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Nov 09

Mea Culpa

I’ve spent most of my life identifying as an engineer and only recently would I say I identify more as a scientist. But while I find there’s enormous overlap with the two fields, I’ll concede I get especially annoyed with the area of nutrition science in particular.

While frustrated yesterday, I tweeted the following:

Naturally, this resonated with quite a few people and led to some lengthy follow up threads. At one point today Brad Dieter chimed in with “I think you are conflating mass media with scientists in the field.” and I retweeted with a reply:

To be sure, I certainly believe everything I’ve written above. In fact, I’ve had a handful of PhDs at conferences effectively say the same thing. The pressure to publish is something very real in the world of science, and the potential to grab headlines and propel the careers of the teams behind these papers should be acknowledged.

However… 

If I’m being honest with myself, I’m stepping more into the role of an advocate than scientist here. Even if I’m right, and even if these kinds of statements get more likes and retweets and followers than the typical informative tweet, they ultimately risk positioning me and this is bad in two ways:

  1. It can siphon time away from the real prize — my lipid research. Sure, maybe after I get it through these first few phases I can devote more time to advocating on the larger subject of study sensationalism. But right now it’s an unneeded distraction.
  2. It risks pushing away valuable counter voices who take pride in this field. Now Brad Dieter isn’t exactly pro-Keto, but he’s not a card-carrying establishmentarian either. I’ve learned a lot from him thus far and hope to learn more in the future. I value relationships I have with non- (or even anti-) ketoers who provide valuable resources to keep moving my knowledge in this field forward.

Indeed, I think you can tell a lot about someone’s intention for independent thought by how engaged they are in discussing their ideas with those who disagree. But more than that, you have to be mindful of what is off-putting to your opponents beyond voicing the arguments they disagree with.

Describing intent is especially dangerous because it suggests you know what is going on in someone’s head. So while it’s true I believe the intent is pretty obvious with these headline-y papers, a much better approach would’ve been showcasing one and presenting the data to back it up rather than make a broad claim.

While I’m sure I’ll still express frustration on Twitter in the future, I’m going to endeavor to refine my approach better.

2 comments

  1. bill

    If you use twitter, are you a twit? Just askin’.
    Seems like a great waste of time to me.

  2. Bonnie

    I appreciate your honest response here.

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