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Popular Science, not Populist Science
September 24, 2013 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Why Popular Science is shutting off comments.
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.
posted by SansPoint (128 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite

 
Really you need a compelling argument for turning ON comments.
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on September 24, 2013 [64 favorites]


from evolution to the origins of climate change

Those are the two, right? I mean the crazy people haven't started challenging fluid dynamics theory or sea slug anatomy ... I hope?
posted by miyabo at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Those are the two, right? I mean the crazy people haven't started challenging fluid dynamics theory or sea slug anatomy ... I hope?

Well, there's set theory, among other things they can't deal with.
posted by TedW at 1:09 PM on September 24, 2013 [26 favorites]


c.f. https://twitter.com/AvoidComments

"You wouldn't listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don't read the comments."
posted by Joe Chip at 1:09 PM on September 24, 2013 [44 favorites]


I am sure they will get a lot of flak for this, but open-registration comments really do tend to be great examples of the tragedy of the commons. It's unfortunate that it'll prevent the occasional extremely valuable contribution from a genuine expert, but there must be a solution to that.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay now where am I going to go argue that wheels are actually fractals?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sea-slug truthers can take it to Facebook, where they belong.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


I wonder, feloniousmonk, if someday it will morph into the tragedy of the comments?
posted by tilde at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [50 favorites]


Those are the two, right? I mean the crazy people haven't started challenging fluid dynamics theory or sea slug anatomy ... I hope?

The people on my local newspaper's website can bring absolutely everything back to Obamacare and gun control as the root of all evil, so I have no doubt Popular Scientist's commenters can do the same thing with climate change.
posted by something something at 1:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Anything to do with plate tectonics is out with the funde crowd...
posted by Artw at 1:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well you could also include the extreme anti-vax folks miyabo, not to mention most alternative medicine.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Can't wait for the conservative / denier framing: "Science is SUPPOSEDLY based on critique and revision - but the REALITY is that you are just as DOGMATIC as those with whom you disagree! Looks like you can't TAKE THE HEAT you spineless liberal scientists!"
posted by jnnla at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


This reminds me of something I read in Scientific American probably ten or more years ago, discussing the politics of all of this, saying, "We don't like being put in the position of choosing to be either Unscientific American or Scientific Un-American."
posted by Navelgazer at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [70 favorites]


Can't wait for the conservative / denier framing: "Science is SUPPOSEDLY based on critique and revision - but the REALITY is that you are just as DOGMATIC as those with whom you disagree! Looks like you can't TAKE THE HEAT you spineless liberal scientists!"

Well, presumably that was half the comments anyway, so...
posted by Artw at 1:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


tilde: "I wonder, feloniousmonk, if someday it will morph into the tragedy of the comments?"

!!!!
posted by boo_radley at 1:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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

.

Be seeing you all in a decade or so when the anti-vaxxers are coughing on the breatharians, the born-again types and conspiracy theorists are smashing fossils using a manual published by the Taliban, the anti-GMO types have eaten the last coelacanth and are starving, and the gutters and drains of tropical countries are clogged with scraps of Rush Limbaugh branded parkas.

Might as well get paid while you can; full speed ahead on tinfoil futures.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Stated more simply: You've gotten too f*$king stupid for us to continue to invite your comments.
posted by NedKoppel at 1:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [24 favorites]


Why are they so afraid of the truth?
posted by bondcliff at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


"You wouldn't listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don't read the comments."

There was a fark.com comment long ago I remember reading that was essentially "I have a problem with your argument because your username is JabbaTheButt"
posted by hellojed at 1:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [22 favorites]


/// Comments for this thread have been disabled by the moderators. Any feedback you may have will be received on Twitter or MetaTalk. Thank you. ///
posted by jnnla at 1:21 PM on September 24, 2013


Outside of low traffic, narrow-interest sites it's very, very rare that I end up finding something in a comments section that makes me genuinely glad I took the time. Finding something you agree with that helps reassure you? Not hard. Finding something that contains a genuinely useful insight or fact you probably wouldn't have encountered without wading down the sewer line to get to it? Practically never.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.

Um, duh? There's a reason why newspapers always employed editors to select their Letters to the Editor.
posted by Melismata at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why are they so afraid of the truth?

Thankfully I've got some literature here explaining that the smaller the amount of truth in a solution, the more potently effective it will be!
posted by Navelgazer at 1:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [34 favorites]


Thankfully I've got some literature here explaining that the smaller the amount of truth in a solution, the more potently effective it will be!

So truth is actually homeopathic?
posted by Archelaus at 1:24 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a reason why newspapers always employed editors to select their Letters to the Editor.

Yup. Comment sites without moderation are generally just not worth the time.
posted by Brak at 1:24 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer, the funny thing is for the simile to work it actually needs to be a tiny amount of lies in a solution of informationally inert noise. Y'know, like the NY Post.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Obligatory linking of shutup.css.
posted by sparkletone at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


feloniousmonk: "It's unfortunate that it'll prevent the occasional extremely valuable contribution from a genuine expert, but there must be a solution to that."

