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Beware scientists wielding red pens

By inviting scientists to take their 'red pens to the Internet' and grade online sources of science reporting, Phil Williamson implies that science is the primary and final voice in public discussion (Nature 540, 171; 2016). This disregards other ways in which people make sense of their lives through political debate, social context, personal connections or beliefs (see also D. Sarewitz Nature 522, 413–414; 2015). It stems from the naive myth of science as a disinterested producer of neutral truths.

Science has a delicate relationship with society. Both have the right to speak and both shape one another — for better or worse. Governance and government rely increasingly on a science that is embedded in socio-political arenas populated by scientists, policymakers and citizens, among others. Not every expertise is equally credible, but a democratic society should allow each one to have a voice.

To discredit them online may feel like defending the honour and public status of science, but it is a form of censorship. Science cannot impose its truths through power play — it must convince through symmetrical and open conversation.

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Correspondence to Bart Penders.

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Penders, B. Beware scientists wielding red pens. Nature 541, 289 (2017).

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