I appeared on Channel 4 News on Friday, debating the value of Twitter with Baroness Susan Greenfield. The starting point for the discussion was a comment from one of Twitter’s founders, Biz Stone, who told a conference in Canada that excessive use of the social networking site “sounds unhealthy”.
In The Geek Manifesto, I argue that Twitter (and other social networking sites) have proved hugely valuable in bringing together groups of people who care about science, allowing them to campaign on issues such as libel reform, research funding, and science advice to government.
Susan, as you probably know, takes a different view. To her, computer culture in general, and Twitter in particular, is threatening to rewire our brains — perhaps even heralding “a world without physical relationships”.
As others, such as Dorothy Bishop and Ben Goldacre, have pointed out, Susan has never actually published any data that might support this bold claim. She’s never even, so far as I can tell, advanced a clear hypothesis that someone else might plausibly research.
I called her on this in the Channel 4 interview. She accused me of making an ad hominem argument.
I don’t know about you, but to me, asking a scientist to show us her data is the very antithesis of an ad hominem argument.