Reader Comments on Science Sites (Popular Science Ends Them)

Thanks to Gerrit for pointing out an article  which explains that Popular Science magazine has decided to no longer allow readers to comment about articles posted on their web site. I read the article with much interest because I was curious to find out what led them to make such a far-reaching decision.

In the reader survey I recently posted here (thanks to all who responded!) one of the most common reasons given by readers for coming to the site so regularly was because they enjoyed reading the comments posted here by readers. I concur. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy running this site so much. The contribution of commenters here has enriched the site far beyond what would be possible from just having my own posts available.

So why would Popular Science cut off such a potentially valuable asset to their site? The site’s online content director, Suzanne Labarre, explains in an editorial that, “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.”

I can understand the problem of trolls and spambots. While I am sure that ECW gets only a fraction of the traffic of PS, I have to deal with a our share of them here on E-Cat World — but I don’t find it too onerous of a task. There are effective technological solutions to stopping most spam comments these days, so I don’t have to deal with much of that.

Trolls are a different matter. Labarre describes trolls as a ‘fractious minority’ that is able to skew readers’ perceptions of a given topic — and that this minority can have a far-reaching effect on the quality of science. She writes:

“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”

I understand this point of view, and see some truth in it — but I’m not sure that blocking comments altogether is the best response to the troll option. Furthermore, what constitutes a troll is up for debate. One person’s troll is another person’s prophet — depending on one’s personal view on a given topic.

My feeling on the matter is that because reader comments are such an asset to a web site, they deserve the time and attention of a human moderator, and I take my moderating responsibility very seriously. I don’t believe that science bloggers and journalists are the smartest people in the room (I know I’m not!), and I think the internet provides an extremely valuable function in scientific discourse in allowing articles to be challenged and positions to be debated.

Having said that, I understand that publications have editorial policies and perspectives. ECW operates from the perspective that LENR/E-Cat/Cold Fusion is a promising and potentially very useful technology and because of that, I usually don’t allow posts here that seem to blindly deny its validity. Also I don’t want this site to be a place where commenters insult one another or descend into vulgarity — and I moderate accordingly.

My commitment is to keep user comments here — it would be a much poorer place without them. I am far better educated in science and technology because of the readers who post here. Thanks to all for that!

  • D R Lunsford

    There’s a crucial difference. The Internet brings out every imaginable crackpot who fancies himself an expert. Case in point – the Wikipedia article on the Dirac equation was too short and too filled with bad writing, so, having spent a huge amount of time working over that thing, I decided to rewrite it. I followed the rules – no speculation, stick to facts, expository writing. I have a good command of English and can write an exposition, and I know the subject, so all good right? Wrong. As soon as it was in a half-finished state and marginally publishable, that the stupid edits began. People who were not even physicists decided that they were expert enough to trash my work, and worst of all, none of them could write English prose. I finally gave up. I think science attracts these types because it is a ripe field for shadow projection – those who keenly sense their ignorance unconsciously, will go to extreme lengths to assume a mantle of expertise. This makes it almost impossible to have a reasoned discussion about science online. By treating all voices equally, the comments section of a blog makes it possible for voices that would otherwise shout into a vacuum to be heard, and the sound is too shrill to bear. So I think PopSci did the right thing. That’s one way to end the madness.

    -drl

  • Udi

    User comments are indeed a valuable asset to any website.
    However, when a website is a commercial entity, and is based on the quality of it’s content, devoting enough resources to going over thousands of comments a day may not be commercially viable.
    I suspect that is what happened with Popular Science.

    You might get 50 comments per day, and you run this website because you believe/enjoy it (although I hope you do make some money out of it).
    It’s a completely different matter when you are running a business.

  • Chris I

    Nope, the reply system is haywire.

  • Chris I

    This was meant to be a reply to Omega Z, September 27, 2013 at 6:15 am but something went haywire.

  • Chris I

    I wasn’t aware of Mats Lewan having run into trouble over these things. A google search on his name doesn’t give results indicating such a thing, it would seem he is still preaching away unfettered.

  • Bertuswonkel

    lattice energy is founded by Lewis Larson, known for https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEtIDXrHGo
    This interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEtIDXrHGo is very good i think and might answer some of your questions.

    Larson is mostly interested in theory and the possible implications of LENR for other scientific fields. I think he figures that once you have figured out how LENR actually works, building devices will be easy and a lot cheaper than trail and error.

