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In praise of reader comments

By: Don Loepp

September 25, 2013

Yesterday Popular Science magazine shut down the reader comments section of its website, saying that "comments can be bad for science."

What a pity.

Don't get me wrong, I completely understand the decision. PopSci.com online content director Suzanne LaBarre wrote: "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."

I really enjoy reader comments on stories and blogs. They're often more interesting than what we journalists call "content." And it's all the rage these days to encourage readers to interact with our reporters and our wider audience.

It used to be harder to do so. But that never stopped our intrepid readers.

Back in 2004, for Plastics News' 15th anniversary, I wrote a column about some of the best, and most interesting, letters to the editor that we'd published. ("PN readers haven't hesitated to sound off"). I got to mention some of our frequent contributors, a remind everyone about some stories that generated the most letters (remember the "booth bimbos" column?).

Since then, we've added comment features to our stories and blog posts online, so reader interaction on PlasticsNews.com is alive and well.

Unlike Popular Science, I think PN readers have been civil and fair in their comments. If anything, I'd like to see more interaction, both in print and online.