Why Popular Science banned comments — and why we won’t


“Comments can be bad for science,” wrote Popular Science Editor Suzanne LaBarre this week, announcing that the magazine is shutting down comments. That’s a tempting option for many discouraged by racist, homophobic or just plain ignorant voices that sometimes dominate the “comment cesspools.” After reading the 78 comments on one of this month’s most-read articles, I think it’s the wrong solution.

The article, Domestic violence against Hmong women: The silent truth by Kaonou Hang-Vue, is a carefully written, thoughtful and eloquent call to “Hmong men and women [to] both stand up to fight for this cause together. It’s not a man-woman issue, it’s a community issue that can only be challenged and fixed by the collaboration of the whole Hmong community.”

Sure, some of the commenters displayed almost comical ignorance, such as the one who proudly stated, “I didn’t read the article but only read the comments,” and then went on to criticize the article that he hasn’t read. Other commenters misstated facts or denounced the writer for statements that she did not make. They were quickly challenged and corrected by others. Our readers stepped up and engaged the critics with well-reasoned responses.

Popular Science cited a recent study of “The Nasty Effect” — a study that showed that “nasty” comments polarized opinions, driving people farther apart and that “audiences reading uncivil language in blog comments may find the messages hostile and make judgments about the issue based on their own preexisting values rather than on the information at hand.”

That can happen. We prefer (and encourage) civil comments rather than “nasty” or uncivil comments. Even uncivil comments, however, didn’t stop our readers from responding with civility and going beyond responses to share their own opinions and experiences. One good example is the comment republished below.

The article about domestic violence was published as part of our Community Voices. We publish lots of Community Voices articles from people who have something to report or an opinion they want to share. This is a lively and growing forum for community conversations. We invite you to join in the discussion by reading, commenting, and contributing your own articles. 

By way of encouraging you to participate, we are looking for a way to feature some of the best / most interesting / most thought-provoking comments each week. Here’s one to start: 

ManForward Againstgenderviolence · Twin cities

Whenever a sister shares her experience about domestic violence the often and initial responses are she gets blamed for her telling her truth, she gets dismissed, she gets belittled, her experience becomes minimized, or she is lying. But the best one of all is that her experience and observations are not fact! A parallel is that this is similar to when sister in the community shares about being raped – this happens in mainstream society too. For the longest time and yet still today many women from different communities using whatever “legal” system still have to prove and provide “Strong” evidence that the rape occurred. When she shares of her rape – she gets blamed for the way she dressed, she gets belittled for the way she walked, she gets dismissed for being too out there as a woman, her story becomes minimized because it was not real or could not be real, and lastly she is lying. 

Where is the man who used violence toward this woman or others? He gets off easily with a slap on the wrist. He has not responsibility or accountability towards her – actually there was a recent article that said some men find it “fun” to rape women.

Addressing the root causes of men’s violence against women and girls, means we deconstruct our patriarchal system that privileges one gender over the other specifically men over women, address the impact of homophobia, sexism, heterosexism, and transphobia. *** (I dare say men, that is all men because for those of us who think we are the good men we are not at all good men when all we do is sit back and do nothing when sexist, homophobic and misogynistic remarks have been made. Our silence indirectly contributes to this very violence and climate of fear for women and girls). When we as men – brothers do not speak up and out against our brothers violence towards ours sisters in the community we are also at fault. Some of my brothers may find this as hard language and feel defensive about what I am sharing but ask yourself why you are feeling defensive? What are you trying to protect? Who or what are you trying to protect in feeling defensive? 

Yes, there is a small portion of men who are abused but there is a larger majority of men who are doing the abusing and committing the violence and are getting away with it! Ending men’s violence against women and girls means men need to talk to other men and check their power and privileges. We must recognize that patriarchy affects men too and so for those of us who believe we are good men I ask you to speak up when sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and heterosexist remarks are made to share the diversity of opinions about what it means to be a man in our community. If we do not want to be that stereotypically Hmong man that is seen as a gangbanger, abusive, violent, loser, multiple wives, etc. We as brothers need to speak out against these forms of oppression because the longer and more silent we are the more we contribute to the problem. This in-fighting with our sisters and belittling or discrediting of their truth and experience does nothing but continue the cycle of abuse and violence we have seen and our sisters have experienced and endured for generations. So, I call out to my brothers speak up and stand up if we are going to create a new Hmong man in our community that is different than the one currently being portrayed because when our sisters see us in the community that is who she sees at the current moment.