I'm trying really hard to think of an easy, practical solution for this problem but for some bizarre reason all that comes to my mind is the color blue.
Weird.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Artw: "Anything to do with plate tectonics is out with the funde crowd..."

Although they would consider that part of "evolution". It's a catch all term to them, for everything from the Big Bang to abiogenesis. Anything that suggests an old earth.
posted by brundlefly at 1:26 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is awesome.
posted by agregoli at 1:26 PM on September 24, 2013


Great little article, particularly the citation to studies that show the negative effect bad comments have on your articles being read and understood. I also appreciate the sound rejection of "everyone's opinion is valid" culture.

In the two years since Anil Dash wrote it, I've often had occasion to point back to his post If Your Website's Full of Assholes, It's Your Fault. It's a clear essay, very precisely honed on a specific problem. And so desperately necessary.

Also related: We hear you: Better commenting coming to YouTube. Apparently Google finally realized that a constant stream of "idiot nigger fag stupid gay lame bitch" on every popular video wasn't actually a good user experience. Sadly it's tied in to Google+, but at least they're finally doing something.
posted by Nelson at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


More sites need to do this.
posted by dogwalker at 1:31 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The level of sheer, unadulterated bile that imbues most comment sections would be startling--if it were not so pervasive. Reading the comments at Yahoo News these days undermines my faith in the future of the USA.

Three cheers for Popular Science!
posted by rdone at 1:31 PM on September 24, 2013


Or they could hire moderators, like a certain someblog we know.
posted by notyou at 1:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reading the comments on any news story is a horrifying glimpse into the truth, that your friends and neighbors are infact howling voids of madness incapable of coherent communication who are all just barely pretending to be reasonable human beings. Really, they're all just one bad day away from dressing in the bones of large dogs and painting the cities red with blood.
posted by The Whelk at 1:38 PM on September 24, 2013 [67 favorites]


Joe Chip: ""You wouldn't listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don't read the comments.""

That depends, is the discussion about boners?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's about 26 boners!
posted by Navelgazer at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


my local newspaper uses facebook comments so your real name and a photograph of your face are right there next to whatever you say

this hasn't deterred anyone from being virulently and violently racist, sexist and homophobic on the local newspaper's comment area

it has deterred me from commenting because i don't want the people making those comments being able to recognize me
posted by titus n. owl at 1:40 PM on September 24, 2013 [45 favorites]


decades-long war on expertise

...is an especially nice way of putting it. Ultimately it seems like maybe this is all down to a war over what constitutes authority: acquired status, or birth status? Perhaps not surprising that the most race-relations-retrograde elements of society would also be seeking to undermine the concept of acquired status in favor of birth status.
posted by aramaic at 1:40 PM on September 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Or they could hire moderators, like a certain someblog we know.

Honestly, this doesn't scale very well. Here we have *both* a significant barrier to entry (the $5 signup, gotta go through paypal and really commit) and a 24/7 moderation staff empowered to make substantial judgment calls. This is really, really different than most websites, and doesn't make sense with everyone's business model.

Similarly, Eater Austin (which is now helmed by a friend of mine) just turned off anonymous commenting (you have to actually sign up, although it's free) just in time to field a directed trolling attempt. It may or may not have helped, but it sure looks like it coulda been worse.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:41 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


It's funny to me to watch main stream/traditional media play catchup. People flock to the internet, they come along a few years later, bloggers put up blogs, the media does as well (again lagging), comments, lag, bloggers kill comments, media will too (just wait).
posted by cjorgensen at 1:41 PM on September 24, 2013


decades-long war on expertise

Experts, what do they know? This feels true to me!
posted by The Whelk at 1:42 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


HINT HINT MATT
posted by klangklangston at 1:43 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


It would be really nice if we could just return to the early days of the web where, if you had something obnoxious to say, you had to learn HTML and buy some hosting and put it out there on your own website, complete with spinning skulls and a night-sky background. That really helped filter out most of the casual racists and part-time consipiracy theorists. You could settle down to read stuff on the web secure in the knowledge that you were seeing the real crazy.
posted by pipeski at 1:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [22 favorites]


The Whelk: "decades-long war on expertise

Experts, what do they know? This feels true to me!
"

Shut up! You obviously know nothing about experts, asstard!

grin?
posted by Samizdata at 1:44 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nelson's first link is a solid article. Places like Popular Science should have to explain why they can't take that route and instead must shut down comments altogether. If it's economics, just say so. But it really seems more like GBCW snits to me in most cases. After all, they could probably hire a moderator just from the revenue from forcing people to watch a brief ad if they wanted to post a comment. But even that's probably extreme; clearly the comments keep people on the website longer, so even if you block half of them, you're still getting more web viewing than you would otherwise. Saying that there is no way around these problems -- particularly with a name like "Popular Science" -- is really an anti-innovative and anti (social) science attitude.
posted by chortly at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I think conspiracy theorists and serious racists were probably some of the people most excited about the Internet, which is basically a 24/7 talk radio show for you to rant about anything you want and have anyone read it.

