Popular Science switches off trolls

Popular Science magazine has decided that it is not worth the effort to allow the great-unwashed to comment on any of its articles.

In a statement, the 141-year-old science and technology magazine said that it was not a decision it made lightly as it was committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate.

But the problem was that trolls and spambots had crushed any attempt at real discussion.

Not all commenters were shrill, boorish specimens of the lower internet phyla, the site said. But even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story.

It cites a study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, where 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject.

Then they read either praise or negative troll posts. The study found that the negative comments polarised readers and changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story.

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.

For this reason, the magazine thought it was better for science to kill off the comments completely.

Some of this has to do with politics. A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics, the magazine said.

As a result the public mistakenly thinks that everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is up for grabs again.

Scientific certainties are another thing for two people to “debate” on television, the magazine moaned.

The 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 the magazine’s stories, the site said.