    I think he has developed a lot, his slide shares are a wealth of information http://www.slideshare.net/lewisglarsen?utm_campaign=profiletracking&utm_medium=sssite&utm_source=ssslideview. He provides updates on his research but he is not building experiments, he working on theory and looking for evidence for LENR elsewhere e.g. batteries, lightning. He want to prove his theory by looking at the predictions and find out if the theory is supported by evidence. I think he is doing important work but it not very spectacular.

  • Bertuswonkel

    lattice energy is founded by Lewis Larson, known for https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEtIDXrHGo
    This interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xEtIDXrHGo is very good i think and might answer some of your questions.

    Larson is mostly interested in theory and the possible implications of LENR for other scientific fields. I think he figures that once you have figured out how LENR actually works, building devices will be easy and a lot cheaper than trail and error.

    I think he has developed a lot, his slide shares are a wealth of information http://www.slideshare.net/lewisglarsen?utm_campaign=profiletracking&utm_medium=sssite&utm_source=ssslideview. He provides updates on his research but he is not building experiments, he working on theory and looking for evidence for LENR elsewhere e.g. batteries, lightning. He want to prove his theory by looking at the predictions and find out if the theory is supported by evidence. I think he is doing important work but it not very spectacular.

  • Bertuswonkel

    I did a small experiment but i am not good at maths, so was hoping one of you might be able to help solve it.
    I have a 220-240v – 50/60 herz – 1850-2200 w electric water boiler in which i put 0.5 Liter of water at around 95-99C temp
    The top of the cooker was left open so the water keeps boiling until all the water is evaporated.
    It took my heater around 6.20 minutes to boil away 0.31 Liter of water. How does this compare to Rossi’s results discussed in my previous post?

  • maozhjie

    Who can tell me more about the lattice energy LLC? It is really mysterious without any development after establishement.

  • Bertuswonkel

    According to the dictionary, forums are a public meeting place for open discussion, i think this is why i like them so much. A comment section should be part any respectable news site.

    I was looking at some old videos on this site and one of which is called The Failure of Rossi’s Energy Catalyzer, Caught on Video by Steven Krivit. I don’t know why it was linked, to provide some balance to the story or to provide evidence to support Rossi, its kind of confusing. The video and the title don’t add up, were is the failure?
    There is a link to the ‘Full Story’ on Krivit’s site. He states:

    ‘However, by all accounts, the steam looks like the amount and rate you would get from a 700-1000 Watt electric heater.’

    This argument is however not very convincing there was steam and yes its the same as a 700-1000 watt electric heater. This is due to the fact that water boils at 100C in both cases in normal atmosphere, so yes it looks rather similar. What matters is how much liters of water was used in a certain amount of time. According to Rossi 7 Liters an hour go in, it takes 615.6 WH/L to turn water of 99C into steam. This mean 4.3092 Wh is needed to account for the water loss. Furthermore 596.9 Wh is needed heat the water to 99C. A total of 4906.1 wh/h is produced, 770 was going in, so lets say 4000 Wh/h was produced. I think you would need at least 4 – 700-1000 watt electric heaters to evaporate that amount of water. How the steam looks does not really provide you with a good energy measurement. Krivit could for instance have weight the water for some time to see at which rate it drops. I might be totally wrong but Krivit disabled the comment section to the video so issue like this cannot be addressed. I think it is a clear example of why comment sections are so very helpful and a necessity is some cases.

    • Barry

      Well put Bertuswonkel. We saw Defkalion methodically measure the flow rate with a stop watch when they did their demo in August. The opinion science of Mr K is no substitute when it comes to such careful measurements.

    • Omega Z

      Bertuswonkel

      Steam is Good. It tells you that you have steam.
      It means you’ve reached at least 100`C, but little else.
      To many variables as air temp, humidity & many others to use as an accurate measure.
      Krivit’s was being deceptive by leaving these facts out.
      Or showing a lack of knowledge.

  • Chris I

    <trolling>
    I disagree with Labarre’s definition of a troll. It is usually meant as a poster who’s only aim is to cause adversity and possibly among others (not only against themselves).

    Real trolls do not voice their own opinion but whatever will best stirr things up, according to the views expressed by others. They do it for the fun and, if they get others into a tangle with each other, they sit back with their coke’n’popcorn and just watch the show, putting in a bit of stoking now and then.

