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The Community Wants to See Positive Change

Editor's note: This is a reply to “Scientists must resist cancel culture” by Krylov, Tanzman, Frenking, and Gill

To my personal surprise I learnt by reading the “Scientists must resist cancel culture” piece in the latest Nachrichten aus der Chemie (02/2022) that I, as well as many other scientists, members of GDCh and other sister societies, apparently belong to an “outrage mob” of “Twitter vigilantes”. While I can’t begin to understand why the Nachrichten aus der Chemie would decide to print this ridiculous article, and I have no interest in trying to correct all of the authors’ claims, I certainly have some thoughts on them and what they mean to me as a member of the GDCh:

1. The authors have managed to complain about cancel culture in at least three similar, self-referencing pieces in prominent chemistry outlets. This seems to directly contradict their claim about non-mainstream voices being silenced and cancelled by social media activists.

2. Everyone has a right to voice their opinions. They do not, however, have a right to voice their opinions and put out statements with made up and/or grossly outdated and hurtful viewpoints and expect not to be challenged on them. 

3. To describe Hudlický, who experienced the retraction of an Angewandte paper and a Special Issue in his honour being stopped, as “being cancelled” is laughable. Someone, who was obviously in a very privileged position to have these opportunities in the first place, has lost some of their privileges, he is not cancelled and expelled from academia. The same applies for Abbot, the second example the authors cite.

4. Misrepresenting the RSC’s guidelines with completely constructed examples suggesting “normal pH” might soon be banned because people could feel offended is bizarre. No one should have to engage with such obvious strawman arguments. 

It remains a mystery to me why GDCh/the Nachrichten editorial team would provide another platform for these nonsensical viewpoints, particularly without giving space to contrasting opinions and rebuttals. Was this plain oversight, a case of false balance, or click baiting? And what do we have to expect next time?

My biggest worry is that the editorial team decided to publish this because they assumed it would mirror the viewpoints held by their members, which, if actually the case, would make me feel rather out of place in this society. This feeling would not be completely new for me, but reminds me of last year, when the introduction of gender-sensitive language in the Nachrichten led to a several months of angry letters from members complaining about this very positive decision. These repeated incidents have not helped the GDCh’s reputation—nationally or internationally. As members we should really think about what we want this society to stand for, and if we want a progressive and inclusive community for all or one that is stuck in the memories and ways of the “good old times” for some only.

Part of our community wants to see positive change and has repeatedly voiced their unease about the publication of misogynistic, sexist and racist pieces in prominent chemistry journals. Giving unchallenged space to an article dismissing this not so small subset as an online mob of vigilantes certainly sends a message in this matter.

Simon Hammann, Erlangen

The author thanks Christof Jäger (Nottingham) for feedback and fruitful discussions of this letter.

Cancel culture

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