My parents were thoughtful. They dutifully stimulated my interest in reading and especially science and math, as a youngster. One of those gifts was a subscription to Popular Science magazine when I was barely ten-years-old. I can still smell the fresh glossy pages and feel the excitement of a future they implied; even the ads were fun for me to read. But at the same time I was learning about planets and atoms, down the hall from my bedroom an older sibling was being quietly indoctrinated by one of many seemingly innocent evangelical Christian outreach efforts aimed at young people, this one was called Young Life, but it was just one among many.
This latest announcement by Popular Science online is an indicator that science and reason still remain locked in an ancient battle with superstition and propaganda, and it’s by no means clear which will prevail:
Why We’re Shutting Off Our Comments — 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. .. 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.
I can remember that sibling and friends arguing with me and my friends that the death penalty was morally wrong, that money the root of all evil. That it was their duty as Christians to feed the poor, to treat the sick and injured, and to defend even the worst serial killers from execution, as it was not our place to judge. I argued, but I also admired them, they were sticking up for the powerless. They stuck up for me, too. When I started high school I was still small and plenty nerdy, and even as popular seniors who might not want to talk to a ninth grade kid with thick glasses, they still kept an eye on me and bullies at bay.
Today those same 1970s Young Lifers email me bizarre rants and links to craziness, about how taxing the rich or treating the sick and injured is morally reprehensible, an unforgivable assault on freedom and liberty of the sort pioneered by Hitler, Stalin, and of course Satan. And that’s glossing over: I won’t go into detail about two such communiques I got this month from the same misled clique, except to say it accused liberals of indoctrinating first-graders into the pleasures of fisting or recited the evils of blood thirsty democrats gleefully ripping out late term almost viable infants from proud expecting mothers just for kicks.
Those are the kind of clowns avidly ruining a potentially productive comments section, and not just at Pop-sci. They are everywhere, their anti-science credentials proudly displayed, an ominous echo harkening back to the Dark Ages and the Inquisition, when willful ignorance was a distinguished badge of merit.
I don’t blame the mag for their decision on comments, but it is a sad comment in its own way