    There are a few other things typical of at least some trolls, including the use of more than one identity to better inject opposing views into the debate.
    </trolling>

    • Omega Z

      I believe they are more about Censorship & less about trolls.
      In their words, Comments shape opinions, effect funding, Etc.
      THEY are helping set the agenda & They don’t want any discontent.
      Many Science Mags have long ago become less about the Science & more of a mouth piece for others who want to shape the consensus to their side.

      I believe they’ve had 2 articles about LENR & both times had many posts in support of it.
      Likely they had some negative feedback from segments that weren’t happy about this.
      This also happened at
      Ny Teknik with Mats Lewan
      Forbes with Mark Gibbs.
      And CBS 60 minutes for the show about Cold Fusion. They were forced to re-edit it.
      There is another that I can’t recall at this time.

      Krivit’s & others made multiple contacts with Ny Teknik threatening to contact advertisers to shut Mats Lewan up.
      They were also involved in the other concern that I can’t recall.

      • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

        the most sad/ironic is that i’ve heard first of robots when discovering climate gate. some heroic warmist were heroically designing robots who were answering to climategate and skeptics arguments with prepared answers.

        i agree that some commentators can be annoying… well used on a good science, skeptics critics can reinforce the argumentation… just have to avoid flames that are fruitless…

        the problem, and it happen on both side of a constroversy, is that when a theory have problems, or when the defenders (of a good theory) are not competent enough, the dissenters may use bad (or good) arguments and win the battle…

        a battle of comments assume all argumentators have maximum competence,and that the manipulation techniques and long flame are suppressed…
        problem is the criteria to define a troll, a flame, a logical fallacy…

        you see on wikipedia cold fusion, that for them a troll is simply someone disagreeing, and that a fringe source is one publishing contradictory papers.

        there is no hope of honesty … the solution is few zone where people infuse in their prejudice, and then comments a little on others forum to challenge the others consensus…
        In fact convincing the convinced is impossible, but some open mind may take data and make their own opinion…

        maybe the problem is when one of the camp says he is the reference.

        normally consensus is self-evident, and reference is self-evident. no need to be “the reference” as a label.
        now some people are afraid that dissenters convince naive people, but naive people today have access to dissenters group.

        the tragedy of climategate/IPCC censorship, like the one of LENR, will shake that vision I hope… even if experience people say nothing will hapen

      • Chris I

        So, do you have a source about Mats Lewan getting into trouble with Ny Teknik? It wouldn’t seem so from the google results I scanned yesterday.

        I hope the troubles with replies have been set straight, as my previous one seems missing.

  • Bernie Koppenhofer

    Thank you for this very important topic Admin. This goes to the very heart of free speech. When someone deliberately interrupts a conversation with the goal of ending or disrupting that conversation, he is attacking free speech. I compare it to a terrorist killing innocent people in order to get his way politically. To give in to the trolls or spamers is not the answer. We need good technology and many more good moderators like the one on this site.

  • Felix Fervens

    In this increasingly secular and atheist world, science has become the new religion. Whereas politics used to co-opt religion to control the minds of the masses, now they increasingly use science, or pseudo-science.

    See for yourself if your friends’ “scientific” conclusions about global warming don’t exactly fall along party lines.

    I randomly ask people who believe fervently that global warming is an alarming catastrophe fairly simple questions, such as how much temperatures have risen in the last 150 years, how large the annual sea level rise is, how much temperatures rise with each doubling of CO2, how long at current rates will it take to double CO2? Generally they have no idea, or wildly incorrect guesses. But they hold their uninformed opinions nevertheless, saying they “believe what the scientist say.”

    • fortyniner

      A demonstration of just how powerful the effect of continual insidious propaganda can be. Repeating a lie over and over eventually replaces actual thought entirely by embedding a new ‘truth’ at the subconscious level. Because it is now a part of the actual structure of an individual’s personality, it is never questioned and so not only becomes extremely difficult to ever change, but will be defended aggressively by the ego.

      There is precisely zero point in attempting to argue with someone who has failed to question the repeated propaganda assertions fed to them, and so has allowed themselves to become brainwashed in this way. They are extremely unlikely to give up their new ‘beliefs’ even when contradictory evidence is all around them, and direct challenges are likely to result in some irrational and often very unpleasant behaviour.

