‘Popular Science’ Shuts Comments, Citing Internet ‘Trolls’

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The online content director for PopularScience.com announced Tuesday that the website will no longer accept comments on new articles, saying a small but vocal minority of "shrill, boorish specimens of the lower Internet phyla" were ruining it for everyone else.

We're all familiar with that deep, dark rabbit hole of Internet comment boards. A negative or critical comment sparks a firestorm of debate until the discussion erodes into a cavalcade of insults and personal attacks. Once you finally snap back to reality, you realize you've often strayed so far from the original story that it's often difficult to find your way back.

This distracting nature of online comments is part of the reason Popular Science, the venerable 141-year-old science and technology publication, declared that it would be shutting its comment boards down.

"Comments can be bad for science," writes Suzanne LaBarre, the online content director ofPopular Science. She continues:

"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."

Written By: Steve Mullis
continue to source article at npr.org

18 COMMENTS

  1. At the Huffington Post they use an AI system to screen comments. I hate the damn thing, it can screen out comments that are perfectly rational, on topic, and polite. But I understand why they need something like that, the volume of comments is so huge and it can be so annoying to have to wade through all the people insulting each other. I think the idea of an AI moderation system is both fascinating and a bit creepy. I would bet companies like Disqus are already looking into it.

  2. The online content director for PopularScience.com announced Tuesday that the website will no longer accept comments on new articles, saying a small but vocal minority of “shrill, boorish specimens of the lower Internet phyla” were ruining it for everyone else.

    This is quite understandable when attempts at reasoned scientific discussion, are being swamped with assertive ignorance and personal abuse. We all probably have some experience of the ignorant troll who just keeps making up nonsense, insults and gratuitous contradictions, while filled with Dunning-Kruger confidence.
    These characters must make life very difficult for moderators who are trying to allow a free discussion of constructive ideas and critical; analysis, while maintaining standards.

    • In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:
      >

      We all probably have some experience of the ignorant troll who just keeps making up nonsense, insults and gratuitous contradictions, while filled with Dunning-Kruger confidence.

      The irony really kicks in when the posturing troll decides that constructive debunking of their ignorant assertions, side-tracking, fallacies, appeals to false authority, and denials of evidence, is “offensive”, and accuses critics of ad-homs!

      • In reply to #18 by Alan4discussion:

        The irony really kicks in when the posturing troll decides that constructive debunking… Is “offensive”

        I agree entirely. Of course these “boorish specimens of the lower Internet phyla” don’t produce anything very constructive. Their posts are notable for the predominance of jeering interjections and multiple exclamation marks. You know the kind of thing: “Ha! Ha! Ha!” or “Poster without a clue!!!” or “… comical!!!!” or “Oh dear! – Still learning nothing!” or “Ah! The posturing of false authority! Ignorance quoted by the ignorant…” or “???????????????????????  You clearly fail to understand the science involved!” or “…ignorance! – Not even worth a comment!” or “Ha! ha! ha! ha! I’ll leave it at that, as I have better things to do…”

  3. I totally disagree with Suzanne LaBarre’s statement: “Comments can be bad for science,”. Trolls? There are trolls on the Internet? I thought that was just the noise creeping into the network. If anything, trolls could be a source of research for somebody. Anyway, I’ve never commented on PopSci, and only visit it via a link from somewhere else, like here.

    • In reply to #4 by A3Kr0n:

      If anything, trolls could be a source of research for somebody.

      Indeed. Types of trolls, methods, infection rates, immunities, etc. There is a partial attempt at this on the Encyclopedia Dramatica, which is a highly offensive and hysterical wiki, NSFW. One might say it is written by trolls. On some topics, it is a superior academic resource to serious wikis. I see Rebecca Watson is currently on their front page.

      In American ghettos we play a game as children called The Dozens (also called Crackin’ in some areas), where one tries to get an emotional response out of the other. First person to show anger loses. It’s a delicate sport, a art. One does not lead with their hardest, most personal insults. One must prime the opponent (and the audience), to build into an ego-jarring assault. It is a great mental and emotional exercise; cultivating wit, empathy, and a thick skin. From the beginning of trolling, I saw it as the internet expression of this, White people joining in on the game, and getting undone by it.

