Inspired by Scott's excellent post "Confusing Criticism with Bullying" as well as a vigorous discussion of same on Facebook, herewith are some thoughts on how to criticize others.
Back story: Jeffrey Beall is a librarian who has for many years kept tabs on "predatory" (dubious) open access publishers. Somewhere along the way this useful service morphed into an ugly and unmoored critique of open access publishing more generally. People have noticed, and fierce resistance has commenced. Once a useful and diligent beacon, Beall has since become a pariah. He does not like this, and now claims to have been "bullied" for offering heterodox views.
Enter Scott: "By using the highly charged word 'bullied,' Beall seeks to pull attention away from the content of [Walt] Crawford's critiques to his own subjective sensitivities. If Crawford is being a bully, then right-thinking people need to come to Beall's defense, not because he's right on the merits of the critique, but because bullying is bad. By treating the critiques as if they were an ad hominem attack, Beall attempts to deflect attention from the substantive issues. Make no mistake -- Crawford's criticism was strong and in-depth and surely must have stung. But it was also rigorous and well-sourced. Harsh, perhaps, but scarcely 'bullying.'"
I agree. The high probability is that Beall does not wish to deal with tough-but-fair criticism, and has played the bully card as a way to avoid doing so.
Then again--we can never know what goes on in the mind of another. However irrational, there is a chance that Beall's feelings are genuine.
Much of the Facebook discussion this evening proferred (either implicitly or explicitly) an either/or binary. If we give air time to Beall's claim of bullying this also provides cover for his specious views. Best to give no quarter, to call garbage what it is.
Truth is more important than kindness. It's time to do some righteous calling out.
My friends, there is no either/or. In this case, acknowledging Beall's claim of bullying works regardless of whether that claim is strategic or sincere. If strategic, it disarms him. If sincere, it affirms him as a person without in any way affirming his ideas.
Acknowledge his stated viewpoint about how the conversation affected him personally, and then get on with the business of criticizing his ideas. That is how to criticize.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, as marriage equality has blessedly swept the land. County clerks and judges are rebelling in certain places, abdicating their public duties in the service of personal religion. Is this wrong and unlawful? Absolutely. It's every bit as wrongheaded as Beall's spurious (and curious) critique of open access.
But aha -- the resisters to gay marriage feel bullied too. A secular society has redefined marriage and is now telling them what to do. That's textbook bullying, by some lights.
Is this specious? Sure. A cynical attempt to shift attention? Probably. But perhaps a genuinely held view? For some people, most definitely.
In any case, the best thing to do is to affirm that this is how people feel while giving no quarter to their underlying argument. Truth need not take a back seat to kindness, and vice versa.