The online version of the long-lived magazine Popular Science made the decision to shut off their comments section. The reason? Trolls can sway the public's opinion on scientific articles.
"Comments can be bad for science," the publication said in an online statement.
The magazine said they commit themselves to "fostering lively, intellectual debate" but that trolls and spammers were inhibiting their ability to do so.
Popular Science also assured readers they were not suggesting their entire commenting population were "shrill, boorish specimens of the lower internet phyla."
In true scientific fashion, they cited a recent study that suggested negative comments were harmful to the process of educating the public through online venues.
According to the study, even if only a percentage of an article's comments are negative, it can still skew the public's opinion on the piece.
University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard asked 1,183 participants to read a blog post on nanotechnology and take a quick survey about their thoughts on the subject. One group of participants was presented with "civil comments" attached to the article. The other group read more insulting commentary such as "If you don't see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you're an idiot," according to Popular Science.
The study concluded that "uncivil" comments often changed reader's interpretation of the article. The subjects in the "civil" group who disagreed with the technology were likely to still hold the same opinion after reading the material. People in the "uncivil group" tended to have "a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology."
A simple ad hominem attack was enough to make a reader think the negatives associated with the technology were more severe than they had originally thought.
"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," Popular Science stated.
The publication stressed the potential impact trolls could have on society.
"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," Popular Science stated.
It may seem ironic to say this; but what do you think?