There was a recent article by Roger Highfield called Scientists need to ditch tribalism and stop shouting down outsiders. It was mostly an interesting interview with Hannah Fry who said
I think that scientists and science supporters often close ranks on people when they present an opinion that goes against accepted theory. It can get a bit tribal, I’ve seen ‘outsiders’ shouted down and belittled, and I don’t think it helps the situation.
I think there is some truth to this and I have a lot of respect for those who are able to remain civil even when discussing a contentious topic. It’s something I strive for, but don’t always achieve.
However, I also wanted to highlight a twitter thread from Andrew Dessler that provides – in my view – some context. It starts with:
and ends with:
I think many scientists who engage on social media would very much like to be able to politely discuss science with others who are interested. However, many have experienced things that have influenced the manner in which they engage. Maybe it would be good if many could remain civil despite this, but scientists are human too and there’s only so much that some can take.
I’m actually not really sure what conclusions I’m trying to draw here. I would be very pleased if it were possible to discuss contentious scientific topics without it getting tribal and without the discussions becoming unpleasant. However, I don’t think that the reason this isn’t always achieved is simply because scientists, and science supporters, have a tendency to be tribal and to shout down outsiders. If there is such a tendency, I think it is also a consequence of the manner in which some choose to engage with scientists on social media.
Do I have any suggestions as to how to improve this? No, I don’t. My own plan is simply to do the best that I can and to avoid telling others how I think they should behave.