Paul Browne on scientists debating online

"[T]oo often scientists seem to believe that an unsupported assertion accompanied by a PhD counts as evidence..."

- Paul Browne, writing in The Scientist

The whole "trust me, I’m a scientist" attitude doesn’t sit well with some scientists any more than it does with the general public. In a letter to the Editor of the magazine, Browne, a researcher at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, UK, bemoans the tendency of scientists to put forth information on online forums without backing up their claims.

This is not to say that Browne thinks scientists should butt out: far from it. He strongly supports his ilk taking part in virtual public debates, including on non-scientific forums such as Facebook. But bandying about your PhD and Harvard affiliation in the mainstream online world could not only backfire, but also could get you in trouble with your employer. Instead, Browne advocates keeping one’s qualifications hidden and instead focusing simply on presenting and analyzing the facts at hand from a neutral vantage. In a world often dominated by students, who rely more on enthusiasm than experience, participation from more seasoned practitioners could "improve the standard of debate" and bring the arguments to a broader audience.

You can read the entire letter, as well as the original Editorial that inspired it, with a subscription.