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Comments interfere with preaching a "scientific doctrine" (presumably a religion of sorts), according to PopSci

First they came for the BoingBoing comments, then they came for the Popular Science comments, then they came for... wait, that pretty much sums up the current state of affairs.  After BoingBoing opted to scrap its in-article comments for a forum in a few months back in June, PopSci just announced its decision to follow in suit with an article entitled "Why We're Shutting Off Our Comments".  This remarkable act of reader censorship is backed by a number of questionable assertions -- most notably the notion that reader comments undermine the preaching of a "scientific doctrine" and that "comments are bad for science."  

(The New York Times has also scaled back comments, disabling them entirely in some pieces.)

I. Censorship, the Tired Retreat of the Thin Skinned

These decisions may smack some as subjective or even malicious.  After all comments are arguably the digital age response to print's "letter to the editor" -- and they often contain criticisms of the article ranging from grammatical erorrs to factual oversights.  Some may view the decision to ban comments as a form of censorship, a means for writers to escape any sort of visible accountability among their audience.

And while moderation of extreme trolling is at times necessary, comments provide an essential outlet for user opinion.

PopSci views comments as "bad for science". [Image Source: MNN]

But PopSci argues that the evil of comments outweighs their merits.  It says that it has been ovewhelmed by "trolls and spambots" and its editor Suzanne LaBarre writes:

Comments can be bad for science. That's why, here at, we're shutting them off.

And since the blog is about science they at least attempt to back their conclusion with a scientific study -- a journal paper published by Dominique Brossard a Life Sciences Communication professor at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.  Published in the February 2013 edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, Professor Brossard's study involved perceptions of a fictious nanotechnology article, which people were asked to react to.  

People reacted neutrally when comments were disabled, but even when comments were generally positive their reactions did not noticeably improved.  However, when the reader feedback took on a "less civil" tone with people questioning the merits of nanotechnology, user perception of the publication itself (not just the topic discussed) took a decidedly negative turn.

II. PopSci Complains That Comments Interfere With Its Ability to "Indoctrinate" Readers

PopSci piece also in a roundabout way suggests it had to revoke its users' commenting rights due to their criticisms of studies on global warming.  It writes:

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.

She cites an editorial in The New York Times voicing similar complaints.

South Park
PopSci is preaching a "scientific doctrine" according to its top editor.
[Image Source: South Park Studios]

But it is Ms. LaBarre's use of the phrase "scientific doctrine" which should is most interesting, and perhaps telling.  The root word of indoctrination -- brainwashing with a rigid set set of beliefs -- is "doctrine".  Indeed the Wikipedia entry for "doctrine" states:
Doctrine (from Latin: doctrina) is a codification of beliefs or a body of teachings or instructions, taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system. The Greek analogue is the etymology of catechism.[1]
Often doctrine specifically connotes a corpus of religious dogma as it is promulgated by a church, but not necessarily: doctrine is also used to refer to a principle of law...

And Google Inc.'s (GOOG) built in dictionary describes doctrine as:

a belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a church, political party, or other group.

Science has little to do with beliefs.  Science is the process of observation, of collecting hard, repeatable evidence.  Belief is unnecessary to a scientist who does their job right, as they are simply studying reality.

The phrase seems decidedly odd as coming from a science publication: after all isn't open, informed debate the root of all science?  Since when has indoctrination -- peddling of a set of rigid, unquestioning beliefs, most often associated with religion -- become part of the scientific process?

Perhaps lack of critical feedback, user bickering, and spam may indeed improve the perception of PopSci.  But it's hard to imagine Socrates or Plato, were they alive today, shutting the door to public commentary.  After all, as journalists we all have to remember we aren't actually doing science -- at least not at our news jobs -- we're simply trying to represent it in a clear and concise form that the public can understand and enjoy.

Socrates chose death before submitting to censorship and surrendering his right to free thought and free expression.

While PopSci writes "we have many delightful, thought-provoking commenters," it's hard to escape the impression that its editors think themselves greater science minds than their readership.  Perhaps that's why they're so eager to "indoctrinate" readers (quite literally what Ms. LaBarre says is the site's goals) with their superior wisdom (i.e. interpretations) of science.

But here at DailyTech we take a different view.  We reject censorship and believe in free expression.

We welcome all opinions from the novice to the professional.  We welcome respectful criticism of our authors, our articles, and the material therein, in a public place for all to see.  We don't believe doctrines and indoctrination have a place in open scientific discussion.

At the same time we acknowledge that comments -- criticism, trolling, and more -- are a painful burden at times.  But it is a burden we choose to bear because we must.  Perhaps it will hurt our readers' impressions of our site.  But journalism and science are founded upon open discourse and a receptiveness to feedback.  Once you lose that, you risk rapid loss of your accountability and credibility.

Sources: PopSci, BoingBoing, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, The New York Times

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RE: How low they've falled
By troysavary on 9/27/2013 1:45:43 PM , Rating: 2
That man has done more damage to modern society then Hitlers Germany did in the 40s

That statement invalidates everything else you might say because it proves you are an idiot.

RE: How low they've falled
By michael67 on 9/28/2013 12:57:37 AM , Rating: 1
because it proves you are an idiot.

Maybe, but maybe on the other hand, not everything is black and white!

