Constructive criticism, absence thereof

There is, let’s face it, a pervasive and annoying trend on the internet of instant dismissal and disparagement of anything someone doesn’t like or disagrees with. While I have just about got to grips with that as a fact of life for most of the web, it is frustrating and irritating when certain people do it about certain subjects.

I came across a comment on a science blog the other day where someone had linked to Ask A Biologist (which was nice). It was not at all clear if the comment that followed was direct to AAB or another site given how the thread was running, but that’s none too critical here. The substance of it was that said commenter has seen an unnamed science education website and thought much of their stuff that covered his field of research was inaccurate and badly handled.

Well, that will help eh? I mean, you know, you *could* communicate with that site yourself and let them know that they might have problem. You could send them some better information so they can make some corrections. You could put them in touch with colleagues who might help out. You could offer to help out yourself. But no, helping out is not right for you. Don’t worry that others are doing all the work on their own time and money to try and do the job they can and might not be perfect, just sit back and tell them that they are going a bad job and that you know much better and that other people should not use that site as it’s not very good.

Well thanks for that. It helps no one a single iota (since nothing will be fixed or can be fixed if there is no more information forthcoming) and spreads unnecessary criticism and disharmony among your colleagues (imply the site is badly done and the people involved unqualified or ignorant) and the people who might use the site. So every single aspect of that 2 line comment is not only not helpful, but actively unhelpful. Nice. I’ve remarked before just how welcoming and helpful the average scientist is and how respectful they are of the expertise and efforts of others be it from a senior professor to an undergraduate, or vice versa. It is then especially unwelcome and indeed unbecoming of people to put up comments like this, and while it might be the norm for the internet, it’s not the norm for conversations between researchers (or comments left by researchers) on the internet, and soon may it discontinue.

11 Responses to “Constructive criticism, absence thereof”

  1. 1 Heinrich Mallison 24/05/2010 at 7:59 am

    Offering to help is nice.


    It usually doesn’t even get you an answer. And that’s not only fructrating – if it happens repeatedly it means you have by then wasted a significant amount of time.

    Offering to help certainly didn’t get me an answer from AAB.

    • 2 David Hone 24/05/2010 at 8:22 am

      Well sorry to hear that Henrich, I had no idea. I would plead in the case of AAB that we used to have very significant problems with our contact forms and lost a lot of e-mails. Since I couldn’t actually change the set-up of the site either at the time, we had no way of changing the system to correct the loss or let people know that mails might have gone missing.

      However, I would still make the general point that while it is obviously frustrating for that to have happened to you, you did not just sit on the sidelines and smugly snipe at the site (or any others). I guess my point wrt the original commenter is if you have time to bitch and whine about something, then you should also have the time to try to help.

      • 3 Heinrich Mallison 24/05/2010 at 7:44 pm

        that’s true…..

        and I am sorry to heat that you ahd email trouble – it is most annoying and costs a great deal of time when it happens regularly.

        so let me renew my offer to help right here 🙂

      • 4 David Hone 24/05/2010 at 11:36 pm

        Thanks for being understanding and thanks for the second offer!

        I am sorry about that and I hope you were not too put out or too much time was wasted. I’ll mail you tomorrow morning (it’s very late here and I don’t have the necessary files) about it.

        My apologies again and thanks!

      • 5 Heinrich Mallison 25/05/2010 at 12:03 am

        No seat – I had a 5% email loss rate at my hosting institution for a while last year. Both in and out – oops! So please use 😉

      • 6 Heinrich Mallison 25/05/2010 at 12:04 am

        sweat. no sweat, I meant 😦

  2. 7 mattvr 24/05/2010 at 9:08 am

    It’s probably not helped that unverified criticism is a great weapon of disinformation for those with a barrow to push about a particular field or topic.
    Unfortunately the Net is full of people with ’empowered’ view points because they’ve been able to gather a following of the misinformed and lazy.

    • 8 David Hone 24/05/2010 at 9:32 am

      Well that’s a different problem, though of course not unrelated. That’s a real problem when it comes to the creationists, ant-vaxxers etc. but is usually transparent (to those in the know at least) and the intent, if dishonorable, is clear.

      It’s true that this happens, though in the example above I think it was a genuine and probably well intended point (he thinks we are doing a bad job). But as noted, it doesn’t actually help in any way, and comes over as mean spirited.

  3. 9 dkfennell 28/05/2010 at 6:13 pm

    Dave: Slightly off topice, but I wanted to say the new look of AAB is terrific and it is a very valuable site. I’ve used it just recently in a dispute I’m constantly having with one of my kid’s elementary school “science” teachers and it does the trick.

    It is so valuable I am showing it to real science teachers in elementary schools in the neighborhood. I hope I don’t cause an overload on you site.

    BTW, shouldn’t there be a “donate” button somewhere. (Or did I miss it.) Occasionally people like to help defray the costs of public goods.


    • 10 David Hone 28/05/2010 at 9:17 pm

      Well not *that* off topic! I’m glad the site is being used, that’s the sole purpose. We really don’t get enough questions to satisfy the experts so don’t worry about overloading us, it can’t really happen – even with the relaunch when we got 300 in a week we had it cleared out in under 10 days.

      There is no donate option right now. We had debated including one but we don’t really need the money, and it does, potentially change your relationship with the audience so we decided to leave it off for now. But thanks very much for the offer, it is appreciated.

  1. 1 Congenial communication « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings Trackback on 30/03/2011 at 10:53 pm
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