Day Two of SMBE 2015 in Vienna is winding down, and things are going pretty great - well, almost. In this new grand age of the 21st century, roughly half of what I have learned so far at this conference has come from Twitter, either directing me to a talk/poster I didn’t know about yet, or sharing insights from talks I didn’t get a chance to attend. Twitter really is a powerful tool, and one that should be used as a “force for good.” Indeed, the vast majority of tweets I’ve seen from #smbe15 have been helpful, informative, and fun. But, I’ve seen a few that we could really do without.
More specifically, more than a few #smbe15 tweets (enough to catch my eye) have been really critical, and not necessarily constructively, about talks that the “tweeter” didn’t like. In some cases, senior and/or well-established scientists seemed to be using twitter as an open forum to point out specific talks or presentation styles they didn’t feel were worthy or done correctly. As a graduate student trying to network and pave a career for myself, I was pretty worried when I saw these tweets. Would these scientists also tweet negative remarks about my talk? Will my research be de-valued because some tenured professor made a snarky comment? Thankfully, I didn’t see any mocking tweets after my talk, but there were a few tweets where I thought to myself, “Wait…was that about me?” Not a good feeling.
Let me be clear - these tweets are in the minority, but at least 10-15 tweets have fallen into this category, which in my book is way too many. Even so, seeing several leading scientists publicly share and effectively sign their names to negative remarks about others’ talks or posters was incredibly discouraging. I haven’t seen any tweets outright saying “Hey, Person X! You’re talk was dumb!”, but I have seen a lot of tweets with an excessively mocking and/or ostracizing tone.
I’m not suggesting that the scientific community should avoid looking at others’ work with a critical eye, but I am suggesting (nay, requesting) that public tweets be respectful and supportive. If you have something that doesn’t fit into those categories but that, nevertheless, you feel must be said, it would be a much more productive strategy to actually go find and talk with the person! We’re at a conference, after all. Having real conversations with real people seems like an overall better approach than does cryptically tweeting your thoughts about things you don’t like. Plus, 140 characters can’t do those sorts of conversations justice and leaves you vulnerable to strong misunderstandings. Indeed, maybe I’ve miscalculated the whole thing and I am incredibly wrong about all the seemingly inappropriate tweets I saw! …Which is exactly my point.
Twitter should be a place to collaborate, share, and engage respectfully - not a convenient place for accusing or pointing fingers ar people. After all, what young scientist wants to join a community with a thriving culture of cyber snark?