Why I’m Shutting Down the Comments


This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. For every decent comment I receive, I end up with twice the number of abusive/spam comments which I have to end up deleting. It gets to be a hassle, and subjectively determining what I should consider a violation of the rules on any given occasion grows tiresome. Plus, I was struck by what Popular Science had to say about comment sections of articles and their effect on readers’ perceptions of the articles themselves:

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.

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.

This might be a good idea for me. So, starting tomorrow I’m going to try shutting down the comment capability on this blog. You can still feel free to like the posts if you’re so inclined, but no one will be able to comment on any of my posts.