Watching quietly

Recent events in the online science community have been difficult to process. I think it’s important to create a safe environment, one where members don’t have to fear harassment – from peers or from leaders – and one where people can expect to be treated with respect. I’ve been taking the time to listen and learn this week, and beyond that statement, I’m not sure that I have much that’s necessary to add at this point.

But something has been bothering, something that extends well beyond recent events, and for me, it’s important and necessary to say it. I have tremendous respect for people in this community, and I love the access to unique perspectives. However, I’m unsettled by some of the outrage at dissenting opinions – different approaches, other perspectives, different reactions, other concerns. Yet in some corners, it seems that if you and I don’t agree completely on every point, then I’m completely wrong, a perpetuator of the status quo, an enemy of the cause. The backlash is swift, vehement, intimidating. When I see this type of response in action, I shut down.

In any situation, I am allowed my reactions – and I try to give the same consideration to others. But I am responsible for my actions, for the things I do and the things I say to other people – and sometimes I stumble. In my experience, few situations and solutions are clearly, absolutely, immediately defined (at least when it comes to those involving people). There are central points of clarity (e.g. harassment is unacceptable). But our personal reactions will vary greatly (shock, anger, confusion, sadness?). We will likely have different perspectives on how to move forward; this is true for individuals but especially for proposed community actions. I think the community benefits from hearing diverse voices, to discuss important issues and, as necessary, arrive at a consensus for dealing with them. Yet I wonder if the hostility quiets some of those voices – it certainly has mine.

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6 Responses to Watching quietly

  1. I know plenty of people (both women and men) who are reluctant to discuss gender issues in science because the discussions are often (understandably) so personal and sometimes hostile. And amongst the people who avoid the hostility are voices that might need to be heard, and are people who could learn more if they became more involved.

  2. I actually find the blogosphere (or my little corner of it) not diverse at all. It may be diverse in background, gender, ethnicity, age et al but it is often very un-diverse in thought. People tend to jump from one opinion to another based on thought leaders. I never felt like I knew enough about the specific (or knew the people in real life) enough to have an opinion, but there was a lot of bandwagon jumping.

    Its part of the 140 character limit to reduce nuance in debate, but i found the pseudonymity and hot take nature of twitter lends itself to ad hominem attacks, no matter how educated we are. The stuff that happened this week was thoroughly depressing and discouraging from what I thought the twitterverse was.

    • biochembelle says:

      I’ve observed the attacks from both pseud and non-pseud. I don’t know… maybe it’s a reflection of broader societal trends. Many debates seems to be hyperpolarized – just look at politics.

  3. doctorpms says:

    I am so sorry to hear that. I really like listening to your thoughts and opinions.
    I understand exactly what you mean here, and many many times, even using a pseudo, I don’t feel at ease to speak freely about certain things. I’ve seen pretty nasty discussions on twitter and I am a person that prefers to silence than to fight in vain.
    I just couldn’t imagine that this could also happen with someone as popular as you! Thanks for sharing this, it still sucks, but it made me feel more normal, I guess…

  4. You know, at SFN this year, I was having a conversation with this girl who’s about to graduate and move on to a postdoc. She and I are both doing work whose results go against the grain, so to speak, and we were discussing what the right way to sell it is. She’s in a different field than me, so I don’t remember the name of the professor she’s going to be working for, but she told me that part of the way her achieved his acclaim (and his faculty position) was by screaming at PIs in the poster hall when he was a graduate student.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about that. I think I could be capable of that, but I’d rather not. And why should we have to? Is that the world and (and academy) we want to create? Is that what we want to teach our children?

    No answers here. Only tough questions and a lot of sympathy.

    • biochembelle says:

      Sometimes we get to choose how and when to engage. Even if I could bring myself to shout at PIs, I would feel uncomfortable. It wouldn’t fit with my personality. I think it’s important to find what works with who we are.

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