An appeal to the moderators 26 October 2004
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James I Madigan,
student, MS nutrition
New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA

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Re: An appeal to the moderators

I note in the conditions of this forum that the BMJ stipulates that it will not post responses which are libellous or gratuitously rude. Having read quite a few of the responses here, I have not read a single “HIV establishment” supporting response that did not contain blatant insults to the “dissenting” poster they were responding to. Insults range from snide ridicule to calling people liars and fools, and even as I recall, insinuating that they are killers. Even relatively mild examples like the use of words like “laughable” or “don’t seem to understand what they are reading” etc are unnecessary and inflammatory. Conversely I have not seen any such insults in responses from dissenters, though I have not read anywhere near all of the 600-odd pages of responses. With due respect, it seems a pity to me that the BMJ is so lenient in its interpretation of its own rules. I would not be at all surprised if this page were one of the most visited on the whole BMJ website, but in any case it can’t be very good for its image for the public to see the offensive tone of these posts.

More importantly, such insults have a very bad effect on scientific discourse, tending to put those attacked on the defensive and to intimidate participants about making a single mistake or saying anything that will support the position of the “other side”, and to create hostility. A true scientific debate is objective and problem solving, and definitely not a competition between two “sides”. Scientists (as I’m sure you know but we should never stop reminding ourselves) should only take the side of the truth, and put that ahead of their egos, their incomes or their pet theories. Participants should not insult each other when mistakes are (claimed to have been) made, but merely point them out as they see them so as to work towards clarification and the continued improvement of our modelling of the phenomena. I can’t help suspecting that the hecklers are deliberately trying to degrade the discourse, so as to make it less objective and scientific and to cloud the issues. Therefore I would suggest (very presumptiously as a new poster) to the moderators that it would improve the discussion to disallow responses which employ personal attacks, in accordance with the stated and very sensible rules. Rejected responses can easily be edited and resubmitted.

End of sermon.

Competing interests: None declared