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On the Net, snark can trump depth. But bans are no solution.
Fed up of trolls derailing conversation on its boards, the online version of the venerable science magazine, Popular Science, has officially turned off its comments section. It has cited research that concludes that the general musings of pot-stirrers and spambots adversely affect reader comprehension. Comment sections are particularly unsuited to science articles, the argument goes, as they polarise opinion and reduce understanding of the issues under discussion.
But one of the great advantages of digital publishing is the immediacy and interactivity created between writer and reader. Instead of curated and edited letters' sections in print, which can only address a handful of articles, the internet affords readers the opportunity to engage with writers and each other on any number of issues at length. Comment threads can add perspective to articles and foster a sense of community. It is not unheard of for erudite commentators to receive offers to contribute to the websites they frequent.