First of all let me say that "antisemitism" and "The Final Solution" are things i am against from the core of my being, and i am opposed against that part of what the Nazi's did.

But the reason Hitler came to power, is because after WW I, that started because England did not wane share power in the world whit Germany, Germany that was faster in the technical revolution at that time then England, and wanted a bigger share of the world trade, and because of imperialism of both the leaders, after Germany lost WW I, the "Treaty of Versailles" devastated German economics.

And gave rise to bottom feeders like Hitler, that feed on the underbelly feelings of the people, but the economics of Germany's National Socialism ware solid, and Germany rose from the ashes,, from being a bankrupted country, to a world dominating power, that challenged the hole world, in just 10 years.
(And i don't believe any other country in history ever shown such and quick growth)

But Germany also developed and build infrastructure in Europe, that still to day is being used, And Germany did not only developed weapons, but did also lot of civilian development.

Murdoch's media Empire dose mainly destruction of the informed mind!

Rupert Murdoch owns hundreds of major media outlets including ultra conservative Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and he's using his media power to help his oil buddies stop governments acting to curb their profits. In the US alone, most of the climate stories from Murdoch's select papers mislead readers about global warming and many other subjects.

Start watching Fox, and a real and dependable news outlet like BBC, and compare how both bring the news, and i am not saying the BBC never gets it wrong, but at least they are neutral when they bring the news.

If i would be offered to go back in time, but i could go only once, and had to pick between killing a young Hitler and Murdoch, it would be a hard pick, but i would pick Murdoch.

Why?, because imho Murdoch is responsible for many of the problems we have to day, because Murdoch's Newcorp failed to do its job, covering the real news, and not generate infotainment!

Newscorp is imho reasonable for most of the polarization in the world now a days, and the public cynicism about politics, because if they really did and knew there job, politicians wouldn't get a way whit most the shit they do now a days!

And things like allowing banks to use money from there core business, to speculate on stock market, one of Clinton's biggest fails, was there ever even a discussion in the news about lifting the law that prohibited banks to use money from there banking business, to speculate?

Not saying its all Newscorps fault, but they are really the worse of them, and just like Apple started the patent war, Newscorp started to make infotainment more profitable then real news.

And how can people make a well informed opinion, if they don't have reliable information sources!

Ware the Nazis believed what they ware doing was to progress the human race, Mordoch dose all what is in his power to regress the masses, and make them stupid polarized entertainment and infotainment junkies!

So whats worse?, i am not sure, but imho Murdoch done more harm then Hitler ever did, only Murdoch dose it from the dark, ware with Hitler you can point your finger at the concentration camps, that dose not mean the damage Murdoch has done is not real, it means its much harder to fight his evil then Hitlers.

And compared to Murdoch, Joseph Goebbels was just a nice amateur.

RE: How low they've falled
By michael67 on 9/28/2013 1:31:04 AM , Rating: 2
That statement invalidates everything else you might say because it proves you are an idiot.

Ooo, and you just made my point, people cant think for them self's any more, and everything is polarized to black and white.

Just because you don't agree with a part of my opinion, the rest of my opinion is also invalid

People use to say things like, "I agree with you on most what you say, but that part is just wrong/bullocks".

But now a days if you a Republican you have to be against everything Democrats say, and visa versa, if you believe in God, evolution is just bs, and should not be at schools, if you a R you have to be homophobic, and if your a D you have to be pro-gay, if you R you watch Fox news, if your a D you watch NBC, if your a R you have to think "Global Warming" is a long con, if your a D you support it.

Come on stop polarizing, make up your own mind, and pick up idea's from others, friend or foe!

To quote a man i really don't like, Steve Jobs "Good artists copy great artists steal"!

The same could be said of good politicians, "Good politicians copy great politicians steal" and it dose not mater if the idea is from friend or foe!
(But in my opinion, if yyou can steal idea's from your enemy's, you doing a good job)

RE: How low they've falled
By Bruzote on 9/30/2013 11:51:21 AM , Rating: 2
The Nazi comparison might invalidate his right to the respectful assumption of reasonable judgment, but it does not invalidate any factual arguments or logic he has already used or may use (outside of any argument appealling to authority). So, don't throw away an argument you've already spent time reading just because the person makes a ridiculous claim at the end. You might not be interested in reading his further arguments, but if he made good points, they should still stand regardless of over-dramatic Nazi comparisons.

RE: How low they've falled
By michael67 on 10/2/2013 1:05:55 AM , Rating: 2
they should still stand regardless of over-dramatic Nazi comparisons.

I dont think i am over-dramatic, yes what the Nazis did was horrific, but he world got stronger from it, like a broken bone that is stronger after it heals.

But Murdoch is just like a cancer, he is rotting us to the bone, and the worse thing is, most people er not even noticing it!

How can politicians be hold accountable for what they doing, if the press is not doing its job, everyone is disillusion about government an politicians, why?

Because there is no press that was holding them accountable.

Every one knew the NSA was doing more then they should, all the signs and rummers ware there, and what did the press (mostly owned by Murdoch), they ware sitting on there hands.

So people can call me over-dramatic, but i think Murdoch is the worst thing that happened to the world in the last 100 years, but no one is noticing it, because the system that should warn us is in the hands of that same sociopath!!!

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