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A scientist shares his cyberbullying story

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Alex Berezow

From Alex Berezow at American Council for Science and Health:

I first learned about GMOs as a sophomore microbiology major in college. (They weren’t called GMOs then; they were simply referred to as “transgenic crops.”) I remember feeling exhilarated — the sort of thrill that only accountants or geeky academics can usually understand — at how basic knowledge of DNA sequences was leading to a huge technological revolution. The opportunities were limitless.

Years later I entered journalism. And I saw breathtaking ignorance and vitriol aimed at scientists like me coming from supposedly educated people. Never in a million years would I have anticipated that our passion for science would be used as a bludgeon or as a scarlet letter.

That is the milieu in which we find the current GMO “debate,” which in actuality has devolved into a vicious, relentless assault by organic food activists against the biotechnology community. It doesn’t matter if you are a professor, industry scientist, journalist, or private citizen; if you support biotechnology, anti-GMO activists will harass you using their keyboards as weapons of mass defamation.

Their goal is straightforward: Biotech scientists must be destroyed professionally. Failing that, they must be destroyed emotionally.

There’s actually a word for this. It’s called cyberbullying. More.

<em>Coffee</em> Tins

Indeed. One way of seeing the matter is that the internet empowers almost everybody, including trolls, windbags, fiends, and cranks. The only group it does not empower is traditional gatekeepers of information, which is why traditional big media are slowly going out of business.

The anonymity that the internet offers can free academic scientists of the restraints that would typically govern their public behaviour. So trolling becomes the new peer review. One must just cope.

Patchy Ausstechformen

But there is a bright side: At least we know that that’s the type of person the guy really is, which may help us in the long run.

See also: How to deal with cyberbullying: Coping with the shamestorms of social media. First, grow an alligator hide.

Yik Yak: Digital dorm room or cyberbullying? Words on social media are stripped of voice and context.

Yes, we need to crack down on cyberbullying But victims must help! Stop being victims!

It used to be only celebs and politicians could just trash people on line
Not now.

Public shaming on the internet: Good? Bad? Think before we retweet? There is strength in numbers for good or ill.

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10 Replies to “A scientist shares his cyberbullying story

  1. 1
    Bob O'H says:

    The anonymity that the internet offers can free academic scientists of the restraints that would typically govern their public behaviour. So trolling becomes the new peer review. One must just cope.

    Wait, what? Are you accusing academics of cyberbullying? Do you have any evidence for this? If so, please report the information to the academics’ institutions.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Bob O’H at 1:

    “Papers to be presented at a symposium in Vancouver on Wednesday say that undergraduate students are harassing their peers on social media, instructors are on the receiving end of student-led online smear campaigns, and faculty members are belittling their colleagues in emails. [Mar 2014]”

    No reason to think it’s changed in the last 2.5 yrs.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    That link is nothing to do with GMOs, though. How do you make the connection?

  4. 4
    News says:

    C’mon, Bob at 3: In that kind of atmosphere any outlier gets bullied.

  5. 5
    Bob O'H says:

    Hm, you don’t actually have any evidence, do you? Isn’t it more likely that anti-GMO academics will be bullied, as they tend to be in the minority?

  6. 6
    Eric Anderson says:

    I have no doubt that scientists working on GMO’s have been harassed, called out, bothered and accused. I am also well aware that some people are adamant about organic-only to the point of being downright hostile.

    However . . .

    There is good reason to be skeptical and cautious about the genetic engineering of organisms. Indeed, there is very little real genetic engineering that has happened to date. More like tinkering. We are dealing with systems that no-one understands yet at a detailed engineering-level. Most work is performed on a trial-and-error approach, with limited populations and datasets, often with a significant underlying profit motive.

    Does this mean that GMO’s are inherently unsafe? No. Does it mean that GMO research should be shut down? Of course not. Does it mean that GMO’s cannot offer some important benefits in terms of yields, disease prevention, even food safety? No, it does not.

    But it does mean that we should be very cautious about the undertaking. It does mean that we should have our eyes wide open to the fact that no-one really, deeply understands the “engineering” they are doing and what the long-term effects or implications of tweaking an organism’s genetic material will be. It does mean that we should take the GMO proponents’ claims about the lack of harmful effects with just as big a grain of salt as the claims that organics are the only right way to go.

    Genetic engineering is a new and bold frontier, the surface of which has barely been scratched. There is great potential — both to do good and to wreak havoc. Shrill accusations and threats are not helpful.

    But, even if coupled with optimism, caution is absolutely warranted.

  7. 7
    News says:

    Eric Anderson at 6, I agree with the caution re GMOs.But the matter is not better discerned when academics feel free to morph into trolls.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    News – please. Give us any evidence that scientists have been trolls over GMOs.

  9. 9
    Daniel King says:

    Would somebody please define the word “troll”?

    How do you distinguish

    One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.

    –Urban Dictionary

    from someone who disagrees with you and is seeking clarification and truth?

  10. 10
    john_a_designer says:

    Daniel King,

    Would somebody please define the word “troll”?

    I’m suspicious. Your question sounds like something a troll would ask. I have a hard time believing you are really that daft. A few more minutes using google could have given you a lot more information. You do know how to use google, don’t you?

    But for what is worth this is how I recently described trolls who typically visit here.

    I think most of the internet atheist* trolls who frequent sites like this, are people (mostly male) who have big egos but very low self-esteem. I don’t think that they care a thing about having an honest discussion, the truth or even whether or not any of their arguments are reasonable. They just think they are right. It is the attention– positive or negative– for some reason that they crave. Notice that they are almost always contrarian and almost never make any effort to establish any kind of common ground. It also appears that they don’t know the difference between being argumentative, which they typically are, and making a reasonably sound argument. It is easy to be contrarian and argumentative but very difficult to make a sound convincing argument.

    Footnote: *I don’t believe that internet atheists are typical of all atheists– indeed, there are more than a few atheist thinkers and writers whose thinking and writing I respect.

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