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Communications The Internet Science

Popular Science Is Getting Rid of Comments 473

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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  • Hurrah Slashdot! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @10:27PM (#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.
  • Re:Sour grapes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SirSlud ( 67381 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:12PM (#44944231) Homepage

    Since the vast majority of scientific advances don't necessarily originate from one place, person, or time but often many at once, I find the idea that we're relying on lightening to strike in a comment board in order to achieve some important scientific advance rather naive and laughable.

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

    by Evil Pete ( 73279 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:16PM (#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, Interesting)

    by gnoshi ( 314933 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:26PM (#44944329)

    Captchas are intended to block bots, but the bots keep improving.
    Maybe captchas should be supplemented with logic puzzles to ensure commenters are actually capable of rational thought as well as pattern recognition.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:34PM (#44944381)

    Personally I think the quality of science has dropped greatly in the last few decades.

    I don't think it's dropped at all. I just think we're now aware of how bad it's always been.

  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:46PM (#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 globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:47PM (#44944469) 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.


    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, Interesting)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:50PM (#44944491)

    A better moderation system is only useful if the people on your site have a long-term vested interest in the site. This is why comments at the bottom of a CBS article, linked to by Matt Drudge, requiring no sign-up for posting are so hideous and always will be.

    The only thing requiring identities for posting accomplishes is pushing the agenda of forcing people to use their identity online while silencing those who, you know, don't want the fact that they commented on a youtube video with a reporter who fell out of a barrel of grapes and onto the ground below to be part of search results and something that everyone in the world (including employers, future mates, friends, in-laws, family, etc) might come across.

    Google, Facebook, and others want you to use your real identity online because they want to be the hub facilitating all your identity needs.

    When you hear pushes to "end internet bullying" and other bullshit, it would do well to remember that these are all ultimately efforts to eradicate anonymity from the internet and little more.

  • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Tuesday September 24, 2013 @11:58PM (#44944515)

    The difference is we lowly users who are trusted to moderate the comments.

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

    by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @12:12AM (#44944589)

    At least that would be funny. Debating creationists is like arguing about bedtime with a toddler who thinks whomever shouts loudest wins. Most of them literally believe the rhetorical equivalent: that whoever holds onto their beliefs most tenaciously is the better person.

  • by organgtool ( 966989 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @12:21AM (#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!
  • the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @12:23AM (#44944647) Homepage Journal

    ...and that's why perfectly good comments are modded down, the equivalent of "I disagree" but also, because of Slashdot's thresholds, the equivalent of one user hiding another's comments.

    That's also why high quality comments from anonymous posters are often buried from the moment they are posted -- because moderation isn't designed to foster high quality, it's designed to foster group-think. Fortunately, a bunch of very smart posters means that "group think" here isn't nearly as uniform as it is elsewhere.

    Slashdot's moderation/metamod system is BADLY broken. The site survives because it has unusually intelligent commenters overall; not because moderation is working.

  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @01:15AM (#44944847)

    Like democracy, Slashdot's moderation system is the worst one out there, except for all the other alternatives.

  • by Falconhell ( 1289630 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @01:25AM (#44944903) Journal

    I ignore the mod system, since one of the regular trolls with multiple sock puppet accounts decided to target me.
    This is my second Id, after losing password to first, I used to read every day, back to 2001 now I rarely bother due to the low quality and in some cases outright stupidity.

  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @01:44AM (#44944949) Journal

    it's designed to foster group-think.

    Bullshit, the group-think already exists, moderation mearely highlights it, that's it's fucking job! The higher the number you browse at the lower the resolution you have on slashdot's opinions. If you want to see what 'slashdot thinks' then browse at a high number, if you want to know what every troll and drunkard thinks, browse at -1. Unpopular posts are modded to hell because they are unpopular, not because they are wrong. Unpopular posts are often rated interesting if they're well written and there's is a grain of truth in them.

