I’ve noted a growing trend in social media, what I’m calling “Because, Science.” At it’s least extreme it is permission to structure a discussion in such a way it invites lynch mobs of people to take the piss and have a good laugh at those on the other side of the issue. At it’s most extreme, it’s the propagation of all manner of hate-speak toward anyone with differing or dissenting views, where science is used as justification for it: because science says XYZ I have the right to accompany this information with commentary that is degrading, aggressive and insulting.
I’ve realised it’s the most insidious of persecutions, because it often comes from intelligent and articulate people, people I respect and admire. People who hold themselves up as advocates for civil rights, social justice, equality and freedom of speech. The people who would stand up and rally against similar degrading, aggressive and insulting commentary on a “Because, God” argument.
And it’s sinister, because of the gag that comes with it. Why open yourself to a full frontal assault by being honest about your position, from sharing your personal experiences or the facts you’ve accumulated in your research, from being able to articulate your different point of view, to engage in a discussion, when everything is couched in vile, degrading or derisive judgement. Of people. Like you.
From being summarily dismissed and silenced.
What happened to agree to disagree, without the vitriol?
I’ve always been lead to believe science was the objective exploration of ideas, and the articulation of those ideas, in theory and practise. That science was based in the rigors of methodology; of the efficacy, objectivity and transparency of results; a passion for debate and RESPECT for divergent and alternate schools of thought and the appreciation that such discussions had the potential to be a catalyst, the genesis, of the next great hypothesis. Of the next big discovery.
I want to read both sides of a debate. I want to widen my understanding, my knowledge base. I want to read ‘evidence-based’ outcomes that rely not just on empirical, ‘quantitative’ evidence but also on anecdotal, ‘qualitative’ evidence’. I want to see where these two different forms of inquiry merge and cross. How they mirror and diverge. I want to share ideas and be part of feisty and insightful discussions. I want to feel safe to do so.
I don’t want to convert you to my opinion — after all it is only an opinion and we all have the right to have those — any more than I want to be converted to your opinion. I’d like to explore your opinion, to help me understand how you came to feel like this, to believe this, maybe learn something new along they way, as I’d like to invite you to explore my opinion in the same way. I want to be respected, like I respect you.
I don’t want to read science accompanied with emotive, offensive and abusive frames and comments. I don’t want to read anything that is accompanied (intentionally or unintentionally) with shaming or humiliating language. It doesn’t matter that it’s generalised; that it doesn’t specifically name me. But it ‘names’ those who don’t agree with you, which might be me or a friend, a family member, a colleague, someone you care about. It has the potential (at best) to offend, at worst to leave someone feeling victimised, in fear of recriminations and ostracism if they were to speak openly.
When you couch your information like this, it invalidates everything you want to say. And maybe I want to hear what you have to say. It denies me the chance to have my say. Do you want to be someone who steals the voices of others?
It’s not Because Science at all. Science is just facts. Science is not personal. Only people are.
Image: Christian Mohn, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License