A recent letter in Nature draws attention to a serious (?) problem in modern society; namely, the persecution of junior scientists by older scientists who ask them tough questions. Anand Kumar Sharma warns us: "Don’t belittle junior researchers in meetings". Here's what he says, ...
The most interesting part of a scientific seminar, colloquium or conference for me is the question and answer session. However, I find it upsetting to witness the unnecessarily hard time that is increasingly given to junior presenters at such meetings. As inquisitive scientists, we do not have the right to undermine or denigrate the efforts of fellow researchers — even when their reply is unconvincing.I wasn't going to comment on this but Neuroskeptic blogged about it and supported the idea that junior scientists need special protection when they present their work at meetings and conferences [Hostile Questions at Scientific Meetings]. He says,
It is our responsibility to nurture upcoming researchers. Firing at a speaker from the front row is unlikely to enhance discussions. In my experience, it is more productive to offer positive queries and suggestions, and save negative feedback for more-private settings.
In my view, a conference is not a place to be making critical comments. For one thing, it is very difficult to critically appraise a conference presentation, because they don’t provide the full details of the study. It is also unlikely that putting a presenter on the spot with a hard question is going to elicit a useful answer. It’s better to wait until the paper is published, and then critique that, giving the authors time to respond properly.I recognize that there are abuses from time to time but I take the opposite position. I don't think there's enough harsh criticism at scientific meetings. I think that too many scientists get away with making ridiculous claims that go unchallenged out of politeness and political correctness. I think we need MORE hostile questions not fewer. Why should a scientist be allowed to make stupid statements at a conference presentation on the grounds that they can't be criticized because the work isn't published?
When I was younger—yes, that's me on the left—I would have been insulted to be told that I was being treated as a child, not an equal, by my senior colleagues.