Less Social Media. More Scientific Media!
Interacting with humans through avatars speaking 240 characters at a time is not for me.
I reluctantly joined Twitter on recommendations from academic co-workers who said it was a fine place to share research and find others' research. When I joined, I found the cacophonous political warzone to be disruptive to the calm & deliberate thinking and speaking that I cherish. Not infrequently, I would say something - an opinion I felt worthy of discussion but condensed to 240 characters (e.g. that "science twitter" is a bad workplace environment and we should spend less time there), and people would see my white-man avatar and unleash absolute hell on me. An army of people attacked me as someone who's "never been the only", forcing me to either look like a person speaking entirely from immense privilege, or bare my traumas that I don't want to bare. Towards the end, I shared that I've had a profound hearing loss since I was three, that I grew up in a gang in the school-to-prison nexus of Albuquerque, that, yes, I am frequently the only one with these backgrounds in a room. I don't want to be forced to expose my heart just to justify my existence to a hostile crowd. I don't want to do science with these people. I also entered into COVID research - in fact, I published some seminal studies in the field, including estimating 8.4 million infections in the US in March 2020 that were later corroborated by serosurveys as some of the best estimates available when we had only 100K confirmed cases. However, because I was not knighted with a blue checkmark nor was I known by others, I was declared not-an-epidemiologist by many and my protestations of defamation and denigration were then considered defamatory. I was told I'd be responsible for the deaths of millions when, if our estimates were correct and there were 8.4 infections in the US in March, millions in the US would not die from an unmitigated COVID epidemic because a larger denominator would imply a lower infection fatality rate. The credentialistic exclusion of unknown, non-checkmarked public schooled scientists as non-experts paralleled the ghettoization of my neighborhood as non-members of society, and the moralization & criminalization of my science in COVID paralleled the traumatic criminalization of me, starting when I was 7 years old and getting kicked by the Albuquerque Police Department, told I was a criminal who would amount to nothing, all because I was caught skateboarding across campus to see my mom. That's not where or how I want to do science. Everybody knows Twitter is hostile. They roll their eyes at public executions and call-outs and the in-your-face politics of your co-workers the way some roll their eyes about a racist uncle or Donald Trump's most inhumane utterances... "yeah, they say that sometimes." That hostility has a human cost, and one of the ways I reformed my life from my criminal youth was by humanizing everyone and removing myself from social systems that normalize violence. Yes - I believe Twitter normalizes violence. It normalizes righteousness which is only non-violent when it's right. When righteousness is wrong, innocent people are ostracized, demonized, alienated, bullied and they may even leave science or, worse, take their life. "I thank whatever Gods may be for my unconquerable soul," but while I have steel armor, I refuse to normalize the sword.
By participating in Twitter, academics support this environment for their young scientists. Twitter does not have corrective mechanisms to remedy its toxic hostility, it is not a medium for calm and rational discussion of ideas. Twitter does not improve our humanization of one-another nor does it help us think deeply about the challenges facing the world. Twitter is little more than a few billion people forced into a crowded room with shouting, righteous Mean Girls. Yes, it allows some communities to find one-another and it allows some movements like BLM to mobilize and change the world for the better - that's awesome. However, it also causes depression and creates a safe space for some of the most hideous online bullying to date, and this space has lead to scientists being ostracized from science because of their political views or science that runs contrary to the political views of some hostile person with 50K followers who picks you out of the crowd to drag you in front of the 50K mob for a public execution. I love science, and I aim to focus on my love of science by not participating in a medium that I feel ruins science for many. Twitter is not the place to invite your co-workers, it's not the place I want to do science. I'm not sure what venue, if any, I'll use as a substitute. Personally, I'd prefer to make my own alternative venue, to take all the great things about social media - its ability to connect, its bottomless feed to peruse through the science du jour, its interface between scientists & policymakers and the private sector, its capacity to advertise jobs and conferences - and put these in a medium designed specifically for scientists. I want a medium with some rules of decorum that preserve the peace, an inability to block someone's science from your feed, and fewer hostile political actors attempting to rile up crowds and divide the country. I want a feed algorithm designed not for virality but for creativity and innovation, an algorithm that doesn't amplify today in proportion to yesterday's influence but diversifies from who & from which institutions the content you see comes from.
Can you imagine what a deliberately designed scientific medium could do for science? What if this medium had a slick interface for private sector companies to scout for talent? What if we concentrated the discussions of science so that social scientists could study scientists and improve the ability of our algorithms to provide opportunity for those without and maximize our rate of innovation? People can still use Twitter if they want, on their free time, just like people can still go to strip clubs, snort cocaine or shoot an AK-47 on their free time & we don't invite young scientists there. Rather than using Altmetric scores to incentivize scientists joining some hostile social medium, we should be scientists and make our own scientific medium tailored to our needs.
Life goes on. After deleting my Twitter account, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Adventure is not stuck in the mud of yesterday's arguments, it's beyond the horizon in strange lands we can't even see and which our imagination can't possible create. The only way to get there is to move forward, and not look back or else you turn into a pillar of bitter, 240 character salt. From here, I'm ecstatic about my future directions. I work with amazing clients through Selva Analytics, and we're doing incredible research together. If you want to know more, you'll either have to email me through this site or find me in the mountains! Science!!!