Selling Hope

Last summer, George Monbiot wrote:

If we had set out to alienate and antagonise the people we've been trying to reach, we could scarcely have done it better. This is how I feel, looking back on the past few decades of environmental campaigning, including my own...

Experimental work suggests that when fears are whipped up, they trigger an instinctive survival response. You suppress your concern for other people and focus on your own interests... Terrify the living daylights out of people, and they will protect themselves at the expense of others...

I think a lot of advocates for open science and better scientific computing practices are making the same mistake. We frighten people with talk of results that aren't reproducible and papers that have been retracted, when we should be talking about all the new science people could do if they weren't spending hours trying to find the right version of a collaborator's Python script and get it to run on their machine.

So I'm going to stop. I'm not going to include scare stories about computational errors and retractions in my talks any more. Instead, I'm going to talk about what people can do when they know how to loop over data files in the shell, how to share work with colleagues through GitHub, how to write an R script that they can still understand next week, and how to manage nulls in their data. I'm going to talk about the mysteries we can unlock and the fun we can have, because it's better to inspire than to frighten.

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