This is why we can’t have nice things, Part II: Popular Science turns off comments

I’ve written before about the problems we have with online comments on our YouTube channel (and the other high-quality channels we import into Socratica.com).  We have chosen to moderate comments, swooping in and deleting all the “you’re so hot!” and “why is a girl teaching math, drrrr” posts we get on our videos.  I know that personally, as a viewer, whenever I read a comment like that, it stops me in my tracks and I am left with a sick feeling.  I usually leave the page immediately.

We simply don’t want that experience for our viewers.  I don’t want that for our actors and content creators, either.  It shows incredible disrespect for all the time and effort that goes into making these videos.  Everyone who makes videos for Socratica is proud of the work that they do – and it just isn’t right that some bozo has defaced their work with mean-spirited comments or misogynistic drivel or ignorant ranting.  We want the people who work with us to be able to proudly share what they do with their friends and family without fear of a troll’s nasty comments embarrassing them.

It does feel strange to be targeted by these cowards.  I know, of course, we can’t take it personally.  This is a problem for everyone who puts content online.  Today, Suzanne LaBarre announced in Popular Science.com that they are turning off comments on their website. She writes

Cars Without Wheels, July 1959

Cars Without Wheels, July 1959 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 have to admit, I was surprised to find that even a publication like Popular Science has found this problem overwhelming.  I would have expected the nature of their publication to attract a “better” class of commenters – people interested in better living through science and technology implied to me better living in general, including being more civil.  Boy, I guess I was wrong.  There are meanies everywhere.

Ship on Stilts Rides Above Waves, January 1936...

Ship on Stilts Rides Above Waves, January 1936, by Edgar Franklin Wittmack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LaBarre brought up another important point, citing a study on the effects of reading insulting comments on comprehension and opinion of scientific articles from Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele, which suggests that comments are more than merely distracting. As they summarized in a New York Times editorial:

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.
In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.

It seems that the trolls do have power – if we let them stay on the page.  Do we have to go the way of Popular Science and do away with comments altogether to take the power back from the petty cowardly trolls?   We do want our viewers to be able to comment and discuss their interests –  to tell us if they found something confusing, and to let us know what topics they would like to learn about next.  Until Google/YouTube gives us the tools to properly filter comments, we will continue doing it the old-fashioned way – taking out the trash one comment at a time.



A is for Alphabet Videos

My darling mum taught me how to read when I was really little (2 – 2 1/2 or so) by reading out loud to me. She read kids’ books to me, but she also read her Reader’s Digest and mystery novels and eventually, just by following along, I picked it up.  But most kids learn in school in the more traditional way, first by learning the alphabet, and then sounding out words with phonics and recognizing words by sight.  Learning how to read and loving reading has had the most profound effect on my life.  For someone who loves to read, it feels like my solemn duty to pass on what I know.

But learning, even learning something Very Important, doesn’t have to be solemn and serious. I have had so much fun making my “little learning movies” with Socratica, and I hope that comes across in our videos. The latest videos I’ve been making are about the alphabet, one for each letter.  We filmed these with our old friend Louise McCartney, star of many of our early videos.  Actually, Louise was in the very first video I wrote and put up on YouTube, “Anion.”  Louise is herself now a teacher in Texas. One of these days I’ve got to write a bio about her, because she has done such a wonderful job bringing the words on the page to life.  Louise also has that joy of learning, and I think you can tell she’s going to be a great teacher.

Louise plays “The Letter Lady,” who teaches kids what sounds the letters make, and how to write them, and helps you pick them out from other letters that look similar.  I don’t care, I’ll say it myself, the videos are simply beautiful. Just because we’re making these videos for little kids, that doesn’t mean we’re cutting corners. We are lucky to work with truly adept and accomplished graphic designers and editors who use their artistic eye to make something we like to watch.  After all, if I don’t enjoy watching my video, why would I expect a new learner to want to watch it over and over?

We just finished the Letter I, and every few days we publish another letter.  Please subscribe and share these videos with young friends who need to learn their letters of the alphabet as the first step towards a lifetime of reading.  We know how important it is. Let’s make it easy and fun for them!


Did you hear the one about the librarian who was fired for encouraging kids to read?

I wish I were joking.  No punchline – this really happened, to Lita Casey, a 28-year veteran of the Hudson Falls Public Library.  She also taught nursery school for 42 years.  She knows a thing or two about kids.  They call her “Gram.”  What was her great offense, that would get her kicked out of the library?

Every summer, the Hudson Falls Library in the great state of New York hosts a reading contest for youngsters, and for the last 5 years, one outstanding reader has walked away with the prize. Meet Tyler Weaver.

Lita Casey and Tyler Weaver

Lita Casey and Tyler Weaver


He’s 9. That means he’s been the top kid reader in this town since he was 5.  This year, he read 63 books during the 6 week contest.  Are they celebrating this outstanding kiddo? Putting up his picture in the library?  No – the library director complained that Tyler was “hogging” the prize, and he should step down and let another kid win for a change.  She planned to award next years’ prize by drawing names out of a hat instead.  Paging Harrison Bergeron?

Librarian Lita Casey came to Tyler’s defense, and spoke up for him.  As a result,  Casey was let go – not for being bad at her job, but for drawing attention to this embarrassing situation.  You know, all those television cameras and newspaper headlines.  Well they SHOULD be embarrassed.  Firing the person who stands up for what is right?  Is this really what you’d like your town to be known for?