Is public criticism of science bullying?

labtimes314Last month, we wrote about the launch of a new site, Stand Up 2 Science Bullies, whose co-founders said that they had been

covertly and cyber bullied by one scientist for nine years.

What the two scientists were referring to was an attempt by another scientist to correct the scientific literature. Was this really “cyberbullying?”

That, along with a few other stories we’ve covered, prompted us to muse about the issue, which is the subject of our new column in LabTimes. So give it a read, and let us know what you think.

15 thoughts on “Is public criticism of science bullying?”

  1. There are two principles at work here.

    One is from politics and activism. Claims of victimhood are a source of authority. Claims that someone has harmed you justifies, explains and excuses your actions even if your actions are unjust. These claims also can gain sympathy for your cause, motivate your supporters, and cause fear in others.

    The other is called DARVO and originates from study of child abusers. It stands for Deny, Accuse, Reverse Victim/Offender. The idea is that if you have done something bad a common response is to blame the victim and claim you are the one being harmed. I’m not sure how valuable the DARVO concept is, but we can clearly see such behavior in certain cases (such as the owner of the Clippers).

    1. This is a great response to a great post.

      DARVO happens when science misconduct is uncovered. Character assassination of the whistleblower is thus justified.

      Science cheaters no doubt also justify their cheating because they’ve been “bullied” in the past (bad reviews on grant applications, papers, etc.).

      Climate skeptics are en mass adapting the cry that they are being bullied.

      Kudos to RW for shining some light on the cockroaches.

      1. Hardly, Michael Mann, the inventor of the Hockey Stick, claims he is being bullied all the time and sues at thr drop of a hat.

        1. He sued one of his critics for comparing him to a child molester; do you think that was an appropriate criticism of his work?

          1. The reason that he claims that he is being bullied all the time is that he is being bullied all of the time. What Cuccinelli did to him, in particular, was shameful and ridiculously political.

          2. However this quite well illustrate the risks with the DARVO label : “Since he’s fighting back, that means he’s guilty”. It’s much easier to label something a DARVO counter-attacks than to verify if the initial attack had any truth.

    1. straight up.

      if people suck at science, they shouldn’t try to soldier their way through the review process with a crap article by invoking the art of BSing with math. ask forster.

    2. Um, pretty sure “freedom of speech” is completely irrelevant here. It’s a legal concept that has NOTHING to do with whether behavior is appropriate, professional, reasonable or ethical. Assuming that violence is not being provoked and all statements made are factual, most bullying speech may be protected by the US constitution. However, that says nothing about the morality of the situation.

      The question is: Is the critic voicing their concerns in a respectful manner that is intended to denounce or question specific actions and/or scientific positions, or is the critic acting unprofessionally, making personal attacks, and using tactics other than criticizing scientific quality or specific unprofessional behaviors. If A) not bullying else if B) bullying.

    3. Freedom of speech has to do with when the GOVERNMENT tries to stifle speech, not when individuals tell other individuals to shut up.

      Freedom of speech has nothing to do with this. Trying to insist it does only muddies the actual topic.

  2. There once was a research “bully”.
    He said “this does not convince me…”
    Thus he depressed
    (With his doubts, expressed)
    A poor innocent fraudster or three!

  3. One effect of creating this blog seems to be that the protagonists are now so much younger and happier compared to their googled images.

    But if I am not mistaken there seem to be three, not two, of them. Is the one on the left the then student Gugliotti, she whose “particles were degrading at room temperature”?

  4. Of course nobody would say that “public criticism of science is bullying”. That’s a strawman. The real questions are 1. Can some manners and patterns of public criticism amount to bullying? 2. Is this the case for the “Stand Up 2 Science Bullies” guys?

    As for 1, I’m not sure how often “bullying” applies, but most would agree that it is conceivable for there to be harassment in the guise of scientific criticism. As for 2, I’m inclined to say “no”, but I haven’t studied the case carefully.

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