Don't turn off comments, turn off the Internet.
posted by shii at 1:45 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be honest, Popular Science has always courted the lower-rung, partially-informed hobbyist. For every garage-built perpetual motion machine, there is a copy of Popular Science on the coffee table inside.

But yeah, you either need to curate your discussion or you need to not have a discussion and I'm glad to see them making the point that any Idiot Mouthing Off on the Internet /= valid scientific point of view.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:46 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


For every garage-built perpetual motion machine

I believe you can purchase reputable plans and schematics for one of these by answering one of the ads in the very back of the magazine.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:51 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Our customer base is too dumb to use the toolset we gave them"
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:52 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


You can also find how to purchase that exercise machine that costs $24,329.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:53 PM on September 24, 2013


Don't turn them off, this is the perfect opportunity to try my diabolical new ban system.

When you are banned, you can only see and reply to comments by other banned users and random comments from worldstarhiphop.com. Get some peak oil people or gold hoarders to go up against Lil b fans in some kind of comment cage match.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2013 [16 favorites]


Maybe after I finish building that vacuum-cleaner hovercraft.
posted by box at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chicxulub was an inside job!

Professional moderation and real identities seem to be the way forward. I understand that there must be spaces on the Internet for anonymous and pseudonymous discussions, but the comment section of a periodical is probably not one of them.
posted by bouvin at 2:00 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Humanity has proven that given a semi annomyious place without rules it will eat itself, frankly I think this is a great counterpoint to any Libertarian absolutist. We just are not, as a whole, mature enough to even talk to one another without someone standing over us with a metaphorical stick.

YouTube syndrome.
posted by edgeways at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Bedrock scientific certainty, for anyone who's been following its history, has been doing a fine job of undermining itself. Let's leave the overthrow of established paradigms to the experts. If there's some orthodoxy you're not happy with and would like to see overthrown, be patient. They'll get to it. Usually kicking and screaming.
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This way they get rid of the morons on their site and draw additional views from twitter and facebook linkage at the same time. Win-win.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 2:01 PM on September 24, 2013


Real identities have a *lot* of problems. I'm generally not in favor. Consistent pseudonymity works just fine.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:02 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Popular Science has always courted the lower-rung, partially-informed hobbyist

As a teenager I asked my parents for a subscription to Scientific American, which one of my extremely nerdy sciency friends had. Somehow the wires got crossed and they got me Popular Science instead (maybe it was cheaper?). I couldn't figure out why there were so many articles on fighter planes and fancy cars in a "science" publication.

That said they did an incredible cover story on the potential for a hurricane to obliterate New Orleans. Which the rest of the media universe completely ignored until it actually happened. So I'll always have a soft spot for them.
posted by miyabo at 2:06 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


ftr what i said earlier about how real identities hasnt stopped the racists and has made me afraid because i'm a minority was intended as "why real identities aren't actually a solution" not just "let me come in here and tell a story about my life"
posted by titus n. owl at 2:06 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Those are the two, right? I mean the crazy people haven't started challenging fluid dynamics theory or sea slug anatomy ... I hope?

I spent a few minutes typing a long, bitter trail of snark in response to this. Suffice to say that there are plenty of people who reject any and all medical knowledge, starting from run of the mill wackiness like vaccines causing autism, through the more niche stuff like HIV denial, up to and including the fucking germ theory of disease. And they're all over the bloody place.

Physics articles are a hoot, too. Modern physics is a beautiful marriage of "big and profound" with "really hard to understand", meaning that there are loads of misunderstood ideas and tortured metaphors to smoosh together when you want to sound portentous. The comments sections of physics articles in Nature used to be a good fishing ground for those, before I got too depressed to go looking. The science communities on G+ are a breeding ground for this stuff too.

The best science comments I see on the net are here and on /r/askscience, both of which are pretty heavily moderated. But neither have real names, and askscience doesn't even have persistant identities, as far as I can tell. Neither is perfect, but they both work much better than I'd expect from just the descriptions.
posted by metaBugs at 2:10 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


jnnla: "Can't wait for the conservative / denier framing: "Science is SUPPOSEDLY based on critique and revision - but the REALITY is that you are just as DOGMATIC as those with whom you disagree! Looks like you can't TAKE THE HEAT you spineless liberal scientists!""

You don't have to wait.

I've already read that opinion somewhere.

/Never read the comments...
posted by IAmBroom at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2013


//my local newspaper uses facebook comments so your real name and a photograph of your face are right there next to whatever you say//

That feature has allowed me to build a small list of local business owners that will never, ever see a dime of business from me. So there is that side benefit to people outing themselves as racist, homophobic assholes.
posted by COD at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [31 favorites]


Don't turn off comments, turn off the Internet.

