Harassment and Bad Business

Scientists intimidated, and missing the root cause of a terrible information ecosystem

Yesterday was the Memorial Day holiday in the US, so I didn’t write anything. Here are two shorter essays to make amends. In my mind, they are strongly related.

Open Science = Open Season

Maybe people in biomedicine were a little more attuned to the risks, my more charitable side likes to think, but then my mind turns to those people running bioRxiv and medRxiv, and that nice thought goes out the window.

What I am prattling on about? The fact that an information space incentivized for attention instead of audience has led to a number of downsides — platforms that manipulate our psychological vulnerabilities, extremist content privileged over expert content, and the frantic pursuit of quantity over the crafting of quality.

Now, add to this an information space that has scientists scared, browbeaten, intimidated, and harassed for doing science, advocating from evidence, and advising society on the best path forward on a number of issues.

This is the subject of a Nature News feature published last week.

The Digital Age has brought about a fundamental, structural change to our information transactions, and it hasn’t been a good thing. Embracing a clicks-based advertising model and juiced platform intermediation which operationalizes this model with both a scale and a granularity we’ve never seen before, information has become far more that a tool. It has become a working weapon, a constant risk, and a formidable way to target.