Dear science communication (aka SciComm) “community”,
Fuck you. No, seriously. Fuck you. Really, really, really and truly…
I’ve spent these last few weeks thinking about all the ways that that the “community” can go fuck itself and, while I cannot decide on a single one, I can at least feel confident in my belief that the entire “community” should, indeed, go fuck itself.
Why the hostility?
While I once dabbled in membership in the SciComm “community”, I now hang my hat firmly in the academia clubhouse. Academia takes a lot of flack from the science communicators, many of whom believe that science would be better served by independent scientist or an army of “citizen scientists.”
As an aside, I find the entire notion of “citizen science” to be largely nonsensical shenanigans. Let me see one of you give yourself a “citizen vasectomy” and then we’ll talk about why science is no less of a skilled trade. But, I digress…
Figure 1: Citizen scientist Joe Mullarky examines the piece of preserved vas deferens removed during his first citizen vasectomy. (source)
I like academia for the same reason I like America’s Next Top Model. For the most part, it’s not shrouded in bullshit. It’s not difficult to figure out how you should expect to be treated. We all know funding is bullshit, the trainee period has some real scam-like qualities, and there’s a list of men in our clubhouse that are proven ass grabbers. I have friends in academia, but being a part of academic science is not predicated on people being my friends.
This doesn’t mean that academia is necessarily happy or utopic in any way. Just that it’s not full of wolves in allies’ clothing. SciComm, on the other hand, basically sets itself up to fail every time. Interactions are predicated on this idea of “community”, which by definition is (from fucking Wikipedia. Damn it.)…
Figure 2: The definition of community from here.
The major fundamental flaw of the SciComm “community” is that it is a professional community with inconsistent common values. En face, one of it’s values is the idea of promoting science. Another is promoting diversity and equality in a professional setting. But, at it’s core, it’s most fundamental value are these notions of friendship, support, and togetherness. People join the community in part to talk about science, but also for social interactions with other members of the “community”. While I’ve engaged in my fair share of drinking and shenanigans at scientific conferences, ScienceOnline is a different beast entirely. The years that I participated in person and virtually, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a primarily social enterprise. It had some real hilarious parts, but it wasn’t an experience that seriously upgraded me professionally.
People in SciComm feel confident talking about “the community” as a tangible thing with values and including people in it, even when those people don’t value the social structure in the same way. People write things that are “brave” and bloviate in ways that make each other feel good and have “deep and meaningful conversations about issues” that are at the end of the day nothing more than words. Its a “community” that gives out platters full of cookies to people who claim to be “allies” to causes without actually having to ever do anything meaningful. Without having to outreach in any tangible way, simply because they claim to be “allies.” Deeming yourself an “ally” and getting a stack of “Get Out of Jail, Free” cards is a hallmark of the “community”.
The problem is that people are then so busy giving each other reach arounds and jizzing good feelings and rainbows that when someone in the “community” acts in a severely damaging way, it gives everyone the damned vapors because it puts the value of “diversity” at odds with the value of “togetherness.” Then we bloviate about community and hope and doubt until the community feels good again.
At least, the people that are willing to stay in the community and that are willing to put up with the repeated bullshit and not speak too loudly about how they know that one man is a symptom and not the entire disease.
More importantly, it sabotages the ability to deal with gender and racial bias in a meaningful way because SciComm is a “community” of “friends” and “allies” instead of first being a group of professionals. That’s why, although I feel for so many of my female science writer colleagues who are really fighting the good fight, I’m not hopeful for this “community” and I don’t believe that, for all the lip service we pay it, diversity and equality are really fundamental values of this group. I think it’s the thing that makes us all feel good when we pull it out, but that our ability to do anything more than stroke ourselves with it is severely limited by the more pressing desire to not make our friends feel bad.
I don’t have a lot of hope for this community. Only faith in its ability to keep baking cookies while simultaneously being shocked over why it continues to get its hand bitten.
Figure 4: Be sure to offer milk. (source)