Now that Horse_ebooks has turned out to be a lie, I'm with you.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Joe Chip: ""You wouldn't listen to someone named Bonerman26 in real life. Don't read the comments.""

That depends, is the discussion about boners?


"Please, #26, bonermen 13 and 14 are still speaking."
posted by clockzero at 2:13 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


It is incumbent on me to mention that, in the "Elsewhere on popsci.com" box at the bottom of the linked page, are links to a number of fascinating articles, including:

* Brassiere Support Is A Lie, Say French Scientists

* Why Deaf People Don't Achoo When They Sneeze
posted by mr vino at 2:15 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's unfortunate that it'll prevent the occasional extremely valuable contribution from a genuine expert, but there must be a solution to that.

I hear tell, that in olden days, "periodicals" would publish interesting "letters" from their "readership."
posted by snottydick at 2:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


* Why Deaf People Don't Achoo When They Sneeze

Yeah, who the hell would think that was interesting?
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:19 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


bouvin: Professional moderation and real identities seem to be the way forward. I understand that there must be spaces on the Internet for anonymous and pseudonymous discussions, but the comment section of a periodical is probably not one of them.

I don't see how real identities would help in this case. People who support pseudoscience aren't usually ashamed to do so with their real identity behind it; they'll be happy to do it face to face, in letters to the newspaper, in facebook comments, etc. Even professional moderation is tricky, because advocating pseudoscience isn't usually something that breaks the rules - it's not direct personal attacks or spamming or even going off topic. Making rules against it is tricky, because it can be hard to draw the line between pseudoscience and legitimate fringe views (e.g. - some people thing string theory is undisprovable and therefore psuedoscience).
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:24 PM on September 24, 2013


I've often wondered just how many of the most obnoxious (racist, sexist, homophobic) commenters there are. I mean, is it actually a small percent of the population that has a lot of time on its hands (what with having no friends/being on house arrest) and each having several usernames? Or is it as large a number of individuals as it seems?

Guess there's no knowing unless you're in the NSA.
posted by emjaybee at 2:31 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone who thinks tying real identities to comments will stem the tide of pseudoscience, science denial, and the like is obviously having a very different experience on Facebook than I am.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


Even professional moderation is tricky, because advocating pseudoscience isn't usually something that breaks the rules

Well, so here's the thing: the rules need to support the purpose of the site. This is where I think *most* sites fall down - they have comments because they think they're supposed to have comments, they have rules that resemble rules that work at other sites they like, or are created by committee, and then everyone's fucking baffled when the end result is a massive headache for everyone involved.

I think way, way more sites have comments than *should* have comments, because supporting an online community is a big effort that takes thought, skill, and quite a bit of effort. And online communities aren't a guaranteed net win for every site ever, or every business model ever - especially as things like Twitter enable a lot of that buzz to develop in different ways that aren't any one site's specific problem. (Other than Twitter's. Which is a different rant.)
posted by restless_nomad at 2:34 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Generalized rage is really easy to apply to practically any topic that swims across your fevered view. Thoughtful contributions take a certain investment of specific interest, consideration and effort.

Also unfulfilled people are pretty likely to have both anger and free time.

These are really broad generalizations obviously, but to me they seem like they'd tend to drive a poor ratio of good to shit comments.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:42 PM on September 24, 2013


THANKS OBAMA!
posted by blue_beetle at 2:45 PM on September 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ok I get why metafilter is generally in favor of experts over individual opinions but I also think there are problems with that model. For example, the classism involved in social policies that are permitted to regulate often low income families, the poor, tend to be worse quality services and to have MORE power to force use of bad services without client input.

There are some huge problems with allowing blanket control of the public through use of experts, often who come from a different class or background and do not have shared experiences of being too disabled to work, struggling with performance, dealing with trauma/crisis/being reared in poverty.

I find metafilter refreshing in it's skepticism of new age bullshit which is something I find frustrating as a health nut myself, among my own people (the alternahealth weirdos) but I also find that metafilter is WEIRDLY protective of science skepticism. Like government we can question UNLESS it's about science or pharma in which case we can't question!

I don't know I just see a bias here and as a good devil's advocate I think metafilter needs a few more people willing represent on underdog opinions which DO drive changes for the better on occasion.

Frequently the problems I encounter is that professionals who I am being expected to trust with my life and welfare have read LESS about the issues than I have. If they've read more than me and think differently than I have that's one thing, but I've been reading fairly respected research journals and talking with professors and teachers about a variety of health subjects for ten years and there are a lot of people who claim to stand on the side of research but don't actually understand it themselves.

All that said, the problem of human ignorance is huge and causes real suffering in the world and I'm favor of addressing it. I am extremely excited for people to address this because I really think it's causing a lot of well intentioned people to be unspeakably misinformed about issues that they have taked the time to read articles about and be learned on.