    The comment system here is far from perfect, but it's a hell of a lot better than any other site I've visited in the past decade, part of that is the moderation performed by those " unusually intelligent commenters", plus the fact that it's difficult for "unintelligent commeters" to spam the moderation system with phoney up/down votes. If you still think your being treated unfairly then reword your argument or better still perform a bit of self-skepticisim on your own ideas to work out why everone else thinks your post sucks.

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

    by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @02:01AM (#44945013) Journal
    Agree. Anyone willing to pull their head out of their arse and smell the ozone of the modern world cannot possibly believe the quality of Science has dropped over any deacde in the last 10. What has been displayed by the internet for all to see is a general ignorance of Science, how it works, and what questions it can tackle with our current technology. Previously this was only visable at newsagents and book stores where they insisted on putting ufologists, horoscopes, and ghost stories under the heading of "Science".
  • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <slashdot.com@timewarp.org> on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @02:12AM (#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.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @02:13AM (#44945051)

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

    Whoever voted that down is a prick.

    So advocating being level-headed and taking you know....a scientific approach to science gets downvoted for flamebait?

    I don't have any problem with them disabling comments frankly - it's their infrastructure they can use it how they want. If there are trolls, and the admins are unable to prevent bots, it might be the best solution. Imagine if every fucking post was from that stupid piece of shit that talks about host files. Slashdot would be awful. Of course a technical solution and moderation would be far preferable...but again..it's their inrastructure

    Look, it's science, a fairly well supported theory or model is held at the forefront until it is disproven. If it is not disproven, each time attempts are made to disprove it, evidence mounts. New things are discovered through this endless cycle.

    Since this is a veiled way to talk about these 2 things: Evolution and global warming are like gravity. The theories are obviously (at least as far as we can tell) more or less proven true...just like gravity. However each of the 3 theories has it's flaws.

    Gravity has a huge flaw: In it's current incarnation (to my knowledge - I'm not scientist) it is not compatible with quantum mechanics. There are a lot more flaws in the theory, some of which I understand, and don't want to detail here, some of which I don't quite grasp.

    Evolution has several flaws as well. Most likely evolution is the proper theory, or at least most of it is. It could even be a combination of evolution and another theory. Most likely creationism isn't the proper theory, or even part of it. At least biblical creationism. I've always had an affinity for the massive quantum computer theory based on nothing. However what about panspermia or any number of valid (in the sense that we can't definitively disprove them, and they have merit) theories? People need to accept that we don't "know" a damn thing, as the author of the original post was saying.

    Global warming has it's flaws as well. One of the major flaws (as I understand it - I could be totally wrong) is that variance in solar cycles affects the data. Solar cycles affect luminescense and radiance, and thus total energy output.

    Again most likely most of, or all of, the theory is fact. However what about weird shit that doesn't get a lot of press attention (as far as I know, I don't own a TV because I'm a dirty, dirty hipster) like us killing plankton by the ton that are extremely reflective (in the UV spectrum) and process CO2? Or some tin foil crackpot theory that there are aliens slowly destroying our planet - or doing the equivelant for them of terraforming.

    Just saying there is a lot of crap that could come out of left field - it could be something we haven't even thought of..for any of those 3 theories. How batshit insane must it have seemed when someone said a fungus called penicillium would treat infection? People were so skeptical he had to down a beaker of it (if I'm thinking of the right guy) after infecting himself with I forget what just to prove it. Even then there was probably a lot of doubt cast on it when it treated say staph but not a viral infection. That's just my conjecture since I have no idea the year (and I'm too lazy to look it up) it took place, and no idea how much they knew about infection.

    I know that by saying "is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to "debate" on television" they are talking about the politicization of scientific issues. The objection I put forth is that discouraging science being "up for grabs" in *any* realm or discouraging debate of scientific issues is basically the exact same thing.

    So they are bitching about people that are posting polarized views with no scientific merit. Who don't care about the evidence for global warming, that don't care about the evidence for evolution. Then they say the

  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @03:34AM (#44945353) Homepage

    I'd vote for "-1 Agree" and "+1 Disagree".

