Antidotes for the poisons affecting #ScioX: Part 1 of what the different ScioX's need, not just want - blog by Gurdur

 




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Antidotes for the poisons affecting #ScioX: Part 1 of what the different ScioX's need, not just want
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Posted 21-Oct-2013 at 11:18 PM (23:18) by Gurdur
Updated 22-Oct-2013 at 03:18 AM (03:18) by Gurdur

The problem: an important part of the wider science-communication (#scicomm) world, the #ScioX community (centered around annual #scicomm conferences in Raleigh, NC, USA) is now tearing itself apart -- all too predictably. I predicted to others 6 days ago this would happen. Chad Orzel (@orzelc) has posted a good, interesting blog post on what ScioX wants to be; but the questions of what ScioX needs, and needs to be, have to be raised in a better way than what else has gone down on the hashtag over the last week.

One problem is: is #ScioX a vehicle for networking and promoting genuine #scicomm outreach (along with many other more minor functions), or is it only a venue for professionals in the #scicomm field to get together? Outreach is the most unaddressed-question all too often in all so much of #scicomm.

Now one answer is to focus purely on the positive, and to not assume bad intentions on the part of others. Hilda Bastian (@hildabast) has much that is helpful to say on that, and you should listen to her. Likewise, David Shiffman ‏(@WhySharksMatter) has positive contributions to make. But here I am going to have to describe what the problems are, and that's going to have to take concrete details. Perhaps the main problem can be described overall as a huge sense of entitlement and a crab-bucket mentality on the part of many complainers and flamers. Over the last week, I have seen tweets from some on the following matters (with my own responses here headlined in red):
  • - demanding that the ScienceOnline Board (which runs the Raleigh ScioX conferences, and has Karyn Traphagen, @kTraphagen, Anton Zuiker, @mistersugar, and now as of very recently Scott Rosenberg, @scottros) should include at least two more directors who are known not to have been friends with Bora Zivkovic (@BoraZ, now resigned from the board).
    • --- Except that:
      • - it would be quite difficult to find any competent, trustworthy person who was not friends with Bora at some stage. There is a damn good reason for this; Bora put himself out to promote everyone else, everyone, in the science-communication world, and was not seen to carry out grudge-actions. It is hardly surprising almost everyone who made any attempt at all at #scicomm outreach ended up on friendly terms with Bora.
      • - The flamers have deliberately undermined @kTraphagen and @mistersugar by making every small thing a public storm, instead of going through official but private channels direct to them. Below is discussion of an example of that.
        .
  • - complaining about others at #ScioX conferences for very trivial reasons, such as the others drinking too much then tweeting about it.
    • --- Except that:
      • - for heaven's sakes, just grow up, get over it, and let others be. If they want to be young, drunk and stupid, then it's not your problem unless they actively attack you or someone else.
        .
  • - complaining that others have parties to which they're not invited;
    • --- Except that:
      • - just grow up and get over it. Others are entitled to their own private parties, not part of the official program.
        .
  • - complaining about an atmosphere of feeling unwelcome for whatever reason;
    • --- Except that:
      • - I know that a couple of those doing that complaining have actively gone out of their way to undeservedly make others feel unwelcome. On the whole, you get out of life what you put into it, and more than just the couple of people I am thinking of make no effort to do outreach at the #ScioX conferences. Yes, more could be officially done at #ScioX conferences to make everyone feel welcome, and I shall blog on that separately very soon, but also, people could try more themselves to actually mingle.

        And I say that as being myself someone who doesn't mingle all that much (I'm shy), or go to the parties; I spent most of the last #ScioX conference, #scio13, very ill with a resurgence of the chonic lupus-condition illness I have, and therefore out of it for the most part.
        .
  • - complaining of the expectations raised by the big descriptions of #ScioX conferences as an egalitarian, fun time for all, turning up and then feeling all guilty, bad and inadequate for not having much fun, for all sorts of reasons.
    • --- Except that:
      • - I can understand this well, I share much the same feeling, often. It really is not much fun to be ill at a conference and to try carrying on regardless, and bluntly, that's exactly what's happened with me at two such, #scio#12 (2012) and #scio13 (2013). At #scio11 (2011), I seemed to be quite well, only I had to have big-time emergency surgery directly after stepping off the plane coming back from it.

        So, yeah, I can relate. But even so, this is not a huge problem, and can be fixed with initiatives from the ScioX organisers, and from ScioX attendees themselves, and I shall blog some ideas on that very soon.
        .

However, the main part of the problem is the call-out culture,
  • and the consequent abuse of the #ScioX hashtag for call-outs,
  • including many call-outs in the past that were completely bogus.
  • A huge sense of privileged entitlement on the part of many flamers, demanding instant answers from others,
  • and their refusal to go through private but official channels to make complaints, instead relying on trying to whip up public flame-fests instead.
  • In other words, often using Twitter-storms generated by a small clique to try to pretend being a "court of public opinion", which they aren't, being all too often instead a kangeroo-court of a small group of flamers and trolls.
  • Especially the abuse of the #scioX hashtag by some with their denunciations of others, especially the condemnations now forming what is a classical downwards-spiral in witch-hunting out alleged deviancy (the "Deviancy amplification spiral").