Clearly the public is interested enough in learning that they want to read articles and recieve updates about science- and I hope we can find a better way for the public to ask questions and engage with experts without outright false comments that have been proven wrong by huge bodies of research, take up a lot of time and spread a lot of misinformation.

Like I said, I think there are a lot of areas in which our experts are wrong, and in fact their approaches run counter to science (examples being school policies of extreme amounts of homework etc). We DO need to have ways for people concerned about how they are being governed and the policies experts are forcing on the population to have a way to voice their concerns and to gain enough mastery of the subject at hand to understand why the experts feel as they do, or even potentially, explain why the experts could be doing it better.

But yeah what happens all to often if you get an article saying "the sky is blue" and some commenter(s) saying "but MAYBE it's usually yellow? how do you know you're right?" And the result is people starting to think there is a debate where there isn't or that perhaps the sky is green? There has GOT to be a way to clear some of that crap up without eliminating the possibility of experts sometimes being wrong or also growing in new understandings (and again that people should have voice and some degree of power to dissent in the policies being set by experts).
posted by xarnop at 2:55 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


Those are the two, right? I mean the crazy people haven't started challenging fluid dynamics theory or sea slug anatomy ... I hope?

My friend the biochemistry professor laments, "Why is it always 'Godless Evolution'? Why doesn't anyone ever complain about 'Godless Photosynthesis'?"
posted by straight at 3:26 PM on September 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


Teach the controversy! "Godless Rainbows" (Gen. 9:13 vs light refraction principles), "Godless Sunrise" (remember, a rotating earth is just a theory...)
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I find metafilter refreshing in it's skepticism of new age bullshit which is something I find frustrating as a health nut myself, among my own people (the alternahealth weirdos) but I also find that metafilter is WEIRDLY protective of science skepticism. Like government we can question UNLESS it's about science or pharma in which case we can't question!

I think mefi has always been this way, albeit with some space for woo topics. But I have noticed a big uptick in scientific fundamentalism - that is, the idea that science is truth - on social media over the past few years, I'm guessing due in part as a reaction to what this article is getting at. There's a lot of pro-GMO and pro-nuclear power stuff that is voiced in an angry and assertive way that I wasn't hearing much of in the past outside of a small group of people. Now it's sort of the currency of the conversation.
posted by MillMan at 4:18 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I live in one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest states and I'm shocked how often seemingly-normal OKC matches think evolution and creationism should be taught side-by-side in schools, and I'm an atheist who filters strongly based on religion.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:18 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Like government we can question UNLESS it's about science or pharma in which case we can't question!

I think there's something special about the relationship between government and science (leaving certain specifics of pharma out of it) and that is that a good deal of the scientific research that goes on is funded by the goverment, either federal though it's agencies, or state through universities.

However, I think people make a distinction between government agencies that have a science agenda (e.g., the CDC) and government entities (e.g., politicians) promoting some kind of "science" for their own agenda.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:32 PM on September 24, 2013


But I have noticed a big uptick in scientific fundamentalism - that is, the idea that science is truth - on social media over the past few years, I'm guessing due in part as a reaction to what this article is getting at.

I've noticed this, too, and I also assumed it was a reaction to how much more aggressive the woo has gotten. Unfortunately I don't see it helping a whole hell of a lot, except to make certain people (myself among them sometimes, urgh) feel self-righteous. I think there is room, plenty of room, for a critique of scientism, but unfortunately the stupid comments on sites like Popular Science aren't it. Too bad, really, because how awesome would that be? Actual discussion, debate, philosophy, logic, etc. might ensue.
posted by Ouisch at 4:56 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll have you all know, I've never said anything disparaging about any of you based on your username.
posted by Bonerman26 at 4:56 PM on September 24, 2013 [39 favorites]


Inspector.Gadget: "the born-again types and conspiracy theorists are smashing fossils using a manual published by the Taliban"

Nah - it'll be a manual written by Odnan Oktar a.k.a. Harun Yahya.
posted by symbioid at 4:57 PM on September 24, 2013


A related observation: NPR uses general lightly moderated [0] comments with Disqus. Yesterday Mefi discussed a story from On The Media, and an OTM editor was one of the earliest commenters. As opposed to NPR's own site, where editors and writers seldom venture into the comments.

Maybe the proper place for comment sections is aggregator sites, with their own moderation schemes. The better sites might actually shift the Zeitgeist, and provide news sites with feedback they can use, but just as original content does not belong on Wikipedia, producers of original content are better off letting aggregator sites handle discussions.

(Especially when said original content is science-in-laymen's-terms, where there are overt concerted efforts to turn the comments sections into a cesspool.)
posted by ocschwar at 5:03 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


They are missing a golden opportunity. One occasional editor or moderator could appear once in a while and place an endorsement or star next to someone's name, and then another, until the no-stars leave or become abject trolls, while the many-stars offer their scientific viewpoint with the magazine's blessing.
posted by Brian B. at 5:06 PM on September 24, 2013


I live in one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest states and I'm shocked how often seemingly-normal OKC matches think evolution and creationism should be taught side-by-side in schools, and I'm an atheist who filters strongly based on religion.

