Science articles about a few topics often attract science contrarians. These individuals have proper, and improper, ways of being responded to.
Who is this guide for?
Gawker Network websites draw in lots of readers and also lots of commentators. Some of these commentators are absolutely clueless human beings. If you are reading this guide, then you are likely a commentator, possibly even a frequent commentator, or you're new to commenting. Either way, you can not stand clueless human beings, and you want to do something about vast ignorance when you see it. While I encourage that, you should keep some things in mind.
Be mindful of how Kinja "thinks"
Not all science contrarian comments are the same, because Kinja is more clueless than even the most clueless human being.
This is a really quick look at the comments underneath an article on a web browser. Comments are ranked, with the highest ranked comment at top left, second place as top right, and then the rest of the comments ranked underneath alternatingly on left and right. This "top" comment is what mobile Gawker Network visitors view by default, it's what common readers of Gawker Network websites will read first, and it's what people are most likely to respond to.
How does Kinja rank comments?
The rank of comments is based on two factors: commentator 'authority' and response from the rest of the commentator community. A commentator with high authority (the initial author or people whom the author follows) creates initially higher ranked comments than those with low authority (anybody else). These inital rankings can then be upvoted, and only upvoted, by response from the community. Clicking the recommend button helps a little, while responding helps a lot.
How can comments be downvoted?
Hahahahaha. Kinja does not believe in that. The only power an author has in controlling out-of-control comments or comment threads is through dismissal. The only power that the rest of the commentator community has in controlling awful comments are to report them if they are truly negative, ignore them, and to (attempt to) out-compete them by creating better comments.
When to ignore a comment
If a contrarian comment is in the greyed-out section, if it is an "additional reply submitted and awaiting review", then it is only worth ignoring. Any interaction with it, such as replying to it, or recommending replies to it, may help move it out of the greys. I highly recommend the same treatment of comments that are out of the greys but are not the highest-ranked comment.
When to create better comments
This might be the best course of action for low-ranking comments. It allows you the ability to inform the audience without engaging the clueless human being. If they're interested in proving their "point", or just arguing some more, they will respond to your comment. This helps your comment become a "better" comment, because replies help the ranking.
When to directly reply to contrarian comments
When they're the highest-ranked comment and it looks unlikely that their ranking will be lost. If the highest-ranking comment is in a thread with 50 replies, and the second highest ranking comment has 10, that highest-ranking comment is unlikely to be displaced. You can now comment without helping that comment gain a better rank.
What to say to contrarian comments
So you have a contrarian comment sitting as the highest-ranking comment, and you want to add your two cents into the conversation.
- You will very likely not get a good return on your investment. If you spend 10 minutes writing a reply and finding resources and links, the contrarian will spend 10 seconds telling you your resources are full of it.
- You will be dealing with an emotional person. The contrarian is not thinking rationally, they're responding to science emotionally. So appeals to reason are unlikely to work.
- You are likely dealing with someone who will annoy you. Do not lose your cool. Do not insult this person.
- Honestly, for your time and sanity, you should just post GIFs. Cute animals are highly recommended. Comments with profanity are highly not recommended.
Why high-ranking contrarian comments are bad
When the top comment on a science article on the Gawker Network is a science contrarian comment, it is bad for two primary reasons. Firstly, it encourages further science contrarians to comment. Science contrarians know they are in the minority and upon finding emotional comrades they will strike up a conversation. Secondly, it negatively impacts a reader's comprehension of the article. I'll quote a summary of some recent research:
Notably, a recent study concluded that the level of civility of the comments following an objective online news item on potential risks related to a technology impacted readers' perceptions of such risks. Among those supportive of nanotechnology, those exposed to uncivil comments after the news item perceived more risks in the technology than those exposed to civil comments. This pattern held true among the highly religious individuals. Results get even more disturbing: those exposed to uncivil comments were more likely to see bias in the news story than those exposed to civil comments, even though all subjects saw the same news story.
Science contrarian commentators are aware, either consciously or unconsciously, that their contrarian comments have this effect. That's why they do what they do. They usually view themselves as crusaders against some evil form of science, and they want validation of their viewpoint in two forms. Firstly, they want people to help them fight their battles, and secondly they want vehement disagreement. Giving them neither of those is the only viable solution.
Artiofab thanks three science contrarians in the past 12 hours for the inspiration for this post. Thanks, guys!