And so does every other dumbass on the planet.
Sadly, many, many people don’t put much thought into what they say. They are also confident in their opinions. Regardless of how little they may know or how baseless such opinions may be. People are often blissfully unaware of what they don’t know.
While some of us are trying desperately not to sound foolish, checking and rechecking our grammar and spelling, and searching out facts to support our statements, there is another type of person that is content to spew whatever comes to mind. They know that all opinions are valid and that they have a right to such opinions. It never occurs to them that they might listen and learn.
This has always been the case. In the grand old days of long walks up steep hills to the schoolhouse, these discussions were usually limited in range. Now we have the pleasure of being bombarded with such imbecility from all corners of the globe. Welcome to the Interzone.
This is not likely news to you, dear reader.
I often read comment sections. It can be frustrating. There are certain sites that are rife with such nonsense (hello, YouTube!) One must keep in mind that these people tend toward the most vocal and are not necessarily a good barometer. The discussion still gives a very good look at the losing battle considerate, rational people face. The most vocal, the most vehement and the most repeated concepts and “facts” have become The Truth.
Reading a quick hitter piece about the sliding rocks in Death Valley National Park, California a few weeks ago brought this aspect of Interzone discourse to the front of my mind. I had been toying with a way to write about it. My heart wasn’t really in it.
PopularScience.com came to the rescue and gave my efforts new energy. Not only that, PopSci explained it far more succinctly than I had been able to. They managed to do it with Science! no less.
It wasn’t a decision we made lightly. 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.
That is not to suggest that we are the only website in the world that attracts vexing commenters.Far from it. Nor is it to suggest that all, or even close to all, of our commenters are shrill, boorish specimens of the lower internet phyla. We have many delightful, thought-provoking commenters.
But even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story, recent research suggests. In one study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, 1,183 Americans read a fake blog post on nanotechnology and revealed in survey questions how they felt about the subject (are they wary of the benefits or supportive?). Then, through a randomly assigned condition, they read either epithet- and insult-laden comments (“If you don’t see the benefits of using nanotechnology in these kinds of products, you’re an idiot” ) or civil comments. The results, as Brossard and coauthor Dietram A. Scheufele wrote in a New York Times op-ed:
- Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.
- In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
- Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.
Another, similarly designed study found that just firmly worded (but not uncivil) disagreements between commenters impacted readers’ perception of science.
I cobbled together some of the comments from the sliding rocks piece and sorted them into some of the most common types for explanatory purposes:
- How Dare You? – The theme here being that “there are better things” that people could be doing. We all, particularly such commenters, spend 100% of our time in only the most crucial of endeavors. How dare scientists study mysteries of the universe that these commenters don’t care about? Surely they should be feeding street urchins and solving world peace.
- I Don’t Know, You Don’t Know – Here we have the annoying habit of commenters who assume that what they know is the sum of human knowledge. If they can’t understand the Science!, they half-reason, it is because it makes no sense. Indeed, how can anyone even know what that giant light in the sky is? Blasphemers. This includes the idea that all hypotheses are valid, which is just plain silly. I know we are all taught that everyone is a bright, shining light, but some lights went and got PhDs. Please give subject matter experts the respect their hard work is due.
- Because god – This is self-explanatory. I am not going to crap on anyone’s faith. However, even the Pope acknowledges scientific facts. Because god is not a practical explanation for the workings of the universe.
- They Are Lying to You – Also self-explanatory. There is a Science! conspiracy or a government coverup. It’s a hoax. It’s been ‘shopped (I can tell because pixels!)
In case you are interested…1 Corinthians 1:27 (King James Version) “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”
Many of these people are artless trolls. The impact is the same. Discussion falls down into a pit of slime where half-wits and angry douches hold as much or more sway as any honest, thoughtful individual.
I can’t really blame Popular Science for closing down comments. The comments sections were running counter to their purpose.
You may find this an odd stance coming from someone that writes about the absurd and off-beat. There are other places to get into mudslinging and baseless or imaginative speculation. Places such as the big news outlets who can barely be arsed to fact check their articles, social sites such as reddit and blogs like this. I’ll be there.