Why I Do What I Do: The Intentions Driving Community Building

Why I Do What I Do: The Intentions Driving Community Building

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Written by: Knigel Holmes
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

I have been on the wrong edge of the skeptic’s razor in the past.

Misinformation litters the path of truth and reason. A single misstep sends even those with a working compass down the wrong, spiralling trail. So caught up in looking for clues confirming our direction, fearing the idea that all has been for naught, our rationalisations overwhelm reason.

I have been down the wrong path before and I will undoubtedly go down many more in the future.

Trying to understand the nuances of public science issues, especially for us laypeople, is both exhausting and and confusing. We can’t go it alone. One of us needs to carry the compass and one the map. Together, we share our tools to correct the course. Together, we avoid tripping over exposed roots.

Finding my own way back from the tangled brush of anti-GMO misinformation was full of thorns.

Although my core beliefs changed with a sudden click, a spark, the real challenge came after as I took on the task of sorting through the information, keeping the science, removing the fiction. I found a compass that gave me an accurate, general direction; however, each path ahead required thought and careful evaluation. Many of the trails were counter-intuitive and seemed contrary to my worldview.

Blazing the new trail, foraging for new information, I found myself in many different communities asking questions. From the anti-GMO groups, I found myself quickly banned. I learned immediately that either I was with them or against them. Honest, polite questions were not welcome. That’s not to say some members of those groups did not appreciate a bit of skeptical inquiry, but moderators control the discourse in their own insulated bubble of influence.

From the skeptic and science communities, I found silence, dead ends, and snark. People in these communities could tell me that a claim was incorrect, but rarely could I get why the claim might lack support. Honest questions were met with accusations of trolling or starting debates where there was no debate. In the end, I was disappointed that genuine skeptical inquiry and the goal of evidence-based discussion was dismissed. Flippant remarks are easier than thorough critical evaluation.

All of these experiences led me to the desire of open places where anyone, including myself, could ask honest questions and feel comfortable asking for evidence, even from proclaimed experts. With so much misinformation on social media, having mutual discussions with people sharing diverse perspectives becomes so immensely important. Participating in public science discussion needs more than experts delivering information to the public. We need more than science hype. More than endless flame wars. More than memes.

Becoming a more informed public requires collective puzzle-solving. That collective puzzle-solving requires patience with both the material as well as other people. We are all coming from different places, and for our perspectives to change, we do need to be able to ask questions where we will not simply be shut down. The principle of charity is one of our best tools, but so often neglected. Yesterday’s science denier is tomorrow’s enthusiastic science advocate.

These are some of the intentions that led me to building communities on social media. I learned from building GMO Skepti-Forum and Science Communication Outreach that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to work with others to sort out the complex issues. I learned that interested laypeople are a tremendous force not only against the tide of misinformation, but also for better public understanding.

The motivations that drive me have urged me to create many other forums because there are so many public science issues to understand. Science & Skepticism Collaboration, Brains Thinking About Brains, and Vaccine Skepti-Forum are only a few of many of our Nodes of Science that make me comfortable enough to ask questions and encourage me to really explore various topics. I appreciate having a few places I can suggest to people who might otherwise feel too intimidated to ask questions. I appreciate working with others to find answers.

Having these communities would have been so helpful to me long ago. Perhaps I would have found some of the right paths sooner. If any of these groups can help any of the trailblazers out there who are on their own missions challenging their beliefs, well that would please me to no end. If any of these groups encourage other people to start their own, perhaps we can counter the overwhelming number of groups promoting misinformation in the search rankings. When someone types in “GMO”, “Vaccine”, or “Climate Change” I hope they have a good chance of finding an evidence-based group focused on scientific fact and skeptical inquiry.