A few days back the Uni communications office asked if I'd be willing to chair a google hangout panel discussion. Subject: the chemistry of fluoride. I'm always interested in trying new things, so I said yes, and yesterday we had our hangout and this is the result:
It was an interesting experience and – from my perspective anyway – quite hard work (keeping track of who wanted to speak, & so on). People submitted questions, via the event's Facebook page & on twitter (which I still haven't delved into; sorry, Kimberley!), & so while it wasn't exactly a dialogue it was more than a one-sided presentation. My colleagues seemed to enjoy the session, several participants thanked us afterwards for running the session, & for a while it seemed that we might get more of that wider discussion that we haven't managed to achieve on other FB pages devoted to the subject of fluoridation.
But then things started to go downhill, in that the all-too-common name-calling and claims that those in favour of fluoridation have been bought, started cropping up. I found it all really frustrating & in the end, posted this in response to one comment:
I'd like to address this in a general way. I thought one of the positives that came from yesterday's event was the opportunity for dialogue – something that was emphasised by Carrie when she said that with any contentious issue, we'll only ever get movement when people talk *with* each other rather than at cross purposes. As someone involved with science communication this is something I strongly agree with, and I'm also interested in understanding why the process goes off the rails. So I'd appreciate your considered opinion on what I'm about to say.
First up, I know you & I hold quite different opinions on this particular issue. I fully respect your right to hold your opinions, even though I don't necessarily agree with all of them. What I can't understand (& I'll get in quickly & say, call me naive if you like 🙂 ) is the tendency for many folks – in this case on the strongly anti-F side of the spectrum – to pretty quickly label those with opposing views as being paid to hold them. Its not something I've ever attributed to those I might be arguing with, nor do I believe it applies to those people I work with here in the Faculty.
The other thing is, I think we agree that yesterday's event was a good one, and that it would useful to see more like it. It's actually quite hard to get people to commit to doing things like this, but I think these events are an important part of improving engagement between science and the public. (It's why I ran Cafe Scientifique in Hamilton for a number of years.) So I'm concerned when people who put their hands up to speak are subsequently 'targeted' in some way, because I know it's going to made it harder to set up similar events. And that would be a real pity.