Tone Deaf

In my field of psychological science there have been many discussions the past few years on the way an argument is expressed, its tone. A common theme is the general desire for academic discussions to be positive and respectful, and not mean and antagonistic. With the release of Susan Fiske’s commentary on the state of scientific communication (see a detailed discussion of the commentary in the context of other developments in the field the past decade here), the discussion of “tone” has heated up again. This is particularly true for the Facebook discussion group “PsychMap” where the tone of communication is closely monitored.

The following of course is simply my own opinion, and I respect that others disagree with this opinion, but I do not really care that much about the tone of an argument. A person can offer up a positive, or neutral, argument and be full of shit, or not. A person can offer up a negative, sarcastic, even rude argument and be on the mark, or not. If you have sat through a few faculty meetings  you will know exactly what I mean. Personally, I do my best (and sometimes my best is not good enough, to be honest) to focus on the argument being presented and not on how the argument is presented. I can only control (a) how I decide to put forward my own arguments (asshole or angel, or somewhere in between), and (b) how I respond to others’ arguments. In my opinion the tone of argument reflects more on the person delivering the argument than on the target of the argument. I accept that if I choose to deliver my arguments in a manner most of my colleagues would perceive as obnoxious and combative that I may not be taken so seriously by these colleagues for very long. I personally therefore choose to be positive, or at least direct in a fairly neutral manner, with the majority of my arguments (hopefully as reflected in my blog posts the past year and a half, and in my papers on meta-scientific issues). I therefore prefer discussions not to be officially moderated, and to let people own the words they choose to use to present their views. The field of academic psychology is literally a community of highly educated individuals that are smart enough to know the difference between shit and Shinola; we can figure out if an argument, however presented, has substance or not.

And for what it’s worth, it seems to me that the majority of discussions I am privy to in private and on social media are positive and constructive in tone. That is nice.


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