Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The Internet has changed the nature of scientific debate

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 8, 2009

Someone who writes about hot-button issues such as vaccination, prescription drugs, complementary medicines and “health” foods such as raw milk – as has been known to happen in this column – gets a lot of interesting mail.

That people are passionate about health issues is not at all surprising. Hopefully, that will never change.

What has changed a lot over the years, however, is the nature of correspondence and the nature of scientific debate more generally.

Prior to the Internet and e-mail – a time not long ago, remarkably – people were sometimes moved to write letters in response to an article. These missives were infrequent, but usually thoughtful and thought-provoking.

Today, quality has largely given way to quantity.

Irked about something you read in the paper or online? You can fire off a vituperative missile by e-mail or in an anonymous posting on the Web.

Then you can post the article and choice comments on a listserv or blog.

Or get in your digs with Twitter tweets and have like-minded people join in on the bashing.

All of which is fine: The occasional write-in and phone-in protest campaigns of old have given way to routine flaming and viral e-mail attacks. (One thing that has not changed is that people are almost always moved to put pen to paper or thumbs to keypads when they are angry, not happy.) Feedback, no matter how relentlessly negative, is welcome – or at least it should be. Constructive criticism keeps you honest and forces you to be more precise and hone your arguments.

Sadly, though, there no longer seems to be much place for civilized disagreement, honest scientific-based dissension, on differing analyses of agreed-upon facts.

Instead of deconstructing an argument or offering up an alternative philosophy, rebuttals too often take the form of insult and character assassination.

Again, this goes with the territory: If you are going to offer up an opinion on health issues, particularly those that people hold sacred, you had better have a thick skin.

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AT “GLOBE AND MAIL”

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