Eh, I have to go back and read the question again, but the wording doesn't sound too terrible. I have a feeling that the fundamentally religious people would focus on the term "side-by-side", with creationism being taught right after a science lesson, while some people (like me) would interpret it to mean that creationism would be taught in a comparative religion or religious studies course or lesson.

And I still think this is the OKC question that exposes bad science and thinking: "Would the world be a better place if people with low IQs were not allowed to reproduce?", with a lot of people answering yes. So, yay for eugenics, I guess!!
posted by FJT at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2013


Metafilter should do the same. For science.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:53 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of pro-GMO and pro-nuclear power stuff that is voiced in an angry and assertive way that I wasn't hearing much of in the past outside of a small group of people. Now it's sort of the currency of the conversation.

It's unfortunate. It used to be enough here to link to published, empirical research or news of record that repudiate their talking points, but they will still poison threads by dominantly asserting what appear to be unsubstantiated positions. It's like a contest to see which of them can yell SCIENCE! loudest, without actually really understanding the science or honestly acknowledging problematic facts that complicate and contradict their black-and-white views. I can see why PopSci would want nothing to do with that kind of environment.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those are the two, right? I mean the crazy people haven't started challenging fluid dynamics theory or sea slug anatomy ... I hope?

Trivia note: Luce Irigiray has some genuinely befuddling views on fluid mechanics. I don't think her fanbase trolls comments boards, though.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:38 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think her fanbase trolls comments boards, though.

For all we know, maybe they do all the time. Who would be able to understand what they were talking about well enough to tell whether they are or aren't?
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, Science, which we all love of course. On the recent GMO thread comments here there was a bit of complex fuss about the distinction between loving Science, and it's applications.
posted by ovvl at 7:21 PM on September 24, 2013


Frankly, I've never forgiven PopSci for that "Global Cooling -> Ice Age" story in 1972. They are arguably responsible for a big chunk of naive climate change denial themselves.

One of the sites I frequent, partly to argue with climate-change deniers, is CBC.ca. They've recently outsourced their moderation to a third party, ICUC Moderation. Which seems to be erratic and inconsistent, but maybe that's just growing pains. According to CBC's Moderation FAQ they get about 300K comments/month.

I'm wondering how much of this company's work is robo-moderation? Do media outlets use that kind of thing, or do they actually have distributed teams of highly trained cortexes & jesssamyns working around the clock to ensure that our content gets through?
posted by sneebler at 7:51 PM on September 24, 2013


we have a significant barrier to entry (the $5 signup, gotta go through paypal and really commit)...

...not too high a barrier for Bonerman26.

Still, $5 well spent supporting the 'Filter.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:52 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Do media outlets use that kind of thing, or do they actually have distributed teams of highly trained cortexes & jesssamyns working around the clock to ensure that our content gets through?

It's pretty easy to filter based on keywords and cut down on the load somewhat, but that company (and others I'm familiar with) just hire teams of $8/hr contractors who work from home. It's vastly easier to find literate people who want a work-from-home job for whatever reason (childcare, disability, exceeding laziness) than it is to write a program that can read for tone. I've done it - as a matter of fact, before I hired on full-time here I was filling the rest of my hours doing exactly that for a very similar firm. It's scutwork, but it's not bad scutwork.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:57 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's another question: How many of the comments following a high-interest news article about one of the contentious issues above are due to astro-turfing, or maybe organised trolling/mission posting via Google Alerts? There have been claims in climate-change communities that this kind of thing has been done over the last few years, at least in Canada and the US. Are media companies at all interested in knowing about astroturfing in their comment sections, or is it just more ad revenue so who cares?
posted by sneebler at 7:58 PM on September 24, 2013


Sneebler, I used to frequent a videogame orientated blog on one of my city's daily newspapers, and we had several instances where clearly the call had gone out to some mailing list. Specifically, for instance, a post that discussed the issue of introducing a r18+ rating for games in Australia drew a much larger than normal number of comments, many oddly enough repeating the same 3 or 4 talking points. Apparently a Christian Family Values mailing list had called on its subscribers to flood the blog, and also the online opinion poll. So yeah, it definitely happens.

Whether or not media orgs care? In the case I describe the blog writer/moderator decided it was better to leave the comments up as an indicator of the kind of shenanigans lobby groups get up to when trying to manipulate 'public opinion'.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 8:28 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


straight: "Why doesn't anyone ever complain about 'Godless Photosynthesis'?""

What do you mean? Do you suggest photosynthesis could occur without the blessings of Horus?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:00 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am sure they will get a lot of flak for this, but open-registration comments really do tend to be great examples of the tragedy of the commons.

