Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Stop being so god damn nice all the time

Sure, ad hominem is a terrible fallacy. Sure, calling people names is not nice. In today's world there seems to be a consensus that we need to be nicer to each other and open to new ideas. I hold that these two things are incompatible. I will argue in the following that scientific discourse needs to get less nice, more bellicose, funny and vitriolic and that will result in a more friendly environment as well as much better output.

Let's start off easy, by focusing on our friends. I have a couple of very good friends, for which I would literally do anything (I really mean anything. Would even make out with a woman for them). It is with them that I have had all the conversations that have ever changed my mind. It is to them that I go with an open mind to discuss issues that I am genuinely undecided on. It is them that I call names all the time. It is also them that continuously take the piss out of me. And it bloody works! Here I'll assert that even if you have the nicest of friends (maybe boring Mormons or something) you're still more likely to be loose-tongued around them than in any other circumstance. And that's because we're much more relaxed around our friends and we can really be ourselves. Here's my point: if you take your boring politically correct hat off and really become yourself again, you're a cursing, judgmental, well poisoning, ad-hominem throwing little twerp. If you don't buy that from my brilliant friends analysis, then just fucking go online and see what people sounds like behind the veil of anonymity that the internet provides.
The same holds for scientist (though they're not really actual people). We read a paper (not even one that disagrees directly with out work) and a lot of the time go: "how did this piece of shit ever get published?". You know what happens then? Nothing! We ridicule it with a colleague, point out its terrible flaws and then shred it (I don't really have a shredder but now i know what i want for Christmas). This is unacceptable. What should happen is we should make fun of whomever published it and make the record clear that that one paper is crap. But we're going to be nice about it. And even if we go as far as publicly disapproving of it, we'll do it in such a high brow, nice way, that it won't really be clear to everyone that the paper should be considered a joke. So what. you'll ask. They live to research another day and the paper will probably we discarded in the long run anyway. Well, true, but with two attached costs:
1. Some people will base novel research on that publication. They, pardon my french, will get a surprise fisting. So will their funding body.
2. The above isn't that big of a problem. Scientist spend loads of time and money chasing crap. It's all business as usual. The big problem is that the bar gets lowered. If shit can so easily make it through the review process, then why bother doing things proper? Even worst than that, the reasoning usually also considers the level at which your competition may be satisfied publishing at and scooping you. And because you already have a rather low opinion of your competition, that level will be quite low. And then, when it's out, mum's the word.

Trying to be nice in scientific discourse is stupid and counterproductive! The reason we do it is that we think it leads to a more focused discussion. Oh, if only we phrase things in the language of constructive criticism. What a load of bollocks. What the hell is that? Have you ever received criticism that didn't make you cringe and want to punch someone? No, you haven't! (Unless it was from you friends, and they usually called you a moron in the process of outlining their position). Off the bat, there is so much investment in anything you say as a scientist that criticism cannot but seem a siege on everything you hold dear. This problem has not and will not be solved by being nice. The only thing being nice does is stifle genuine conversation and debate, because we fear we'll hurt someones feelings.
Thus, I propose the solution to be a forum where the two opposing sides are free to throw shit at each other. Basically, British parliamentary debate. One other rule though: they have to grab a drink together afterwards.
So come on idiots, let's do this shit together! Call your collaborator a moron, for science.

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