The barbarians are it seems at the very gates of the ivory towers, and I apologise for such an over used metaphor. The popular on line science magazine “Popular Science” is drawing up the door bridge and closing down comments. Now their gaff their rules, they can do whatever they like, they could have moderated comments, rated them all sorts of things, but they chose to turn off comments and let people discuss things on their forums which does serve the purpose of restricting those that comment to only the genuinely interested so fair enough. Their reasoning is that:
“Comments can be bad for science.”
The problem it seems is that even though they are committed to lively intellectual debate it seems that:
“even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story,”
Now surely a minority could be dealt with by a bit of editoral policy, ah but even civil but firmly worded response can change someones view on the science. They go on to say:
“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 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.”
So a 141 year old science journal is shutting down comments because settled science is being debated again, as other people have so often said if it’s “settled” it’s not science. Especially not if it’s settled by consensus, just think how many opinions and theories have been held as true by the scientific community in the last 141 years which we now think laughable. Even the settled science of “evolution” only came into being 154 years ago and probably wasn’t that settled within the life time of Popular science. However I think the real problem is given in that first line:
“commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded“
See it simply can’t do to have the mere tax paying lumpen proletariat having any say in what research their money gets spent on, that’s for the scientists and their commercial backers to decide. But then it’s hardly surprising that science is having to defend both old and new ground (lets just ignore that that is how science is kind of meant to work), after all look how many celebrity talking heads get rolled out to support this bit of climate science, that bit of environmental research or some other health or social research. With even the “scientific” press telling us that something causes cancer and will kill us one week and then that it’s good for us the next along with celebrity endorsement of both points of view is it any wonder that so many people are starting to think that it’s all rather nonsense. As that learned bird over at corvids corner has so recently observed the scientists introduced “post normal science” so they can hardly complain that they don’t like the fruits of their own sewing. Once science hitched itself to political expediency it was no longer science and no longer deserved the respect it had gained over centuries of fumbling after an understanding of reality.
Scientists are claiming revolutionary new data in areas of “settled science” that prove what they’d been saying previously was right despite the evidence being lacking. No they claim the evidence is there behind the curtain it’s just we can’t see it or measure it, but trust us it’s there – how is this different from religion or out right charlatanism. No matter though if you say “hold on a minute, that can’t be right”, then along comes a talking head to say that to argue with the high priests of science is to “contest the laws of physics themselves”!. The way I remember science working was you got a theory, took a load of measurements, checked if they matched the theory and if they didn’t then the theory was no good. These days it seems you make a model see if it matches the data you’ve already got and when it doesn’t match new data you blame the data not the model. This is not how things are meant to work. So if the high priests are worried about the barbarian at their gates they’ve no one else to blame but themselves as they’ve corrupted their purpose and that curtain is getting awfully thin.