Friday 21 December 2012

The 'geek movement' is a straw man

I’ve been told I have a thick skin, but a recent post attacking the ‘geek movement’ pissed me off in a way that I generally reserve for articles by James Delingpole. It annoyed me not because it attacked me directly (and I wouldn’t care if it did) but because it has the potential to dissuade scientists – especially junior ones – from engaging proactively with politicians and society.

I won’t go into a detailed critique of the post here, but suffice to say that it spectacularly misrepresents everything and everyone it seeks to attack. The comments below the post from Brian Cox, Mark Henderson, David Colquhoun and Shane McKee say it all. Both the insulting tone and patronising rhetoric of the post suggests that this misrepresentation was a deliberate tactic to garner attention. Perhaps not the attention it expected, mind you.

Angry posts decrying a non-existent ‘geek movement’ do nothing to champion science or science communication. They also don’t challenge us in any meaningful or intelligent way. As far as I can tell, such articles serve only to generate faux dissent and ego-boosting publicity for those who author them. We need intelligent and nuanced discussion about the role of science in politics – not cheap shots.

So, to any scientists (especially junior ones) who happened to read the above post, please don’t be put off from engaging. Society needs you. Inspired by the Geek Manifesto, we’ve already seen fantastic campaigns to link scientists with politicians by Shane McKee and Dave Watts. We have also completed our own modest campaign to send the Geek Manifesto and personal letters to each member of the National Assembly for Wales, and we are also in the process of setting up a new evidence information service for MPs.

I say all this to accentuate the positive because in the last 24 hours my Twitter feed has become fairly unpleasant and acrimonious place. Intelligent discussions about the role of science in politics are vital and we mustn't allow this dialogue to be hijacked by trolling.

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