Yesterday, Popular Science announced that it was disabling its comments forum for scientific integrity:
Comments can be bad for science. That's why, here at PopularScience.com, we're shutting them off.
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.
The magazine’s website is not the only major online news site to reform its comments policy as of late. Talking Points Memo is also doing the same by requiring commenters to register. The Huffington Post, as of this month, will not allow new registrants to create anonymous accounts for commenting.
I personally don’t read the comments on the American Spectator’s blog posts or articles, but, as I’ve heard from our editors, we, just as any news website, suffer the existence of trolls and spammers. It seems to be a struggle within the news industry as a whole.
These reforms represent the desire for news sites to remain authoritative and truthful, while also wanting to promote and encourage reader participation. The problem lies in those who intend to obscure debate through ignorance or biased attacks, rather than viable, reasonable dialogue.
We can’t democratize information if a certain percentage of readers only wish to reinforce their own ideology, a problem that Popular Science is attempting to resolve:
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.
As TPM, the Huffington Post, and this magazine are all cultural and political in nature, we have different goals than Popular Science does. However, the ongoing battle against trolls proves that the Internet as a tool can enhance division just as much as any other media channel can.