2022 Volume 52, Issue 11, e13839
Social media and new tools for engagement offer democratic platforms for enhancing constructive scientific criticism which had previously been limited. Constructive criticism can now be massive, timely, and open. However, new options have also enhanced obsessive criticism. Obsessive criticism tends to focus on one or a handful of individuals and their work, often includes ad hominem aspects, and the critics often lack field-specific skills and technical expertise. Typical behaviors include: repetitive and persistent comments (including sealioning), lengthy commentaries/tweetorials/responses often longer than the original work, strong degree of moralizing, distortion of the underlying work, argumentum ad populum, calls to suspend/censor/retract the work or the author, guilt by association, reputational tarnishing, large gains in followers specifically through attacks, finding and positing sensitive personal information, anonymity or pseudonymity, social media campaigning, and unusual ratio of criticism to pursuit of one's research agenda. These behaviors may last months or years. Prevention and treatment options may include awareness, identifying and working around aggravating factors, placing limits on the volume by editors, constructive pairing of commissioned editorials, incorporation of some hot debates from unregulated locations such as social media or PubPeer to the pages of scientific journals, preserving decency and focusing on evidence and arguments and avoiding personal statements, or (in some cases) ignoring. We need more research on the role of social media and obsessive criticism on an evolving cancel culture, the social media credibility, the use/misuse of anonymity and pseudonymity, and whether potential interventions from universities may improve or further weaponize scientific criticism.
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