Just for clarification: the tragedy of the commons is the concept of the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one's self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group's long-term best interests. (Wikipedia)

With that, there is no depletion of shared resources with comments online. Rather, the endless "commons" of open commenting space is polluted by comments, pushing out real discussions of science (in this case) for political blathering without a proper grounding in facts.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:02 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The united resource would be attention.
posted by Artw at 9:05 PM on September 24, 2013


Tsk. The limited resource would be attention.
posted by Artw at 9:27 PM on September 24, 2013


I just said, yesterday I think, over on MefightClub, in the thread about Valve's announcements this week, how glad I was to have reasonable people to talk with about things game related, because even on relatively AOW (Adult Oriented Websites) like Polygon or RockPaperShotgun, which I otherwise enjoy, the comment threads on the topic (or any other, for that matter) were such a howling clusterfuck of stupidity and misplaced aggression that it made my teeth hurt.

The greatest thing about the internet is that it's full of people; the worst thing about the internet is that it's full of people.

Filters are important.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:47 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody is talking about the cool level design stuff though, are they? Grmmmph.
posted by Artw at 10:50 PM on September 24, 2013


Is "PolygonRPS" the new "I don't own a TV"?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:59 PM on September 24, 2013


Is "PolygonRPS" the new "I don't own a TV"?

No.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:43 AM on September 25, 2013


I think part of the ignorance manifested in a lot of expertise-based threads is because contrarian-ism ("I question EVERYTHING and that makes me smart!!!") has been mistaken for critical thinking.
posted by Thistledown at 6:03 AM on September 25, 2013




Frankly, I've never forgiven PopSci for that "Global Cooling -> Ice Age" story in 1972. They are arguably responsible for a big chunk of naive climate change denial themselves.


That was Time, not PopSci.
posted by ocschwar at 6:57 AM on September 25, 2013


This is the same Popular Science that has a full-page ad for a "water purifier" that makes water that can cure cancer and also generates more power than it consumes.

I chided them about this over on Twitter but they didn't respond.
posted by tommasz at 7:37 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the same Popular Science that has a full-page ad for a "water purifier" that makes water that can cure cancer and also generates more power than it consumes.

So is it a solar-powered deuterium oxide generator then?
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:55 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slate upset.
posted by Artw at 8:27 AM on September 25, 2013


There are many, many places on the internet for the general populous to discuss science in whatsoever way. That Popular Science chooses not to be part of that is really just another failure of old media to adjust.
posted by No Robots at 8:55 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone needs to do an update of Eric Bogosian's "Talk Radio", only make it about Internet commenters, and instead of the protagonist getting shot at the end, he writes a thinkpiece for Slate called "Why Trolling Is Good For Democracy".
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:56 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "It's unfortunate. It used to be enough here to link to published, empirical research or news of record that repudiate their talking points, but they will still poison threads by dominantly asserting what appear to be unsubstantiated positions. It's like a contest to see which of them can yell SCIENCE! loudest, without actually really understanding the science or honestly acknowledging problematic facts that complicate and contradict their black-and-white views."

IMO, this sort of comment is one of the things that sends us down the road to yelly town. People are so invested in their particular point of view that anyone who disagrees "doesn't understand the science" or "refuses to honestly acknowledge problematic facts." That sort of statement puts people on the defensive in addition to begging the question. In reality, especially here on Mefi, there's a good chance your interlocutor does in fact understand the science and acknowledges the facts that you would like them to acknowledge but has reached a different conclusion than you have.
posted by wierdo at 12:58 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


This seems almost magically well-timed to me, given that the most recent article I read on Popular Science was this one about why women poop more during their periods, and the second comment was some asshole going on about why there shouldn't even be an article on this common physical side effect of a natural biological process that potentially impacts half of the population, because guys don't like thinking about menstrual cycles or ladies pooping.

I like to imagine that it was this comment, this example of monumental self-centeredness and sexism, that was the straw that finally broke the camel's back.
posted by yasaman at 1:22 PM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


wierdo: "In reality, especially here on Mefi, there's a good chance your interlocutor does in fact understand the science and acknowledges the facts that you would like them to acknowledge but has reached a different conclusion than you have."

Doesn't matter what forum or venue they use; climate-change deniers and "intelligent design" advocates don't know shit about the science behind the issues.

A fancy $5 registration notwithstanding.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:59 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well without trying to appear to defend climate-change deniers and "intelligent design" advocates, I'm not sure how much science the layman climate-change and evolution advocates know either.

When you consider the sophistication of some of the experiments used to explore these phenomena and the requisite background knowledge required for any meaningful debate on these topics (which can extend well outside a layman's understanding), you have a cognitive "gap" that is difficult to bridge, both for those that embrace the concepts and those that don't.

A major part of the issue is that theories are difficult to explain. There is no single observation that you can point to, for example, that "proves" evolution, nor is there a single piece of evidence that "proves" that CO2 drives climate change. Single experiments that definitely demonstrate or disprove the existence of particular phenomena (like, say the things you might see on Mythbusters) are reasonably convincing, because the link between the evidence and the conclusion is clear. The theory of evolution, on the other hand, is supported by an immense number of observations, none of which, in isolation, make for a smoking gun. A theory always has room for alternative explanations. It's part of its definition. I think people take that to mean "potentially false" (which is true in the strictest sense but in the face of an overwhelming collective of evidence really just means that it still just needs some refining) and then leverage their own (often wacky) beliefs in.

