Popular Science | The New York Times

Intellectual debate has been overwhelmed by "trolls and spambots" in Popular Science's comments section, Suzanne LaBarre writes. So the publication is turning them off, as of today. "Comments can be bad for science," LaBarre writes.

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.

Coincidentally, Michael Erard, whose New York Times Magazine story about comments said news organizations may have erred by placing comments below stories, offered several ways to improve comments in a blog post Monday afternoon. Publishers should deputize readers to do more moderation, for instance, because the idea that the Web offers infinite space is flawed: "The tragedy of the comments is a tragedy of the commons, because the unreplenishable resource that has been overexploited when comment threads go awry is the finite amount of attention that we have to spend reading."

Related: NYT community manager: Good comments shouldn’t sit among those designed to cause conflict