Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Censorship

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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bart Penders.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Penders, B. Beware scientists wielding red pens. Nature 541, 289 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/541289d

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/541289d

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing