Today is my 1-month bloggiversary. After a month of blogging, and a little longer of following the happenings in the scientific blogosphere, I feel largely exhausted and disillusioned.
Why did I start blogging to begin with? I am a female professor in a competitive STEM field at a major research university. I am an academic, and I lead a complicated professional and personal life. I started blogging because I like to write and I feel I have something to share with people who lead similarly complicated lives. I wanted to connect to other scientists and academics, and hear how they face their challenges. I wanted to have a discussion among peers about the issues that penetrate our daily lives: how we manage research, teaching, and service with personal demands. I trust my readership are smart, educated, and thoughtful people. I believe I am one of such people myself.
There are indeed a number of very balanced scientific blogs that espouse the type of discussion I envision. And I have received a number of interesting comments and emails since I started blogging. People don't always agree with me and they certainly don't have to, but as long as they want to have an honest and respectful discussion, I am happy to engage.
Unfortunately, these supportive, constructive interactions are often and forcefully overshadowed by unpleasant ones. Even the most balanced of bloggers get surprisingly vitriolic comments, sometimes on the least inflammatory of topics! Where does this come from?
I was an unwilling recipient of a lot of negative attention by you-know-whos and a whole host of snide-comment writers a couple of weeks ago. They thought they saw something in one of my posts that wasn't there. This generated bursts of traffic on their sites and mine, resulted in a storm of unpleasant comments, judging and patronization galore. Everyone had a bone to pick. It was a couple of exciting days and gratuitous venom in the scientific blogosphere.
But these pile-ons are nothing specific to me. Apparently, the blogosphere is alive with the sounds of bullying. While I think bullies are a vocal and obnoxious minority, their effects can be so strong and so negative that they completely overshadow the majority of positive interactions one enjoys. Moderate people, while numerous, are significantly less vocal, which I find unfortunate, because these are the people I would actually like to hear much more from.
Tearing up someone's blog post is pretty easy. It is as easy as getting a research paper rejected without a chance of resubmission. You don't think so? Here's how it goes: no paper is perfect; if you are set on tearing it apart, all you have to do is find one among the assumptions/approximations that have been made, proclaim that it is ill-conceived and incorrect (nothing is ever 100% correct) and should be done better/more precisely/differently. Then you amplify said shortcoming, throw in a snide remark or two, comment on how the authors are dumb as bricks and this awful work is in the same vein as their group's regular shoddy output, and that no amount of additional experiments could possible salvage such an ill-conceived project, and there you have it: paper rejected, authors irritated, and you are feeling empowered. Scientific bullying at its finest. It’s all about picking a nit and blowing it up into a ballon-size louse. You can tear apart absolutely any paper if you are set on doing so. But do we as scientists do that? No. Or at least we should not. We trust people's qualifications; even if we don't know the authors, we believe they have been taught stuff at school so they are not idiots, and then we try to evaluate if there is something new and interesting in the paper and if it has been presented in a coherent and informative way.
So tearing apart is easy. Being snide/judgmental/patronizing at someone else's expense is easy. Bullying -- in science or on a middle school playground -- is easy. Really, any type of destruction is easy.
I am perfectly capable of running my real life; no one needs to tell me how to train my students or run my lab or how to split chores with my spouse in a blogosphere-preapproved way. I assume my readers are capable of running their lives too and do not need me to judge or patronize them. They may be interested in my experience, my thoughts, and perhaps some advice. And that is what I am interested in from other people in the scientific blogosphere.
But of course, there may be people with different takes on what is important for a vibrant scientific blogoverse. So please share your thoughts:
--Should someone's right to mock/ridicule/vent/judge/patronize ever trump my right to have a discussion with peers where everyone is treated with respect?
-- Does the blogosphere have to be a hostile environment for people who want to talk about life as an academic? Does the ubiquity of attackers restrict the population of bloggers to only those who can deal with these attacks? Is that good or bad?
-- Is it not enough that I must have a tough hide for my life as a female scientist, in order to handle day-today challenges of research, teaching, and service? Do I have to now special-order one for my blogosphere persona in order to keep blogging, and, if so, who is going to pay for it and where can I get it in purple?