It also doesn't help that evolution and climate change challenge some individuals' long-held beliefs and threaten to change their way of life (respectively). I somehow doubt that that many people grow up with their parents, teachers and pastors telling them that M-theory is full of shit and goes against God's will.
posted by kisch mokusch at 6:11 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've got a masters degree in the sciences and have to read some science at the journal level for my job. I've tried to look for myself at the evidence about climate change and decided that it was beyond me and that I'm stuck with trying to decide which experts seem the most trustworthy. I kind of doubt there are very many people here who really understand the science involved well enough to have a valid opinion about it.
posted by straight at 8:15 AM on September 26, 2013


Isn't the basic evidence that global mean temperatures and global temperature variance have both increased? Or are you talking specifically about the causes, e.g. CO2 emissions?
posted by klangklangston at 8:18 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


 I kind of doubt there are very many people here who really understand the science involved well enough to have a valid opinion about it.

could say the same thing about smartphones
posted by edgeways at 8:25 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


True, most smartphones should shut up about climate change already because they aren't nearly as smart as they think they are.
posted by straight at 10:49 AM on September 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


klangklangston, yeah I meant trying to evaluate the evidence that climate change has been caused or exacerbated by human CO2 emissions and that it might possibly be altered by reducing those emissions.
posted by straight at 10:51 AM on September 26, 2013


kisch mokusch: "Well without trying to appear to defend climate-change deniers and "intelligent design" advocates, I'm not sure how much science the layman climate-change and evolution advocates know either."

Actually, that's completely irrelevant.

I know almost nothing about brain surgery, AND YET I still feel qualified to say that brain surgery can cure certain health issues.

I know very little about fluid dynamics and structural properties of water pipes, AND YET I am not out of line when I say most US plumbing does deliver fresh water in and carry sewer water out.

Claiming the reverse - that the entire body of experts are wrong-wrong-wrong - requires a HELLUVA LOT of knowledge and proof. The burden of proof is always on those who disbelieve what the expert consensus holds to be true.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:01 PM on September 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


And even then, please be infinitely patient and tolerant of professional opprobrium. There's so much consensus ego at stake, the burden of proof may prove very burdensome indeed. Exhibit Y: the sad tale of that tinfoil-behaberdashed denialist Ignasz Semmelweis
posted by perhapsolutely at 2:04 AM on September 27, 2013


The burden of proof is always on those who disbelieve what the expert consensus holds to be true.

Only if you accept the premise that there is an expert consensus. 99% of climatologists may be in agreement regarding the role of man and CO2 in global warming, but thanks to the magic of radio, television and the internet, the notion has taken hold in much of the public mind that "even the experts can't agree" on climate change. And that leads to "well if it's so obvious then prove it"-type arguments.

And you'll find plenty of people the world over that don't believe that the burden of proof is on them to disprove the consensus, nor is that an argument we actually make when the science is simpler. We just show them the proof. To take your example, if somebody were to post an AskMe requesting Mefites to "show me the proof that brain surgery can cure disorder X", we wouldn't reply with "It just does, okay, you're not a brain surgeon. It's up to you to prove that brain surgery doesn't cure disorder X." On the contrary. We would see people referencing scientific papers, pulling out before-and-after MRI pictures and generally trying to articulate the evidence.

I think that we have been become so accustomed to seeing the evidence presented to us for the easy stuff that when something a bit more complicated comes along people become frustrated that the same simple answers can't be provided to them. Though when it comes to climate change skepticism that's not nearly as big a problem as certain dipshits in the media.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:05 AM on September 28, 2013


Good move.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:27 PM on September 29, 2013


Also, I'm not a network engineer, psychologist, or proctologist, but I'm completely confident in saying that around 80% of the entire internet is populated by brain-dead assholes.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:32 PM on September 29, 2013


In order to keep myself sane I imagine every batshit comment I read is from an in-patient at a very nice, well funded psychiatric facility where all their needs are met and treated and Internet commenting access is just another feature and it's all just this one person who vents in in moderated comment sections.
posted by The Whelk at 4:41 PM on September 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nurse, I need more crayons!
posted by IAmBroom at 12:13 PM on September 30, 2013


For scientists confronted by skepticism and “creation science” to declare a dark age of denial is troubling. The applause in the echo chamber will be deafening upon such pronouncements, but that applause will only serve to desensitive scientists and cut them out of the conversation with skeptics who can be reached.—“Do you hear an echo? Before it can communicate, science needs to discover the world outside” / Rick Mullen. Chemistry and Engineering News September 16, 2013, p. 21 [login required].
posted by No Robots at 10:10 AM on October 2, 2013


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