An article after my own heart … Steven Wiley has written a column in the Scientist (Speak Your Mind :The Scientist [2009-12-01]) that speaks both to me and for me. In it he discusses the need for biologists to be more public about their opinions about their work and that of others.
He says, for example
Recently, I attended a conference on biofuel development that included a discussion of the feasibility of deriving fuels from algae. In the open meeting, only a few biologists voiced an opinion, all stated very politely. In private, however, the opinions that I heard were invariably strong and contentious, and few people agreed with what appeared to be the general consensus. It seemed that most of the meeting participants were unwilling to let their viewpoints be publicly known.
I have witnessed the exact same phenomenon and find it disheartening. To help build science and biology we need to be more open about discussing ideas. This pattern of whispering behind the scenes or standing behind anonymity drives me a bit crazy and it is one of the reasons I have become a science blogger and tweeter and such.
Wiley wraps up his discussion by saying
However, a comment is only really useful when the author is identified, because it allows you to evaluate its credibility. Besides, why should anyone respect an opinion that even the author is not willing to claim? And being honest does not mean being insulting or nasty. Open and honest debate has always been necessary for the best science, but mutual respect between the participants is necessary to make it work.
I agree with this too. I have slipped occasionally in being too nasty in comments but am trying to get that under control. But overall, the importance of openness far outweighs the risk of sometimes being offensive. So I am calling for others in biology – start a blog – start tweeting – ask more questions at meetings – get up and say you what you think – sign your name to reviews – sign your name to comments on the web – be more open. It will be good for all of us.