I have unsubscribed to all Daily Kos emails and have no intention of visiting this site again. I made and account specifically and only to write this post, and after that I will almost certainly never use it again. My reasons for doing so are below.
Yesterday evening I saw one of the "recommended list" emails whose second diary entry was about Neil deGrasse Tyson and genetically modified food. I agree with that diary in general, and the fact that it made it to the recommended list means (I assume; I don't actually know all the details of how things get posted to that list) that a majority of readers also agree.
Unfortunately I have never seen such a toxic comments section anywhere - even on places like YouTube or news articles about President Obama. Almost the first one was a hateful screed filled with personal attacks, that did not actually address any of the things said in the post, and was written with that extremely irritating type of sarcastic contempt found only in Internet posts. I assumed that this was just some isolated jerk and read a few more comments.
I ended up reading all 1087 that were available at the time. I would guess there were anywhere from fifty to several hundred individual commenters, although I did not count. Most of them - including the majority of those by people whose views on the subject I agree with - were childish at best, and more often extremely toxic. Words like "strawman" and "ad hominem attack" were tossed about regardless of whether they were accurate. Every other post contained profanity. The vast majority of them had nothing to do with the actual original diary at all - the comments section almost immediately became the battleground for a holy war. The anti-GMO posts could have been written by someone looking to create a strawman argument for the exact position of the original post that science is ignored, the same arguments are used by anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers alike, and that confirmation bias is just as present in liberals as in conservatives. (I didn't actually take the second one seriously - until I saw it played out, again and again, throughout the entire comments section. At least 2/3 of the comments were the same three recycled talking points from earlier in the thread. The worst one - which was repeated over and over and over again - was that since Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, not a biologist, he cannot possibly know what he is talking about...never mind the fact that whoever was posting that is also not a biologist or biochemist. Not one person in the entire thread noticed how little sense that makes.) The number of anti-GMO posts that actually addressed any comment made by the original diarist or by someone else in the comments section was in the single or very low double digits. The rest were just an exercise in self-gratification.
Unfortunately the anti-anti-GMO posts were no better. There was roughly the same amount of hateful nonsense. Every time I read someone posting something I agreed with, I had to cringe because they immediately undermined themselves with excessive profanity, threats, insults, and other asinine behavior. I remember reading only a handful of different people on that side of the argument that posted links to actual science articles, conscientiously addressed other peoples' talking points, and were generally courteous. (Maybe there were more. It was a small number, though.) One of them unfortunately eventually lost his temper and joined the mob of angry people. The others, I believe, eventually just stopped posting when it became obvious that no one was listening.
As a scientist - I am a 6th-year graduate student working on a PhD in physics - I find the comments section deplorable because of the rampant scientific illiteracy but far more because there was almost no logical discussion. There was a lot of rhetoric and almost nothing else.
As a polite person I find it disgusting that so many people could act so childishly and fill so many pages with virulent hatred.
As a political person I am disillusioned in this online community - a "progressive" community that responds to an hot-button issue (in the liberal sphere), namely GMO labeling and any commentary thereon, with hysterical knee-jerk hatred, as this community has done, is not inherently any better than any other pack of internet trolls. Their political beliefs - most of which I happen to agree with - are just as faith-based as those of conservative fundamentalists. The only real justification for many central points of the liberal platform - for example, that trickle-down economics does not work - is that they are verified by actual research and supported by overwhelming amounts of evidence, i.e. science. However, most of the posters in this particular diary are not willing to change their minds if presented with overwhelming evidence contrary to their beliefs. They are liberals based on faith, in other words, not because evidence shows that many liberal policies are better than their conservative counterparts.
In the future, the correct way to respond to a scientifically-testable viewpoint you do not agree with is to post links to peer-reviewed scientific research supporting your claim, or, better yet, to review articles that collect such data (major journals publish such articles from time to time). If you cannot find any, or if the majority of available research disagrees with you, it is not because of a conspiracy. It is because you are wrong.
I had considered adding a section here talking about scientific fraud and how the concept has been applied (and misapplied) to this conversation, both in general and in the original article whose comments were so awful. I had also considered adding my own moral outlook on the subject of genetically modified organisms, the industry built around them, and the politics surrounding them. I decided against both. This post addresses the most important thing.
I have been a subscriber to Daily Kos emails and petitions for almost a year now, but I am not interested anymore. A community where this kind of response - not just disagreement, but illogical and, worse, overwhelmingly toxic commentary - is possible is not one I am interested in being a part of.