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Why so much bullying in science?

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Retro No Bullying Typographic Illustration  As if we didn’t know. But here’s a thought:

Over the past few weeks, the stories of three high-profile scientists accused of bullying have emerged: geneticist Nazneen Rahman, psychologist Tania Singer and astrophysicist Guinevere Kauffmann.

All the current accused are Top People (and all are women too, so put your red Handmaid dowdies back in the cupboard, girl… For once we are talking about something else.)

Neuroskeptic puts the climate that conduces to bullying down to idealism, the promotion of persons unsuited to administration into those positions, and prestige. About prestige:

In science, the senior figures have a lot of authority over their subordinates (especially at MPIs). But these senior figures also have enormous prestige – they are widely felt to deserve their authority, on account of their brilliant accomplishments. In other words, they have both ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’. This makes them powerful indeed and makes blowing the whistle on them doubly daunting. Neuroskeptic, “Science’s Bullying Problem” at Discover

That’s going to be an especially devastating problem when the prestige is in fields that are at an impasse, like evolutionary biology and cosmology (and doubtless many others that we don’t cover much here).

See also: You think the SJW war on engineering is a joke… And that is your mistake. “Engineering education has been infiltrated by a ‘phalanx of social justice warriors’ who are steadily corrupting the field, according to a Michigan State University professor.”

Darwin fan: Yes, it IS “fetishization.” So? Berry may not realize the significance of his admission. When a science field is so dominated by members of a like faith, that faith is bound to be a source of myopia, as we are seeing today: Defense of Darwinism becomes a key purpose for many, to which finding out more about the history of life is secondary.

and

The fight over the universe has turned ugly, with accusations of “cheating” As a general rule, to determine where the cosmology bloom will drift, look for faint hopes of a multiverse. There, everything is possible so naturalism (nature is all there is, often called “materialism”) makes sense. Hossenfelder thinks the multiverse is  “a fringe idea” but Siegel is talking himself into believing in it. Probably not a coincidence

9 Replies to “Why so much bullying in science?

  1. 1
    R J Sawyer says:

    But is there any more bullying in science than in any other profession, organization or social group? Sadly, I think that bullying is a pathology that we can all be prone to if we are not vigilant. Politics has its share of bullies, chief amongst them our current commander in chief. The “me too” movement is ultimately about bullying. Discrimination is also about bullying. The civil rights movement, the suffragette moment and the more recent gay rights movent have largely been organized reactions to bullying.

  2. 2
    AaronS1978 says:

    I know a lot about the reasons of bullying, a lot unfortunately. It almost always boils down to the Acquisition of power and maintaining it. So you are not wrong, by no means. I think the point is it’s coming from a group that is often portrayed as inlightened, and there is a level of irony to that.

  3. 3
    AaronS1978 says:

    Enlightened, sorry talk to text is a lovely thing ????????

  4. 4
    R J Sawyer says:

    I think the point is it’s coming from a group that is often portrayed as inlightened, and there is a level of irony to that.

    I wouldn’t say that they are portrayed as enlightened. I think, more accurately, they are portrayed as being experts in their fields. And sometimes, erroneously, as experts beyond their field.

    But as a group, scientists are guilty of all of the weaknesses of humans. Ambition, pettiness, vindictiveness, envy, etc. I don’t know why we would expect any different. Wishful thinking?

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    As others are saying, it’s a problem of the disparity of power and the truism that power corrupts. Some people are tempted to use power they have been granted or have acquired in some way to their own advantage rather than the benefit of society as a whoie. It’s why some executives in the entertainment industry pressure young women to sleep with them, why some eminent scientists will go beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior with women they find attractive or why some clergy exploit young children entrusted to their care. Like racism, it’s a human failibg, the potential for which is in all of us.

  6. 6
    News says:

    Some of us found it interesting that all the accused in this case are women. Can someone edit the #MeToo hashtag to reflect that?

  7. 7
    R J Sawyer says:

    News@6. Women are every bit as capable of bullying as men. With the ‘metoo’ movement, it centred around a practice that has existed for as long as most can remember, but it is only recently that women of come forward and been listened to. With women bullies, the egos of most men are still such that they would be very reluctant to come forward with any accusations. Although there will certainly be plenty of behind the back complaining.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    News @ 6 – there have been many cases of men behaving badly too, a lot of these came out before the #MeToo movement (and there are more that haven’t come out).

    As a few people have pointed out, power is central to bullying. The way science (as a profession) is structured creates a situation where younger scientists (graduate students and post-docs) spend several years working for one boss, who is given a lot of autonomy. It’s easy to see how this structure can be abused. So there may well be more bullying than in other professions (but getting the data to test that will be difficult!).

    The good thing is that this is being discussed, and I think science was a bit ahead of the curve. The bad thing is that it still goes on, and careers and lives are still being wrecked.

  9. 9
    Axel says:

    I think there is some truth in the nursery rthyme about the little girlwith a curl in the middle of her forehead : when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid. The evidence of daily life suggests that women tend to be more spiritual, whether, like the angels, for better or worse: psychically sensitive. Racially, I believe the sub-Saharan Africans of both sexes are similar.

    Aldous Huxley’s view of the brain as a reducing valve for survival in time, which I think he attributed to the philosopher, Bergson, and the worldly intelligence that makes its way through would seem therefore to be a degradation of the worldly intelligence, actually, rather than its efflorescence. And since, ipso facto, our worldly intelligence is not a guarantee of superior ethical sensitivity, something supportd by the Gospels and notably the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount, on the basis that the more that is given us the more will be expected of us, there is every reason to find the burden of this article, unsurprinsig. I do think that, while they seem more like angels (are they half angel, half man ?), I believe that generically, they also have a greater capacity for cruelty : perhaps statistically a little more. I remember the only case of bullying I saw in my primary school was of a girl bullying another girl in a year lower than her. I got hauled before the headmaster for stikign a pin in her backside through her knickers (much, it seemed, to the delight of the dinner ladies, who’d somehow heard of it). Of course, the head-master was very kind and it was just a formality.

    I have some serious regrets about my grammar-school days (also concerning my own malice), but one memory that irks me more than most is that I didn’t have the character or self-confidence to beat a big lout in our year who was bullying a younger lad, both surrounded by a seemingly approving crowd of the younger lad’s ‘year’, for no reason, as far as I could make out. Probably, it was envy of the academic gifts of the younger lad and his brothers. Pity they weren’t there. I wonder how many have had the same regrets in later life. Apparently Noam Chomsly has had similar regrets.

    Anyway, the ‘take-away’ message I would presumptuously, of course, suggest, is that the gentle sex are at least as capable of malice as males ; and similarly, although it is perhaps even more true, academic types are generically more readily prone to malice than the more manual-working people. The history of the rancorous, downright evil, behaviour of many of the more degenerately-ambitious, leading-lights of the medical profession makes staggering reading. A high worldly intelligence, despite its being idolised by the World is certainly not a measure of moral worth/standing.

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