Anti-science forces love to pretend scientists are in conflict over things where there is overwhelming agreement, such as the safety of vaccines or humanity's contribution to climate change, and irresponsible media often laps this up. On the other hand, there are plenty of things scientists really do argue about, sometimes pretty aggressively, that are unknown to the wider public, or even many scientists in adjacent fields.
It's a common human trait that disagreements can get most heated between people who differ only slightly, rather than those at the opposite ends of a debate. Much as scientists aspire to pure rationality, it can apply to them as much as to a squabbling group of ancient revolutionaries.
The causes of this dissension can appear trivial or arcane to scientists in other fields, let alone to non-scientists. When squid biologist and science communicator Sarah McAnulty put a call out on Twitter for examples, she got a flood of responses. If you like battles that mean a lot to those involved, and look very minor to you, it’s time to open the popcorn.
Let the beef begin.
Aren’t Canadians supposed to be nice?
When we talk about discussions getting salty, most of us don't mean it literally.
Taxonomists get VERY passionate about the names of their subjects.
IFLScience favorite Jess Phoenix took the risk of dragging up an explosive old battleground.
Because scientists are human after all, this was of course followed by people making jokes.
However, it's good to know some fields manage to not descend to name-calling.
Just as the Earth was emerging from the last Ice Age, temperatures plunged back down again, an event known as the Younger Dryas. It's usually attributed to melting glaciers temporarily turning off ocean currents like the Gulf Stream – a theory that inspired the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. However, it appears that's not enough for paleoclimatologists, they need specifics, and damn anyone who doesn't agree on what those are.
Many scientists are committed to their positions, but don't really enjoy the argy-bargy, and some try to accommodate.
It's not just scientists, of course, someone dug out this classic tale of conflict among literary academics.
Nevertheless. throughout science, and perhaps throughout academia, one field is notorious for the bitterness of its internal debates and quite a few people indicated they considered this reputation well deserved.
There's a serious point to all this as well. When they are not claiming controversy and "debate" that doesn’t exist, global warming deniers and anti-vaxxers often accuse scientists of engaging in group-think, suggesting they’re afraid to challenge the dominant narrative. It's a claim that’s laughable to anyone who knows many scientists. When a good proportion of the scientific community goes to so much effort to promote their position on relatively minor items like these above, it's beyond imagining that if someone really had found genuine evidence on really important topics they would bury it for the sake of faculty harmony.