Popular Science blames 'trolls' for comments shut-off

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Popsci.com thinks aggressively negative comments can skew the interpretation of science stories

Popular Science, the science and technology news website, has shut off the ability to leave comments on its site, blaming "trolls" and "spambots".

"Comments can be bad for science," wrote online content director Suzanne LaBarre.

Insulting comments and marketing spam had diminished the site's ability to foster "lively, intellectual debate," she added.

The move comes as Google rolls out comment moderation for YouTube users.

Citing research from the University of Wisconsin, which suggests intemperate comments can polarise readers and skew their interpretation of a news story, Ms LaBarre said Popsci.com had concluded comments had to be shut off.

The consensus surrounding scientifically validated topics, from climate change to evolution, had been "eroded" thanks to a "politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise", she added.


Trolls - rude and uncivil online commentators - have been a growing problem for online publishers.

Google's YouTube video service has long been a magnet for vicious comments left by anonymous viewers, so Google is now allowing some video uploaders to moderate the comments section on their videos using Google+ tools.

Comments would be listed according to their conversational relevance, not just their time stamp, and would also take into account the reputation of the commenter, YouTube announced.

Video creators will also be given the power to moderate comments and make conversations private or restricted to their Google+ contacts.

Micro-blogging site Twitter has come in for criticism for not doing more to combat trolls using its service.

Last week, the Metropolitan Police warned that cases of online abuse were on the rise.

The number of incidents reported to London police relating to online harassment and bullying now approached 2,000 each year, it said.

Earlier this year Caroline Criado-Perez faced abuse and threats of rape from emailers and Twitter trolls after successfully campaigning for a woman to be featured on UK banknotes.

Twitter has recently introduced a "report tweet" button to try to combat trolling.

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