The Real Reason Popular Science Shut Off Comments

People are dumb. I'm not saying they're not dumb, 'cause they are.

Popular Science is shutting off the comments function on their articles and posts. That's something I've often had the impulse to do, especially on YouTube. Because people aren't just dumb. They're rude about it. Popular Science, I understand. I sympathize, in a tiny little way.

Uncivil comments ruin discourse. I'm sure that Popular Science wanted to encourage philosophical discourse between readers of their articles, but the trolls pooped on everything.

But more than philosophical discourse is at stake here, dear reader. According to the magazine, nasty comments ruin science itself. Science. Is being ruined. By comments.
Comments can be bad for science. That's why, here at, we're shutting them off.  
Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader's perception of a story, recent research suggests. In one study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject (are they wary of the benefits or supportive?). Then, through a randomly assigned condition, they read either epithet- and insult-laden comments ("If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you're an idiot" ) or civil comments.  
Another, similarly designed study found that just firmly worded (but not uncivil) disagreements between commenters impacted readers' perception of science.

If you carry out those results to their logical end--commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded--you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the "off" switch.
A week ago the U.N. released a report on global warming that dismayed many; it reported a lack of global warming over the last decade-plus, but insisted that "climate change" (a phrase that was originally introduced as a rhetorically neutral term, but that is just as evil-sounding as global warming now) was still going on. Asses and paladins on both sides of the debate made hay out of this report. Reaction piled upon reaction.

I think this move by Popular Science is one of those reactions. For them, this is just one too many times the hoi polloi have ruined good science. Negative comments skewed the reading of some article, the people who read that article elected their officials, and now those officials think it's okay to allow teaching creationism or whatever.

Science, in this scenario, is a static good. Science is Truth. And not the sort of Truth that we arrive at through philosophy. Science is Revealed Truth. Which makes it a religion. A religion with priests who tell the masses what word has come out of the dark druidic grove of Science.

Consensus is the boundary of Science. If you're not part of the consensus, you're not part of Science. Remember that "just firmly worded (but not uncivil) disagreements between commenters impacted readers' perception of science". According to Science, even civil and reasonable disagreement is an evil, because it undermines our trust in Science. Note that I'm saying Science a lot, this is a rhetorical trick to demistify the word Science. Science: it's a big deal, but it's not that big a deal.

Back to consensus. The immediate reason for Popular Science's move might be what they claimed, that negative comments unacceptably skew perception. Bad enough in itself. But the deeper reason is that threats to the consensus are evil.
A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics.
My response to that is summarized in one question: so what?

But perhaps I can only say that because I have a sense of historical perspective, and am therefore very skeptical of a phrase like "scientifically validated". Turns out bacon might actually make you live longer.

Science: it's a big deal, but it's not that big a deal.

People who studied stars and animals and motions and potions were once called philosophers. They looked for truth (with a little beauty and goodness on the side). Now those men are scientists. Scientists are dumb. They're priest-technicians of a religion that is simply about power. They get angry when you don't respect their Science-given authority. And they get petulant the more people ignore them. They do stupid things like shut off comments sections.

Listen, I'm one who thinks comments belong on blog posts, not on articles of any sort. If you have comments open, you're inviting the sort of interaction everyone knows happens online. You can't say you didn't know, Mr. Popular Science. Well, maybe you didn't. Maybe you thought revealing the magic of Science to the masses was going to enlighten them. Doesn't work that way.

Science is study or knowledge of the natural world. And that's all it is. The science establishment (you know, Science) want you to think that what they do is the highest Truth. It's not. At its best it's knowledge, not truth. That means that all scientific knowledge, and all scientific method, and all scientific conclusions, and everything we've learned about spiral galaxies and mollusks, is a subset of philosophy.

Dear reader, a scientist is a only a philosopher. And usually he's a delusional philosopher. You're not scared of philosophers. You don't take what philosophers say on faith. You shouldn't do so with scientists.

Mistrust any branch of philosophy that uses consensus as its yardstick-o'-truth.

People are dumb. I'm not saying they're not dumb, 'cause they are. And scientists are people too.

For great insight on "scientism", science, and philosophy, check out this interview with Austin Hughes.


  1. This article is crap and you suck.

    1. Oh, hey, that's fun. You know my assistant pastor! What are the odds of that?


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