Comments can be bad for science. That’s why, here at PopularScience.com, we’re shutting them off.
Well alright then!
In the kind of bitter rant that rarely makes it past the edtors at major media outlets, PopSci’s Suzanne LaBarre announced yesterday that the magazine’s website would no longer allow readers to discuss their articles on their website.
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.
I know what you’re wondering. What is TTAC’s position on evolution? It’s simple: we think the Evo IX was the best of the series, mostly because the variable valve timing was nice and the current car is kinda chunk-ayyyy. But if you want to argue for that double-clutched, overheating pig, you’re free to do so in our comments section.
We’re a few years now into “Web 2.0” and there’s still no overarching consensus on what to do with reader comments. Should they be prohibited? Edited? Monetized? Sold? Republished? What about the commenters themselves? When your humble E-I-C pro tem took the reins, we un-banned everyone and we’ve yet to hand out a single red card since that day. There’s been some pretty rough-and-tumble stuff between our readers, but I’d like to think that so far nobody has had their feelings hurt beyond the possibility of repair.
I’m deeply suspicious of any website that doesn’t allow its readers a chance to discuss its claims/assertions/comparison tests/bizarre stories of press-trip liaisons/whatevs. While I can understand the concerns that the editors at Popular Science might be having, surely the answer is not to enforce monologue on their pages. When you won’t let your readers criticize you, there always has to be the sneaky suspicion that it’s because you’re lying or misrepresenting something and you don’t want to have your pants pulled down on your own website.
But even if that is the answer for PopSci, it’s not the answer for us. We believe in the power and the voice of the Best&Brightest. And while we’re at it, now’s a good time to reiterate that the current editorial team considers commenter and reader data to be sacred. We will not share or disclose your identifying or personal information on these pages or anywhere else, now or in the future. We’re working to earn and justify your trust.
As always, we ask that you treat fellow TTACers with dignity and respect, even if they are, like, totally wrong about the longevity of General Motors ZZ4 crate motors or the wheelbase of the Peugeot 505 SW8 Estate. In exchange, we’ll continue to leave the banhammer in the recycle bin. (The “dunce cap” was taken out back and burned to ashes.) And, as always, we’re grateful for your participation and opinions, even (especially?) where they disagree with ours.