Merriam-Webster defines science as:
1 : the state of knowing : knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
2a : a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study b : something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge
3a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method
b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena : natural science
4 : a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws
Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin scientia, from scient-, sciens having knowledge, from present participle of scire to know; perhaps akin to Sanskrit chyati he cuts off, Latin scindere to split — more at shed.
First use: 14th century
Synonyms: lore, knowledge, wisdom
I almost wish that they had added “dynamic” and “flexible” or “cooperative” or better yet “adaptive” to their definition since our wide body of scientific knowledge incorporates many cultures, centuries of history, and fierce debates about how we understand the world around us. And it’s that last point that I think is really one of the selling points of science: disagreement is necessary and will always have a place at the table. But be warned, this is the kind of disagreement backed by observable and measurable phenomenon, statistical analysis, and multiple independently verified trials that I’m talking about, not the kind of arguments had at the dinner table.
So, if healthy debate is needed even necessary to foster a robust body of knowledge then why did Popular Science disable the comments section on their online articles? Well, as it turns out they did it for the sake of science.
According to the site, the decision was not made lightly and in part, based on a study done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison that showed that readers were more likely to feel negatively about an article’s topic if there were a number of troll-like comments below it. This and other similar studies have indicated that these uncivil and fantastical comments are obscuring the actual facts of scientific discovery and debate which is ultimately hurting science:
“While the aim of science is to be objective, funding for said science is not.
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.”
While I ultimately support Popular Science’s decision to shut the comments off, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel uneasy about it. Science should be free and open to everyone not just those with the most money or the most degrees. Frankly, it seems a bit sleazy to turn the comments off for the sake of ensuring funding but with the current political environment rife with fear-mongering it seems a logical choice. I would like to believe that the principles of democracy and scientific inquiry can learn to co-exist on the worldwide web and that emerging technologies in communication can only make these institutions better. Improving our education system to guarantee the next generation of critical thinkers doesn’t seem like such a bad idea either. In the meantime, it would seem that internet trolls are the reason why we can’t have nice things.
Our comments section is still on…what say you about Popular Science’s decision? Good for science or bad?
And check out the original story on the Popular Science website: