For science to work well, it relies on a method that includes observation and peer-based feedback as critical components in testing a hypothesis. Now one of the world’s top science magazines says that method does not apply to them, at least when it comes to feedback on their articles.
Popular Science made a surprising and controversial move by removing it’s comment section for articles on there website. What’s even more surprising is there reason, basically they believe the comments to be “bad for science,” at least that’s how the online editor for the website feels. “A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics,” writes Suzanne LaBarre. “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.”
LaBarre says there is evidence suggesting that comments can impact a reader’s original view of a news story, even if the comments are inaccurate or misleading. “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,” LaBarre writes.
The news of this decision is receiving mixed reviews, some feel that the site should have tried harder to fix it’s comment section instead of remove it all together. Other sites like Poynter have linked to suggestions about giving the reader community more autonomy to moderate the comments section in order to quarantine disruptive commenters.
However, LaBarre says the site will not permanently block all reader feedback. For now, it will still accept and occasionally respond to user feedback through its social media accounts on sites like Twitter (where the site has nearly 200,000 followers) and Facebook. She also says it plans to open up reader comments sections “on select articles that lend themselves to vigorous and intelligent discussion.”
After 141 years, this is a potentially risky move, but in the end, if it’s good for science it just may be good for business.