The Internet facilitates jeering from the peanut gallery, which does not make professionals with previously comfortable careers happy. For example, a common joke among mainstream media pundits on Twitter is that the Trump campaign is as if the Comments Section were staging a coup against all that is right and holy.
For example, as far as I can tell from what he’s ever said, Donald Trump is pretty much of a true believer of the conventional wisdom on race. But Establishment Pundits appear to be absolutely terrified that Trump actually is aware of those horrible hatestats that keep appearing in their comments sections. Commenters keep quoting government statistics on crime by race and the like, for example, and Trump might.someday.do.that.too.
Similarly, the profession of psychology has been suffering from a Replication Crisis as many famous findings don’t seem to replicate well. Psychologists do not like being reminded of this, and tend to take mentions of this very personally, as this essay by the past president of the Association for Psychological Science suggests. From the APS Observer, an essay by Princeton social psychologist Susan T. Fiske.
APS Observer, in press
Susan T. Fiske
APS Past President
… Our field has always encouraged – required, really – peer critiques. But the new media (e.g., blogs, twitter, Facebook posts) are encouraging uncurated, unfiltered trash-talk. In the most extreme examples, online vigilantes are attacking individuals, their research programs, and their careers. Self-appointed data police are volunteering critiques of such personal ferocity and relentless frequency that they resemble a denial-of-service attack that crashes a website by sheer volume of traffic.
“Most of those books haven’t been discredited yet!”
Only what’s crashing are people. These unmoderated attacks create collateral damage to targets’ careers and well being, with no accountability for the bullies. Our colleagues at all career stages are leaving the field because of the sheer adversarial viciousness. I have heard from graduate students opting out of academia, assistant professors afraid to come up for tenure, mid-career people wondering how to protect their labs, and senior faculty retiring early, all because of methodological terrorism. I am not naming names because ad hominem smear tactics are already damaging our field. Instead, I am describing a dangerous minority trend that has an outsized impact and a chilling effect on scientific discourse. I am not a primary target, but my goal is to give voice to others too sensible to object publicly.
To be sure, constructive critics have a role, with their rebuttals and letters-to-the-editor subject to editorial oversight and peer review for tone, substance, legitimacy. …
In contrast, the self-appointed destructive critic’s role now includes public shaming and blaming, often implying dishonesty on the part of the target and other innuendo based on unchecked assumptions. Targets often seem to be chosen for scientifically irrelevant reasons: their contrary opinions, professional prominence, or career stage vulnerability. The destructo-critics are ignoring ethical rules of conduct because they circumvent constructive peer review: They attack the person, not just the work; they attack publicly, without quality controls; they have sent their unsolicited, unvetted attacks to tenure-review committees and public-speaking sponsors; they have implicated targets’ family members and advisors. Not all self-appointed critics behave unethically, and some do so more than others. One hopes that these critics aim to improve the field, not harm people. But the fact is that these vigilante critiques are harming people. They are a far cry from peer-reviewed critiques, which serve science without destroying lives.
You go, girl!
Statistician Andrew Gelman responds to Fiske’s essay here.