don't have to be a rocket scientist to discuss r

  • Paid comments (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mbone (558574) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:30PM (#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.

    • Slashdot or Reddit style of moderation normally can help filter out junk comments or hate speech.

      On Reddit, I find myself reading the best comments in Science articles before even deciding if I want to read the article at all.

      Many science articles are showy journalism where aids and cancer are cured 5 times a week. It is hard to distinguish actual improvements without comments.
  • and the recipients give plenty of thanks for a simple solution to their problem. If there were no comments, it's harder for me to leave a solution. I have to look up the persons school or work email which takes time and isn't always successful. Eliminating comments is like eliminating roads to stop traffic accidents.
    • And yet, in Moscow, that might be a reasonable city planning decision. The workability of comments deeply depends on the signal-to-noise ratio. Incidentally, some journals have curated comments sections that are quite excellent; I don't think they're in danger like Popular Science's. Remember, today's story was prompted by fears of promoting inflation of conflict [logicallyfallacious.com], not just worthless posts.
  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:31PM (#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.

    • There are other more traditional ways to resolve this built in to the scientific community.
    • by mbone (558574)

      If these conversations occur on mailing lists (I am aware of a number), they are typically either not open lists, or under strong moderation.

    • by TheLink (130905)

      Not exactly traditional science but I suspect my comment may have influenced the "bufferbloat" and network people barking up the wrong tree to instead make something like codel.

      They were saying oversized buffers were the problem:
      http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=2071893 [acm.org]

      So I commented there (excerpt of full comment):

      In my opinion the actual solution to latency is not a reduction in buffer sizes. Because the real problem isn't actually large buffers. The problem is devices holding on to packets longer than they should. Given the wide variations in bandwidth, it is easier to define "too high a delay" than it is to define "too large a buffer".

      Not long after that the Taht guy who replied to me implemented codel.

      Perhaps they were already working on it, but it's not even obvious that they were from Van Jacobsen's 2006 rant on queues: ht [pollere.net]

  • by jamesl (106902)

    ... comment.

  • Same question. Science is bedrock. Comments are the opposite. Comments can have a positive effect, on all kinds of things, provided the wheat and the chaff live on opposite sides of town.
  • 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.

  • PopSci has stories about science, but it's not a primary source (like peer reviewed journals).

    Even if scientists are closely involved in the articles, how often do web page comments influence them?

    • by geekoid (135745)

      The scientists? probably very little.Public perception of the science? a lot.
      They even linked to the study.

  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:47PM (#45020201) Homepage Journal

    Comments don't do any harm. It's idiots believing comments that does.

    • by Obfuscant (592200)
      Guns don't kill people, it's husbands coming home in the middle of the afternoon finding the mailman in the "mailbox", so to speak, that do.
  • by harvestsun (2948641) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:48PM (#45020217)
    ... The main purpose of the Slashdot beta design seems to be to make the comment system unusable?
    • Who knows. Maybe this submission is a trial balloon from Dice Holdings to see if they can get away with becoming a posted content/advertising only site.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I used to think that the web comments on science articles tended to consist of an over-representation of people with one or two personal pet ideas (eg: Dark matter is the ether of the 21st century, etc....) but then I discovered that it really was possible to make over $7000 dollars a month working from home on the internet.

  • like making decision based on scientific research. wait, what?

  • by tmark (230091) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @05:54PM (#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.

  • Answer: (Score:3, Funny)

    by halexists (2587109) on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:07PM (#45020393)
    I'm pretty sure it's science that ruins lots of comments on web pages.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 02, 2013 @06:10PM (#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.

  • Does anyone actually read the idiocy found on any and all open forums? It's always the same crazies pushing their agendas. I can't think of any case where I'd like to have a forum set up to discuss my web content. If people want to talk about it, go to a site dedicated to discussion, like, oh, this one.

  • ... it became possible for the audience of mouthbreathers to post their drivel online and make their views seem relevant/popular/legitimate. If online comments prove anything, it's that the masses are morons. Internet is the new TV and that's why internet comments have been going downhill as more of the masses came online over the last 10 years. The internet became too easy to use for the low brow population.

    I frequently see anti-science posts on slashdot get modded up. America is just one big cesspit

  • This is a serious post?
  • by herojig (1625143) on Thursday October 03, 2013 @12:10AM (#45022475) Homepage
    I grew up reading Popular Science and felt no need then to comment on any of the articles then, and feel no need to do so now. Our obsession with commenting is just crazy, and here I am commenting on commenting, on a site made for doing one thing: commenting. What happened to the world?

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