Failure to follow scientific groups will not affect the climate
I’m pretty active on social media, I guess. I have Facebook on my phone; I probably check this at least once a day – other platforms, maybe once or twice a week. I post things every now and then, whether it’s a spicy meme, an interesting post I read, promoting some research, or sharing entries from this same blog. I used to follow a lot of groups dedicated to science, skepticism, critical thinking and debunking. Except for one or two, I recently stopped following such groups.
Certainly, as a provider of critical thinking, these are exactly the types of groups that I should be following – promoting ideas that I too should consider and share. Well, I’ve considered a lot of them, and rarely wish to share them, let alone agree with them. Outside of the obvious click traps (yes, even science-promoting groups produce click traps), there is so much negativity generated by these groups – negativity incompatible with critical thinking.
Many groups have become political; and, with that, self-righteous. Those with conservative-leaning administrators began to berate the Liberals, and those with liberal-leaning administrators began to berate the Tories. What do you get by insulting a group with opinions different from yours? I don’t see critical thinking in making examples of others as foolish or stupid, especially on something belief-based like politics. If we base our thinking on something that can be proven (for or against), what good is the point of attacking the person who made the false statement (ad hominem)? Shouldn’t critical thinkers try to educate, inform and demystify disinformation? I know it might seem like I’m blaming the admins and that’s probably unfair. They are not necessarily the ones causing these problems, but they are making them easier. In many of these groups’ posts, discussion threads follow that make it easier to troll the opinions of anyone who might be in the minority within that group (not in terms of race or creed, but rather their ideas and perspectives. ) and regular readers of this blog will know how I Think About Trolls. It is not critical thinking. As I said, I left and abandoned a large majority of these groups. But, when I clicked on “no longer follow” or “leave the group”, the strangest feeling came over me.
I felt like I was letting the “critical side” go, as if I might miss an important article or miss an opportunity to facilitate someone’s thinking. I felt guilty. I felt like a fraud. Then I decided to give it a week – if there was anything of value posted in any of these groups, I would stick around. If this is not the case, I would go all the way to “unsubscribe”. Even when I wasn’t online, I thought about it – critically. If what they report demeans me – whether it’s sensationalizing how bad decision-making in the world is or just presenting biased information (acknowledging that irony is important), then what’s the point of following. these messages?
I realized that the feelings of guilt and potential scam stemmed from this idea that I was sort of turning my back on science, evidence-based research, and critical thinking. But I am not; if anything, I nurture it more by refraining from pop culture versions of each. “Doing your part” has nothing to do with reading messages from these groups. Doing your part is reading genuine, peer-reviewed research articles. Doing your part is educating the people who want and value education. Doing your part is putting what you preach into practice. My abandonment of a bunch of debunkers is not going to affect the beliefs of Flat Earth people about the shape of the planet or the views of climate change deniers on global warming. On the contrary, these social media groups could drive greater divisions between parties on particular topics, rather than promoting open discourse and education.
Where is this taking us? What is the lesson to be learned? Perhaps this is just another case that illustrates how personal values and prejudices can get in the way of everyday life. My value in science, research, and critical thinking led me to engage an online echo chamber to such an extent that its production may have negatively affected my mood and sensationalized my take on the society. That may be fair in some ways, but that’s up to objective assessments to determine, not what an online “community” tells me.
Of course, I am biased, everyone is; when we value something, it tilts our perspective to favor concepts that uphold our values. But with that, we need to recognize the potential for these biases to impact our behaviors, both online and in the “real world,” so that we can disengage from things that could potentially hold us back. I still enjoy science, research, and critical thinking as much as ever, no longer following newsfeed articles about them doesn’t diminish that value in any way, but I needed some time to see it.
For those of you who have had similar online experiences, thinking about the way I am describing can be a useful exercise to engage in; and so, my suggestion is that we should take stock of our values, our actions in light of those values, the results of those actions and the critical thinking about them. Such an exercise could have a beneficial effect on the way you engage your day-to-day thinking and engagement online.