No comment.

Popular Science, an American science magazine, has decided to turn off the ability to comment on its web articles. This was done in response to hordes of ‘truthers’ clogging their message boards with shouty views on climate change, evolution, and any other hot button issue spun into psuedo-science rhetoric.

Is that a good decision? There will be lots of hand-wringing about incursions on the right to free speech online. Much carping too about how actions like this represent the start of a slippery slope (all metaphorical slopes are slippery by the way) towards scientific discourse being the exclusive responsibility of a shadowy elite, shutting out average Joe Schmoe from the fun.

I agree that it’s a pity that all the hardcore anti-science stuff – often from America, often from the conservative right, always from the impressionable or callously calculating – has goaded a lot of more pro-science stuff into sounding increasingly defensive. Dawkins, Cox, Ince, all this ‘I love science‘ stuff; just let it be. Don’t open the can of dogmatism. You can’t be pro-science. Science just is. And shutting off comments does arguably sit in a similar drawer to the slightly whining ‘Oh come on! Look how cool science is and how right we clearly are compared to those thicks!’ mentality.

But surely the free speech argument holds no water.  In the old days, when newspapers and periodicals were printed, someone wanting to leave a comment on an article would have to write it in pen and stick it to a tree in the middle of the village, a bit of tongue poking ever so slightly out of the corner of their mouth as they did so. You could do the same today. You might be thought a bit weird of course, but seeing as that is in effect what most commenters are doing now, I can’t see any problem.  Alternatively, you could write a letter to the editor, who is there to filter out the cranks, the illiterate and the loudmouths, and ensure contributions are just that. Contributions. Shouting is not a contribution.

As for the elite thing, well. I’ve seen large organisations operate from the inside. They just aren’t competent enough to secretly execute even basic conspiracy theories (largely because they employ people like myself), let alone scientifically-driven ones. If the NSA is reading my inbox, that’s fine. They could just let me know now and again if there’s anything interesting in there that isn’t related to Christian singles in my area.

Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t really mind being told what’s going on by people who know more than I do. People who publish scientific papers in journals using real names for example, rather than comments posted using the handle dogboy.  Nor do I feel aggrieved that they might not give a sparrow’s fart about my opinion on the enthalpy of vaporisation. Why should they? Why should I be allowed any kind of online soapbox? I just looked up that term on Google to sound impressive.

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 18.29.27

If someone introduced themselves as ‘dogboy’ to me in person, I’m afraid I’m unlikely to take on much of what they’re saying on board, scientifically or otherwise.

Of course I would say all this, as peterappleby21 knows ALL TOO WELL.

Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 18.31.30

Whatever Peter is doing in Amsterdam, I suspect he’s not having nearly as much fun doing it as he should be.


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