To (Quote-)Tweet or not to Tweet, is the question.

I am not making a living out of SciComm, not at the moment. I was till last month, not right now. I am as jobless as many people in #SciComm are, especially in India. Does that suddenly elevate my right to criticise a shabby work trying to pass off as #SciComm?

I identify myself as he/him/his. I am sufficiently older than many people who are new to the #SciComm space. Does that make me inherently ineligible to criticise a particular work by a young woman?

There are reasons to ask.

No matter how much our lives have been reduced to bite-sized snippets, polarising binaries, good and bad, out-of-context rhetorics, I still happen to believe that there is space for nuance, there is space for subtlety, there is space for dialogue. Because I believe there is space for change: for the better, as a whole, and as people. Because let’s face it: we all are flawed in some sense or the other, and we can all correct ourselves.

So, what happened? Today morning, I saw a video with the hashtag #SciComm that made me instantly frustrated. It was about how India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was much more economical than NASA’s MARS missions and how successful it was. That was it, no argument about what makes it successful or why it was economical.

Now, I happen to know a thing or two about space missions, so I am wary about the success part. But I was more shocked at the simplified generalisation of the other part: economical. There are many social and political reasons why MOM was more economical than NASA missions, and I believe these fall beyond the realm of an astronomy (or science) discussion. There is hardly any science involved, so nothing is left to be communicated.

I expressed these frustrations as a Quote-Tweet:

That’s because people’s labour is not valued as much as they should be, and as much in other countries.
When will “#SciCommer” s look beyond the sloppy headlines and discuss science & society as a whole?

Also, care to discuss any *one* result obtained from MOM?
Lazy headline-peddling is not #SciComm.

The original poster (OP) responded:

Hello Debdotta, thank you for your criticism.
The point of this short video was to only talk about the economical fact involved. Not all of my videos are like this and I don’t mean to glorifying how underpaid the scientists and engineers at ISRO are.

To which I said:

Economy does not sit in oblivion. No matter what your intentions are, you are doing exactly that: Glorifying how underpaid people are in general (not just in ISRO).

This is where the statements made in the first two paragraphs come in. Because, the next time I logged in (evening), I found myself accused of the following:

  1. not having a civil discussion with OP in private
  2. not “pointing her to articles and resources that are better”
  3. “shit on scicommers efforts publicly”
  4. not being sensitive to the fact that the OP is a young woman from an excluded minority who is trying to make their way through the Indian SciComm space
  5. “having the power and means to make a living doing SciComm in India”
  6. “punch down folks who try”
  7. “publicly shame then for using a hashtag”

I agree with the first part of point number 4. I should have been more sensitive about how I criticised, and the social location of the OP relative to mine.
But I would also like to clarify that the question of my Tweets being a hindrance to her making a way through the space does not arise. I do not hold any space in Indian SciComm currently. I am as much an outsider as the OP.

The rest are generalisations that are unwanted and misleading.

  1. Who decides what is civil? Is rampant generalisation of what I said “civil”? Is making judgments about another person’s “power and means” civil? Is using words like “shit on scicommers efforts” to describe any criticism civil? Let me not get to point 7, which I don’t know how to fathom.
  2. I am not a #SciCommer anymore. Where exactly is the punching down? From what I understand, the person who has said all the above is and has much more “power and means” than I do. Is that punching me down or not?
  3. Why should I discuss this critical point in private? I have clarified my stand in a series of Tweets, which read thus:

Since Twitter is a very bad space for any kind of criticism, prone to being labelled in binaries and rampant polarisation and simplification, let me clarify my stand:
1. If at any point my criticism came off as *generally* demeaning or discouraging, that was unintentional, I’m sorry about that.
2. This video, as it stands, does not explain any science. Rather, it plays into the general nationalistic narrative that is extremely dangerous, co-opted by people who care nothing about either science or scientists.
3. Science does not happen in vacuum. There are strong reasons to suspect that MOM was not a scientific mission by design, nor has there been any scientific results from it. I am happy to be corrected about the facts. That was the reason to call out this *particular* video.

Does that count as “civil”?

Let me clarify: I have made a mistake of not giving enough justification in the first place about why I criticised the video; my tone was not right; I was insensitive to the social location of the OP with respect to mine. I am sorry about that.

What followed by the defender of the OP was the same kind of action that she has accused me of engaging in.

I am disheartened to see the kind of space that Twitter has become (or always was, only I am actively using it now?). Is there no space at all for nuance, criticism, dialogue? Is it just a space for publicly showing others down intentionally, blaming them for things they are not doing?

Cannot I criticise a video that has been posted on Twitter, on Twitter? Then what is the point of posting it on Twitter: simply garnering likes and support even if that particular piece may have dangerous outcomes (or further them)?

As a relatively privileged person than another, cannot I criticise them at all? Or does that have to be done in private even if the said work is dangerous for the same intended public?

If the answers to the above are that what I did is point-blank wrong and shitty, I will be convinced that Twitter is indeed nothing but an echo chamber.

However, the hope is that there will be space for public dialogue and criticism, leading to more responsible public statements. Because I am sure that no one doing #SciComm wants to be co-opted into the rhetorical nationalistic fervour that science was never meant for.

Honestly, I don’t care if showing me like a villain happens to satisfy any particular person or boost their public image. However, if there is some space left for more responsible public engagement, I will call out such dangerous work in the future.

I’ll be sure to give context the next time. I am learning to be more civil. Hopefully, civilisation is happy.

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