“The problem with free speech is that it’s hard, and self-censorship is the path of least resistance. But once you learn to keep yourself from voicing unwelcome thoughts, you forget how to think them – how to think freely at all – and ideas perish at conception.” George Packer, p.20, The New Yorker April 13, 2015.
So, how to reduce self-censorship in science? A few ways: anyone writing or speaking about scientific opinions (theories, hypotheses, summaries of evidence) should:
- Avoid appealing to indicators of authority or status in reference to those scientific opinions. That means no "highly respected", "renowned", or "leader in his/her field".
- Avoid assigning scientists into in- and out-groups. It doesn't matter if the in-group is the "consensus" or the "anti-orthodoxy rebels" - anything that triggers belonging needs interferes with independent judgment. Anything that encourages an “us versus them” attitude impoverishes scientific discourse, because it makes it that much harder to speak up.
- Expunge the concept of “proof” in science, as proofs apply only to the domains of mathematics and logic.
- Assume a skeptical attitude. Skepticism means appreciating we may be wrong on many levels – not just the “facts”. We may be wrongly interpreting the facts, or not seeing them in the proper context, or misestimating their importance in relation to some other facts. There are so many ways we can be wrong – we need to remain alert to their possibilities. We need people around who alert us.