  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hovelander ( 250785 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @03:36AM (#44945363)

    Forgot to add this: Downvote and down page syndrome in commenting systems is absolutely why I view even the -1's, all the time. Whenever I get Mod points, which seems to be often lately, I always travel down to the bottom comments where the crickets chirp, with a few stops back up the page to try and get some of the older ID's stuck at 1 along with some of the more brilliant AC comments.

    It's the very least I could do to try and repay the unique culture we collectively have here....

  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Njovich ( 553857 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @03:57AM (#44945433)

    I don't think many moderators really actively mod a post down just for disagreeing, even when it looks like it. The comments on Slashdot can be slanted, but nearly any thread will show multiple opinions.

    For any piece of writing you must know your audience. Any audience has things they like and dislike more, on average, and Slashdot is no different.

    Think about a thread about teaching creationism in school. You can not just come here on Slashdot and blurt out that everyone here will go to hell because they do not support god in this topic. However, if you give a well-written, polite comment in disagreeing with the overal opinion, you will get modded up. Hell, starting out your post with 'I know this is an unpopular opinion around here' is bound to get you modded up.

    Also, keep in mind why people disagree with something and then mod it down. Often they just really think the other side has an illogical and stupid opinion (we all have those sometimes), so the modding down in such cases is not really about disagreeing, it's about feeling the post is illogical or such.

  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by N1AK ( 864906 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @04:01AM (#44945441) Homepage
    Maybe if they also decreased the weighting of every mod point given but the system seems to work pretty well now. Perhaps make it easier for posts to reach 2-3 ratings but increase the requirement for 4/5. It seems that posts either tend to stay at 1-2 or rapidly ascend to 4/5.

    I'd quite like it if they regularly gave users the ability to moderate specific posts (highlight them when reading the thread). This could be used to get moderation on posts that seem to be ignored and could be used to weight who gets mod points in future. It would also limit the bias towards moderating the early posts on a thread etc.
  • From different POV (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rosencreuz ( 1393933 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @04:09AM (#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.
  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by r_a_trip ( 612314 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @04:16AM (#44945483)
    *** What is a decent alternative that would remove the "I disagree" button mentality and promote good well-thought-out content? ***

    Well, it's so obvious that it is staring us right in the face. To get rid of the abuse of moderation options to serve as a "I disagree" button, just add that ff-ing "I disagree" button and make this a second counter next to the standard moderation. It would instantly point out the (interesting?) comments that are counter to the group-think.
  • Re:the difference (Score:5, Interesting)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @04:18AM (#44945489)

    Well I agree that the modding down is effective, sometimes too effective.

    But simply getting rid of the really awful posts allow a multitude of other views to be seen. Some are well written, some arent, some get modded up, but most won't.

    The idea isn't to mod every idea up. The idea is to stratify the views and thereby arrive at a spectrum of ideas.

    Since far too many moderaters mod troll on anything they disagree with, maybe a disagree mod should exist, but the only way it could be used would be to have the person posting the disagree mod to state their case, and and have their post be modded up to 5 before their disagree is posted at all.

  • Re:the difference (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @07:36AM (#44946369)

    I'd argue (posting as AC because public wifi) that the mod system works well, but that there are two tweaks needed. Assuming that the ad tracking is adequate to protect the business case with a few more ACs, let the first upvote on an AC comment move it frmo 0 to 2, which is to say give it the legitimacy of a logged in post. The second is to have a -1 irrational argument be the first downvote option for mods, and have that count slightly less negatively than a -1 Troll. That way, posts don't get as negatively modded for violating the groupthink as they do for being obvious trolls or spam.

  • Re:Moo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by coolsnowmen ( 695297 ) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @12:26PM (#44949377)

    I know you are joking aroud, but out of curiousity I looked this up. The bible was written in Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic, all of which actually have less than 26 letters.
    The Hebrew/aramaic alphabet has 22 letters, and the greek alphabet has 24 letters.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban