Social media and researcher’s responsibility: Case Peterson

Recent hustle behind Jordan Peterson’s figure in social media opens up floor for discussion on researchers’ role in public discussion and scientific facts as a background of arguments.

Social and digital media have become such essential part of our lives that even more traditionally oriented academics are more and more present in these spaces. Ever since I saw Jordan B. Peterson’s interview on Channel 4 by Cathy Newman the whole thing has bugged me. The interview together with Peterson’s colorful history with media inspired a huge amount of discussion that is probably going to continue even though the biggest buzz seems to have calmed down. Partly because of the interview, Peterson and his book 12 Rules for Life have become increasingly known. One of the reasons of the popularity is also Peterson’s preference to represent himself as a truth-speaker and someone who dares to disagree aloud in this so very politically correct world. He has his grounds for disagreeing: Peterson is a psychologist also with bachelor’s degree on political science and years of clinical experience with patients.

I will not take a stand here to Peterson’s views per se since the main issue of this text is whether it is even possible to achieve truth in political issues. Questioning aloud whether it is possible to be right in the age of alternative facts and fierce political discussion of science’s role in today’s societies might sound a bit awkward, but it is essential to remember that there are different levels of debates – and there is not always need to end them in a win-lose or win-win situation. Sometimes the main function can be just sharing knowledge to each other, even when the premises for the discussion differ greatly between the participants. Within the heated conversations we should remember that the Enlightenment thinkers never considered people to be rational – rationality is just revolutionary ideal we have tried to reach ever since. Therefore, disagreements are not just possible but legitimate part of political and scientific discussions.

Although Peterson’s calm and persistent way of constructing and representing his arguments is very likeable, I would like to point out, humbly and agreeably, that easy truths and solid facts are rarely if ever achievable. It all comes to that how much of your existence you are willing to question, which can be intriguing, fun – and drive you mad. Humanity’s scientific research is still, hopefully, in the beginning. This does not mean throwing our scientific legacy to rubbish bin. But it does mean constant questioning and re-evaluation of our thoughts since we do not want to fall to the trap of arrogance again – we do not know everything but we most certainly can aim for that. Let us just keep the discussion going while remembering to base our personal views as wide and carefully considered sophisticated opinions as possible.

Lastly, universities as institutions and questions of validity are always questions of power. Peterson, as a private individual, represents his own values but his statements are also colored and underlined by the power that lies within his status. It matters  what he says and it should be questioned. I personally value greatly the conversation itself while admitting my views are harshly colored by educational sciences, history of ideologies and belief in constant development of thinking. It all leads me to be convinced “truth-speakers” do simply not exist since the truth is still something yet to achieve. To me it seems there are more or less promising paths towards it and all we can do mean time is trying to find out which ones are the best paths to follow – for now.

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