      • Iggy Dalrymple

        The propaganda system of the first World War and this commission that he was part of showed, he says, it is possible to “regiment the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments their bodies.” These new techniques of regimentation of minds, he said, had to be used by the intelligent minorities in order to make sure that the slobs stay on the right course. We can do it now because we have these new techniques.
        This is the main manual of the public relations industry. Bernays is kind of the guru. He was an authentic Roosevelt/Kennedy liberal. He also engineered the public relations effort behind the U.S.-backed coup which overthrew the democratic government of Guatemala.
        His major coup, the one that really propelled him into fame in the late 1920s, was getting women to smoke. Women didn’t smoke in those days and he ran huge campaigns for Chesterfield. You know all the techniques—models and movie stars with cigarettes coming out of their mouths and that kind of thing. He got enormous praise for that. So he became a leading figure of the industry, and his book was the real manual.

        —Noam Chomsky

        (From Chomsky’s “What Makes Mainstream Media
        Mainstream”: a talk at Z Media Institute, June 1997)
        http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/bernprop.html

  • georgehants

    Popular Science
    Readers Respond To Our Decision To Drop Comments
    We’ve gotten tons of feedback since announcing Tuesday that we would no longer publish comments on our website. Here are some of the most thoughtful responses.
    http://www.popsci.com/article/science/readers-respond-our-decision-drop-comments

  • Gerrit

    Many science news sites are just repacking Nature and Science articles. Catchy title, dumbed down story, add in some graphs, simply flipping news burgers.

    The articles about cold fusion that I read on PopSci were well balanced, so I feel they do care more about their articles than other sites.

    Articles about controversial topics will of course have an interesting debate in the comment section. That does tend to make the story more interesting. It might be scientifically proven that ad hominem comments give the casual reader a wrong impression of the article, but by killing the comment section the same casual reader obviously will no longer be able to see any other view than the one presented in the original article.

    To me it seems that PopSci simply doesn’t want to allow any comment to interfere with the message of the article.

  • B Fast

    Popular Science needs to quit disrespecting their readership.

    Popular Science should figure out that dissenters are those who have not seen a high quality data filled case for the position. The solution is to provide the data that proves the point. When the dissenters provide their own data. The correct response is to show the error in the counter-data with more data.

    If the data doesn’t exist to support the scientific position in light of the counter-data, then dissent is appropriate.

  • Zedshort

    I can’t help but believe that the cutting off of comments is a sign of laziness and to some degree intolerance. Surely they could have recruited some moderators that they knew from their prior posting had the ability to moderate in a moderate manner.

    • Andrew Ma

      I would not call it “laziness” — Pop Sci just need to approve the budget for enough time and resources to do the job. Unfortunately that counters the objective of maximizing profit (unlike ECW).
      To that end, I praise Admin for his dedication, wisdom and effort in the excellent job of filtering the comments

  • Roger Bird
    • BroKeeper

      Interesting, I wonder if there are signatures that can be detected from such photon molecules. Photons are constantly passing through frozen gas clouds in space. Maybe there is a hidden aurora enveloping such gas clouds. ???

  • Roger Bird

    Thank you, Frank, for providing us a place to talk about LENR in a civil environment. This forum has the perfect balance between structure and expression. And because I am impetuous and excessively expressive, I am on eternal moderation. (:->) I approve.

  • Daniel Maris

    I would have thought PS could simply limit contributors to say 3 comments per 24 hours. There must surely be software for that.

    Regardiong comments…is there anyway of saving your details here so you don’t have to enter them for each comment? Since the redesign I have to put them in each time.

    • http://www.e-catworld.com admin

      I know about that problem, Daniel, and it’s a pain. I have tried different ways to fix it. So far none has worked, but I am keeping at it. There are some other issues, too. Like my avatar not showing.

    • http://robrites.blogspot.com Rob Lewis

      I don’t think limiting individual commenters would help a site like PS. They are subject to attacks by organized political and religious groups that simply want to drown out any discussion of things they don’t agree with. The idea that religious dogma doesn’t belong on a site devoted to science seems simple enough, but that’s not how the true believers see it.

      I suspect PS wouldn’t have taken this extreme step if they felt they had an alternative.

      • MikeP

        The problem with PS is that some of what they present as Science is religion. So by cutting off comments, PS is simply drowning out discussion of things they don’t agree with.

        I would agree that religious dogma has no place in a site devoted to science. This is why I take the extreme step of not subscribing, not visiting their website, and not reading their work.

        • MikeP

          It’s also why I enjoy coming here and reading the comments. Frankly (pun intended), the atmosphere is wonderful. I can learn interesting things that I wouldn’t come across elsewhere, while being exposed to different viewpoints (mostly handled in a respectful way).