AFTER ALMOST TWO years of lively—not to say occasionally raucous—exchange, the American Association for the Advancement of Science has modified the Terms and Conditions of its Community Forum.
Some members have commended forum organizers and continue to contribute within the new guidelines. Others have already bailed. And still others are questioning various aspects of the forum’s changes in Terms and Conditions, with the possibility of following their scientific colleagues out the door.
Me? I’ve been an AAAS member for years, albeit on the sidelines except for the occasional March for Science.
On the other hand, as noted here at SimanaitisSays, I monitor the Community Member Forum daily and learn a lot about science and its practitioners. Here are tidbits gleaned from my monitoring.
Vaxxers versus Not-Yet-Vaxxers. Generally, scientists believe in vaccines, including the coronavirus varieties. Some members, though, have raised questions about messenger RNA technology, raising issues such as its untested newness. Others counter this with references citing the technology’s application in earlier vaccines. This discussion of respected sources remains an essential feature of the AAAS Member Community Forum.
Occasionally, some couldn’t resist being more than a trifle cynical: “If nature did its culling job better,” one wrote, “we wouldn’t still be here to criticize….”
Raising Ad Hominem Hackles. Alas, here and there, scientific arguments degenerated into personal or political ones. (Scientists, despite popular belief, are humans too.)
In particular, the phrase “ad hominem” popped up a good deal, enough for me to look it up: Merriam-Webster defines it as “1: appealing to the feelings or prejudices rather than intellect. 2: marked by or being an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to the contentions made.”
This sure sums up a few of the threads at the forum, and I believe it was one reason for the revisions.
Texas and the Polar Vortex. There’s lots of climate change discussion among scientists, and the recent brouhaha about the severe cold snap in Texas generated much wisdom, together with more than enough hot air to alleviate that state’s climatic shortsightedness.
This thread also unraveled into a subthread of comments starting with, “I grew up in [name a state with real weather] and walked to school in [select a distance and temperature] …..”
These prompted a regular contributor, one whom I respect for his scientific rationality and documentation of sources, plus his occasionally droll responses. He wrote in response to one such tale, “You’ve been talking to my father… though when I could visit my grandmother it was strange… the school he attended was only a block away from my grandma’s house. Guess he took the long way to school.”
An Engineering Truism. One contributor wrote cogently, “The engineers did what engineers are trained to do…. They decided what the basic requirement was and multiplied by three, knowing politicians would cut that in half leaving a system 1.5X what they thought was necessary.”
New Terms and Conditions. In introducing each new category, the AAAS Member Community Forum says, “We acknowledge that this community may invite healthy debate, and these conversations may be difficult. Community Monitors aim to avoid disrupting the flow of conversation, so enter at your discretion and use the self-moderation tool to report violations of our Terms and Conditions.”