Debate, academia and privilege

So, over the weekend, I was involved in a  debate surrounding open access publishing, about which people can feel very stongly. I won’t be talking much about the arguments of this debate, but about privilege, and silencing of younger, less privileged scientists and people. Now, one thing I will say, no matter who you are, or which side of any debate you are on, there are things that are unacceptable. Namely, ad hominen attacks, including telling someone the world would be better off without them. But what is also not ok is telling people (especially those who are junior to you) to shut up and fuck off cause they don’t agree with you. And that is what I feel happened to me.

This is, of course, all from my point of view, and feel free to call me out on any of my perceptions.

I came accross a tweet from someone (lets call him Bob) who claims they are not anti-open access, but who has reservations about the system. This is completely fair. However, I did not agree with the example in the tweet, so I quoted the tweet explaining why I thought it was an incorrect example. Later, I replied to another tweet, with Bob’s handle at the end. Both of these actions allowed the tweets, and my response to be visible to my followers. My reasoning behind this is that I think this is a good, and worthy debate to be having and thought that the points represented were at least worth thinking about for me, my followers, and Bob. Now, as I understand it, someone else (lets call him Sam) (who has thousands of followers, compared to my hundreds, and who is a huge advocate of the open access movement) had also quoted a tweet from Bob. What followed was pretty unacceptable, but it was likely what Sam intended. Bob was attacked by Sam’s followers, including being told the world would be better off without him. THIS IS NOT OK. I had not seen this until later when Bob pointed out that nobody had spoken against that. I think here, the responsibility lay with Sam to tell his followers to respond reasonably and not viscously, and anyone else who came accross that tweet should have spoken up, but did not.

So, based on his experiences with Sam, Bob was rather angry with me for broadcasting his tweets to my followers and refused to engage in debate with me. Keep in mind I was unaware of the previous attacks on Bob, and also completely uninvolved. Some may argue that quoting Bob’s tweets and making them visible to my followers is for the sole intent of my followers attacking Bob. This is untrue, and indeed is not what happened. I am a graduate student, an ‘underling’ if you will, and my honest intent was to spark conversation and debate. Bob told me to stop broadcasting his tweets to my followers and when I asked why he refused to engage with me any further. As a result, I felt silenced by this person. Is he threatened by opinions contrary to his, even from a mere grad student?

I looked further at Bob’s timeline, and he engages in this sort of behaviour with anyone who disagrees with him, even if the tweets are more ‘private’ conversations. Why tweet controversial opinions if you don’t intend to actually debate the issue? Why this constant defensiveness? I can’t even point out the privilege in many of Bob’s tweets for fear of further silencing by him. How do you have a conversation with someone so unwilling to listen? This sort of behaviour makes many feel unwelcome in academia, because what is academia and science without debate and solidly supported arguments?


One thought on “Debate, academia and privilege”

  1. Twitter is too controversial as platform of communications for near-scientific conversations.

    It is visibly too much open for Bob. Not the Twitter is too open, but Bob is not done for open work & comms. And certainly Twitter is open enough for Sam’s clout to execute some well known social dynamics against yet-another-lets-keep-it-close Bob. Essentially, when Bob drags you and everyone else into private communications, he is also executing power – power of control in walled garden he has built and comfortable to move over anyone. And your role had been somewhat in-the-middle-of-two-fires – your expectations of courteous scientific conversation in wild open medium were somewhat higher than they should be. And you found yourself between stone and hard place. Rest is history.

    Lessons… Don’t have too high expectation about internet clouts. Stay away from religious / political topics. Read books about “where comes from closed vs open” on global level, e.g. mr. Drahos book “Information feudalism” but beware… you might join open-everything for life, as anything closed might freak you ought even being noted by name.


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