No More Talk: Popular Science Closes Its Comments

Why can’t we ever have a civilized conversation?

That’s the lament we hear all too often when it comes to issues such as evolution or climate change.

As science pundit Greg Laden noted recently, a new editorial policy at Popular Science shuts down conversation entirely.  The online version of the magazine will no longer be open to comments from readers.

Why?  Such comments, online editor Suzanne LaBarre explained, could have a negative impact on the way readers understand science.  She cited academic studies in which readers of hateful comments had changed their opinions about the scientific content of essays and articles.  “Trolls and spambots” had a negative impact on readers’ understanding of key scientific issues.

LaBarre concluded,

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.

As a result, Popular comment forums will be closed.  Are such policies draconian?  Totalitarian?  Orwellian?  Is it a symptom of defeat among mainstream science popularizers that they can no longer accommodate disagreement?

Or, more chilling for those of us who want to see more and better science education in all sorts of institutions, could this new policy be a sign that mainstream academic science has been defeated at the popular level?  That is, is this new policy a sign that small-p popular science has become utterly unmoored from its connections to mainstream academic science?

When commenters, “cynical” or not, can close down the public conversation at such a storied institution as Popular Science, it demonstrates an epochal popular victory for non-mainstream science, whether that be creationism, climate-change denial, homeopathic medicine, or anything else.


Leave a comment


  1. Tim

     /  October 4, 2013

    When Answers in Genesis closes their comments – they can’t handle the truth. When Popular Science closes their comments – it’s trolls. Got it.

    • Did AIG close their comments? Did they get criticized for it? If so, I missed that exchange. Tim, can you direct me to some discussion of this? As you say, I wonder if there could be some pushback from YECs and others against Popular Science’s new policy.

      • Tim

         /  October 4, 2013

        AIG has never allowed comments and I hear about it all the time. LOL. “If creationists had nothing to hide, they’d allow comments.” I wonder if that same attitude applies to Popular Science. I didn’t allow comments on my blog for the first year, then I felt like I could handle moderating it.

  2. Donna

     /  October 4, 2013

    Ken Ham, Sept 28 Facebook talking about Popular Science closing comments, and link he posted- “This is the very reason we don’t allow for comments under our articles on the web or on our videos on Youtube. The trolls (and those who oppose AiG) usually attack viciously, use vile language, blasphemy, personal attacks, etc., etc–so we can’t allow comments. The atheists express anger at us for not allowing comments because they want to gang up on the articles when they come out–most are not interested in carefully considering the content. Incidentally, one of the comments to this article about ‘Popular Science’ is laughable. The comment states:
    “so I’d imagine they’re constantly under attack from Ken Ham and his acolytes.” This person can’t imagine it’s their own people that cause the problems!!!!”

    • Very helpful, Donna, thanks for sharing. The folks at Popular Science stressed the idea that they could not afford the time to monitor and edit comments. They said they would like to, but the exigencies of publication did not allow it. I wonder if Mr. Ham or other young-earth creationists have voiced a similar desire?

  3. Donna

     /  October 5, 2013

    I would guess no, but that is just a wild guess based on “most are not interested in carefully considering the content.”


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