One example of the downwards-spiral came up in the last couple of days. In the aftermath of the storm around @BoraZ and his resignation, Stephanie Zvan (@szvan) wrote up a blog post in what was obviously a revenge-attack on Christie Wilcox (@NerdyChristie). Szvan's post was "prompted by Christie Wilcox’s favorite on this tweet" of @Szvan's, who then blogged about an incident in 2011, for heaven's sakes, two years ago, in essence accusing @NerdyChristie of repetitive sexual harassment, with details of two occasions. @Szvan claimed to be doing it all on behalf of a harassed friend or freinds, and also said in that post, "but please preserve the privacy of the people Christie harassed unless and until they wish to come forward". Ironic in view of what happened after this.

@NerdyChristie fired back that @szvan's description of incidents did not match her recollections at all. Seth Mnookin ‏(@sethmnookin) heavily criticised her over Twitter for answering szvan back, including this tweet.

But the thing is, if you start attacking people on Twitter, you cannot demand that they are not allowed to answer back. It was pointed out to @sethmnookin that @NerdyChristie had a right of reply. @NerdyChristie ended up tweeting, "The nature of our interaction is being grossly misrepresented. I'm trying not 2 out a married man for infidelity". Oh whoops. Once you've started up a mob, you can't control the results. Once you kick a mass into action, direction is uncertain. Once people start making the private lives of other people flame-material on the net, then all sorts of things may come out.

And they did. X {redacted} put up a blog post, saying he was the person whom szvan claimed to be acting on behalf of, and describing an ambivalent, confused and bad situation. He also asked szvan to take down her original post, which she did, but by then it had been freezepaged by someone else. X also took his own blog post down too; but now he's being adversely affected, and all because of Szvan allegedly acting on his behalf.

In a follow-up post, in what was not a real apology by her own standards, Szvan noted she had taken down her original post. But it wasn't any acknowledgement of what she had done really wrong. In her previous doubling-down post in response to criticism of her original post, she asks rhetorically, "I could have said something privately, but to whom?"

She could have gone directly to the #ScioX board. She could have done that any time over the last two years. She didn't. Instead, prompted by @nerdychristie favouriting a tweet of hers, she went on the attack, and found out that the person she was allegedly doing it on behalf of did not want such at all, and it only created more problems for him, and all of us in the #ScioX community wound up learning far more than we ever wanted to know about the private lives of others.

In a comment under her notpology, Jason Thibeault (@lousycanuck) tried The Curate's Egg defence-attack, writing, "there’s a large swathe of the story as originally told that does, in fact, stand up to further scrutiny? That part was wrong doesn’t mean the whole thing was wrong." Except that Thibeault is in no position to know. He's one of those who has abused #ScioX hashtags in the past, yet he has never been to any ScioX conference, is not part of the community, and only imports his brand of politics via hashtag-spamming.

Answers and antidotes:
  • It has to be said loud and clear that a purported community (most often just a small, unrepresentitive group of flamers) do not rule the ScioX conferences. The ScienceOnline board does.
  • The undermining of Karyn Traphagen (@kTraphagen) and Anton Zuiker (mistersugar) has to stop, and if it does not stop, it has to be opposed. They made the #ScioX conferences the huge success they are. They are the ones who made made ScioX give the most bang for the buck of all #scicomm conferences (with convention swag, talks and activities). They have run the conferences really well. Let them go on doing so un-undermined.
  • The abuse of the #ScioX hashtags for calling-out has to stop. It only makes the downward-spiral go downwards fast.
  • The abuse of the #ScioX hashtags for imported political purposes has to stop. Along with matters irrelevant to ScioX, it imports flamers who are in no way part of ScioX, and who have no good intentions towards ScioX.
  • It should be part of the official ScioX harassment policy that no call-outs, especially when alleging harassment, should be allowed on the official hashtags or otherwise, and that all harassment complaints should go directly to the ScienceOnline #ScioX board - privately.

And if these don't mostly happen, if everyone just carries on as they have been doing, then pretty soon there won't be much of a ScioX community left. It's quite predictable. Happy Hobbesian war of all against all.




        


              

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  1. Old Comment

    good & constructive

    thank you very much for this text,

    Lady Bug
    Posted 22-Oct-2013 at 05:41 PM (17:41) by Unregistered
  2. Old Comment
    "Once you've started up a mob, you can't control the results. Once you kick a mass into action, direction is uncertain."

    Well put! The second of those sentences is eminently quotable, relating nicely to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle). :-) Is that one your own, Gurdur, or is it borrowed from elsewhere? If it's your own, kudos!

    These mob-mentality rumour-mongering campaigns are sadly not anything new, just amplified a thousand-fold on modern social network technology. They've been plaguing humanity for literally thousands of years, rather like out penchant for superstition as well. You'd think we'd be able to maintain our skepticism in this day and age. :sigh:
    Posted 23-Oct-2013 at 02:02 AM (02:02) by Thaumas Themelios
  3. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Thaumas Themelios View Comment
    "Once you've started up a mob, you can't control the results. Once you kick a mass into action, direction is uncertain."

    Well put! The second of those sentences is eminently quotable, relating nicely to Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncertainty_principle). :-) Is that one your own, Gurdur, or is it borrowed from elsewhere?
    It's my own. Thanks. I may well have had Heisenberg unconciously in mind, but I had been thinking a lot about the unpredictability of mobs and blood-lettings anyway for several days.

    Quote:
    These mob-mentality rumour-mongering campaigns are sadly not anything new, ..... plaguing humanity for literally thousands of years ....
    I will be blogging about that very soon, separately but in connection to this whole affair and more.
    Posted 23-Oct-2013 at 06:34 AM (06:34) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
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