      This site does a superb job of controlling infections. I think it’s a combination of more thoughtful contributors and empowered mods. Trolling is a art, and so is moderation. There can be no rules to modding, and they must be able to be arbitrary. When regular and sincere contributors get vitriolic, that chums the water for trolls, and the mods here prevent that (at times surgically). It’s well worth the effort. I imagine trolls get bored with this place.

    • In reply to #4 by A3Kr0n:

      I totally disagree with Suzanne LaBarre’s statement: “Comments can be bad for science,”. Trolls? There are trolls on the Internet? I thought that was just the noise creeping into the network. If anything, trolls could be a source of research for somebody. Anyway, I’ve never commented on PopSci, and…

      It’s true according to this study: [link] (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcc4.12009/abstract)

  4. There are a number of ways of handling that problem without tossing all comments.

    1. use moderators.
    2. treat a subset of trusted users as moderators. Their collective wisdom is used to sort posts, best at the top. You can add new moderators by seeing how well candidates match evaluations of existing moderators.
    3. If it is spam rather than trolls that are the problem, you can use word filters.
    4. make people login, and bar troublemakers.
    5. put a troll icon on violators to warn users without censoring.

    The problem you run into is being fair about the difference between trolling and just disagreeing.

  5. Slashdot (www.slashdot.com) has a pretty effective moderation system that relies on users themselves. As outlined here: http://slashdot.org/moderation.shtml the goals are:

    1. Promote Quality, Discourage Crap
    2. Make Slashdot as readable as possible for as many people as possible.
    3. Do not require a huge amount of time from any single moderator.
    4. Do not allow a single moderator a ‘reign of terror’

    I know there are other websites operating similar systems and they seem to work quite well. I think the actions taken by Popular Science are a bit extreme.

  6. In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:We all probably have some experience of the ignorant troll who just keeps making up nonsense, insults and gratuitous contradictions, while filled with Dunning-Kruger confidence.Indeed. Alan.

    “Dunning-Kruger”. Who he?

    • In reply to #12 by Stafford Gordon:

      We all probably have some experience of the ignorant troll who just keeps making up nonsense, insults and gratuitous contradictions, while filled with Dunning-Kruger confidence.

      “Dunning-Kruger”. Who he?

      Dunning-Kruger Effect

      Perhaps the worst of these on a science site, are those who quote-mine scientists, or claim badges of false authority for their nonsense, by citing prestige authors, whose work they have misunderstood or misapplied, – thus appearing to have scientific credibility to the less educated, while presenting pseudo-science.

      IDiots with some scientific training, or posturing philosophical pseudo-scientists, regularly use these tactics.

      • In reply to #13 by Alan4discussion:
        >

        Perhaps the worst of these on a science site, are those who quote-mine scientists, or claim badges of false authority for their nonsense, by citing prestige authors, whose work they have misunderstood or misapplied, – thus appearing to have scientific credibility to the less educated, while presenting pseudo-science.

        A give away in recognising this type of troll, is that when they have thrown in a complex “show-stopper science cannot answer” question, from a creationist list, they have no understanding of a scientist’s answer, so ignore or deny it and Gish-gallop on to the next “imponderable” complex diversion.

        Their inability to ask relevant questions or comprehend and follow-up the answers they are given, is a dead give-away of their troll status!

        A rapid succession of glib answers to everyone else on the thread is also a clear indication of Dunning-Kruger confidence.

        • In reply to #16 by Alan4discussion:

          In reply to #13 by Alan4discussion:

          You missed the point: the Popular Science article mentions only one type of behaviour – “shrill… boorish… fractious… uncivil… ad hominem comments.” They closed their comment page because of flaming. No advice for recognising these types of “boorish specimens of the lower Internet phyla” is necessary. Insulting language is crudely obvious.

    • In reply to #12 by Stafford Gordon:

      In reply to #3 by Katy Cordeth:

      In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:We all probably have some experience of the ignorant troll who just keeps making up nonsense, insults and gratuitous contradictions, while filled with Dunning-Kruger confidence.Indeed. Alan.

      “Dunning-Kruger”. Who he?

      I don’t find this comic strip particularly amusing (to me it makes Fred Basset seem hard-hitting and edgy), although I gather it’s de rigueur on this website to find it hilarious.

      Anyhoo, this is the Jesus and Mohammed take on the Dunning-Kruger effect:

      rdf richard

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