I'm Offended!

By Michael Edmonds 17/11/2010 4

I enjoy sciblogs in that it provides a forum for those who are interested in science to exchange and debate ideas. Occasionally someone will come along who posts what might be described as “alternative” views, at which point most bloggers will politely attempt to correct any factual errors and explain how science works. Even when such posters persist in anti-scientific and sometimes rude comments, the most common response is to reiterate the facts, perhaps with a little more terseness than usual. At no point have I ever come across any sort of demonisation of the poster.

It would appear however, the same consideration is not extended on less scientifically orientated sites. In a recent tirade against GMO and those who support it Mike Adams of Natural News felt the need to make the following comments:

“Today’s “scientism” followers (the cult worshippers who call themselves “science bloggers”) don’t value life, knowledge or truth. For some astonishing reason, they pick the most evil side of every issue. On the issue of GMOs, for example, they automatically side with Monsanto and DuPont, calling for more biotech Frankenseed interventions that threaten the very future of life on our planet.

On the issue of Big Pharma and the mass-drugging of world citizens with patented synthetic chemicals, the science bloggers of course side with the drug companies! Big Pharma and the FDA can do no wrong in their eyes, and the solution to health is, they say, found in prescribing more chemicals to more people!

If these people were living back in the 1950’s, they would no doubt side with Big Tobacco, because the “science” at that time said cigarettes were actually good for you!”

Now, I don’t mind debating the pros and cons of various scientific technologies with people on a factual basis, but I do take exception to such outrageous and incorrect assertions about science bloggers. The article in question is nothing more than a series of slurs, generalisations and cherry picked information taken out of context, combined with conspiracy theories.

Sometimes this type of article makes me want to reply in kind. I’m sure I could come up with just as many barbed, emotionally charged inaccuracies as the next guy.  However it is not the kind of argument I consider worthy of a science blog. It may sometimes feel like we are defending ourselves with one arm tied behind our backs, but in the long run clear communication and good science should win out.

Shouldn’t it?

4 Responses to “I'm Offended!”

  • Yes it should. However, the internet is for every man, with every opinion. It enhances our lives in so many ways, but is not regulated to block or remove unfounded comments, therefore they are unfortunately free to influence the impressionable and spread to contribute to a unfounded movement of thinking. Responding in kind would, as you say, undermine what science bloggers work so hard to achieve which is why it isn’t an option, and so raising awareness that it is false seems the next best thing so that you can at least win over those who read a little further, but this does sometimes seem like too weak an effort! I imagine we might have to draw on the knowledge of many other disciplines – for example, experts in the fields of psychology, marketing, public relations, computer science or networking to find some ‘out of the box’ ideas to attempt to get close to addressing these quality communication issues in our beloved internet…

    No disputing that good, clear science should win out… but the huge unanswered question is: how?

  • Jennifer, I’m reassured by your posting. I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to understand the psychology of belief and how people change their minds. One of the things I have noticed is that human beings are very adaptive – a technique that works to persuade – once understood by the public becomes less persuasive. This is why advertisers seem to be continually changing their strategies.
    I think some of these strategies from areas such as marketing and advertising will be applicable to educating the public with regards to science. However, any that are manipulative in any way cannot, in my opinion, be used for science education as they conflict with what I consider to be two of the key tenets of science – honesty and integrity.
    But this is potentially where we have an advantage over our opponents – when they use manipulative and emotionally charged arguments, we should be able to turn them against them if we can point out how manipulative and inaccurate they are. The key in my opinion is a sustained effort by as many science bloggers and other science communicators as we can muster.
    It wont happen overnight, but it will happen.

  • While on the internet people communicate with people they would otherwise never have contact with, say things they never would in person and post at inopportune times (ie, while drunk). In effect a whole lot of our social filters are gone, or ineffective when we are on the internet.
    In real life I would go to great lengths to avoid getting into a discussion about evolution with a Creationist; on the internets, it happens way too easily!!