Install your own pacemaker, please.
By Martin Hackworth
This week PopularScience.com made a bold move in joining YouTube and others in a growing trend in restricting what readers may post on feedback forums. As of now, Popularscience.com no longer accepts reader comments on new articles. Their reasons for doing so were well-qualified: Comments can be bad for science. That’s why, here at PopularScience.com, we’re shutting them off. 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 our 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.
Well how about that? It’s downright refreshing to see that an entity that matters not only gets all of this, but has the wherewithal to do something about it. Though the general issue of advancing political and social agendas in the guise of willful and often boastful ignorance goes way beyond science and technology, is particularly galling when it distorts honest efforts to inform on issues well documented with scientific facts. Most science beyond the perfunctory is not easily comprehensible by non-scientists (or often even other scientists outside of a given discipline). That’s one of the principal successes of the Scientific Method – ensuring that the best minds in a given field have examined all of the facts, weighed them, and rendered a verdict that may be trusted by everyone else. I don’t know the first thing, for instance, about molecular biology, but I know that the standards for peer-review in that field are tight. That’s good enough for me.
The United States is unique in the manner in which our national ethos contains a fair dollop of “we are all equal” manifest as “my ideas are just as good as yours.” Let me help you with that. Just because you have the opportunity to be equal to everyone else does not mean that you are equal to everyone else. That’s completely absurd. There is no law of man or nature of which I am aware that allows that your ideas about, let’s say, General Relativity, are just as good as Einstein’s. I know for a fact that my ideas about my diesel truck are not as good as those of the my buddies at Corey’s Auto Works despite the fact that I own a really good tool box and a whole collection of garage shirts.
A lot of folks seem to be confused with the notion that the right to speak freely does not necessarily inform the validity of every freely spoken thing. Just because you have the opportunity to produce a 10,000-word opinion about something that you know little about, except that it offends you, doesn’t mean that anyone else ought to pay it the least bit of attention. Most sensible people, in fact, do not. But opinion space in modern media distorts this. If you author for general consumption an article that examines some nuance of anything that winds up chuckleheads, like, for instance, evolutionary theory, you are not going to hear much from the vast majority of folks who understand and accept evolution (most of whom hold good jobs that preclude lots of idle time at a computer) but you are going to hear from everyone out there who believes that the world is 5000 years old and that dinosaur bones are a test of faith and moral fiber. It’s a distortion of the actual weight of sensible opinion that does not serve most of us very well. I’m all for “lively intellectual debate,” as long as intellectual part doesn’t get left out.
Along the lines of unfettered egalitarianism, if everyone is, indeed, an expert on everything, why do we even need professionals? Since an awful lot of folks seem to think that they know more about, say, medicine, when it comes to things like stem cells and vaccinations and various remedies, than actual doctors, let’s see them install their own pacemakers. I’d pay for a front row seat for that. Even hold up a mirror as a public service.
So good for you Popularscience.com. You just made the world a better place. It’s not every day that happens.
Associated Press and Idaho Press Club Award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist and the editor of MotorcycleJazz.com.