When I was a candidate to be U.S. Representative, I personally talked to about two thousand people about fixing Daylight Saving Time. The response was overwhelming: People absolutely want to #LockTheClock and stop changing the clock twice a year.
Most people just said they wanted it fixed, and that was the end of the conversation. Some would ask which time zone we should lock into, but prefaced it with some version of I do not really care which one, just stop the changes!
A few had opinions about which one we should lock into, and among those it was easily 2-1 in favor of locking into the time we currently use in the summer.
On Twitter, however, it would seem to be the opposite. There is a small but surprisingly harsh group of Twitter users who attack me and others for not agreeing with them that we should stick with the winter time, Standard Time, year round. (Of course, it is Twitter, so there is a pretty good chance that most of those supposed “people” are actually just one person with a bunch of accounts.)
And then there are the circadian sleep scientists.
These are, I’m pretty sure, real people operating under their own real names. But what has been surprising and frankly disappointing is how they have behaved on Twitter. I would think that they would maintain the same high standards that are required for their academic publishing in a public forum, but a few of them have been shockingly combative, tone-deaf to legitimate public views, dismissive of other academic specialties and in some cases intellectually dishonest in how they present other scientists’ work.
The most recent example of that came in this tweet:
When I first saw that I was fascinated, and was looking forward to adding a new paper to my research page. The anonymous trolls on Twitter accuse me of being an advocate only for Permanent DST, but that has never been the case. I have always included research supporting both sides on my research page.
I was mildly surprised that there wasn’t a link to the study, but I was able to find it pretty quickly.
Then I read the study.
It turns out, I had seen that study before, and I had even linked to it from that research page. The reason I didn’t recognize it from the tweet is that the study says the exact opposite of what that tweet says.
The study itself is very clear on a couple of key points:
- The gradual increase in evening crashes after the change to DST is directly related to an increase in the number of trips. When it is light out, people go out more, and drive more miles. More miles driven=more crashes. Seems pretty clear.
- Given all the data, the researchers determined clearly that from the perspective of traffic safety, Permanent DST is the safest choice of the available options.
So, I replied to the tweet, pointing that out. The scientist who wrote that tweet did not back down and in fact tried to justify the original tweet by casting blame on the authors of the original paper for not including her point of view:
that is a common theme of DST papers. they are only looking at the acute change. They ignore the neurocognitive risks of dst including worse judgement, alertness, reaction time, risk taking that affect the chronic risk of being on dst
I replied that a point of view like that is legitimate, but only if she would have pointed out that her opinion is the opposite of the authors of the study, or if she at least had linked to that study so people could decide for themselves.
In a private message to her, I asked her this hypothetical:
Imagine that someone used a graphic from one of your papers, and mentioned you by name, but didn’t link to the study and said that your work supports the opposite of your conclusion. You would be justifiably livid. Why is it OK for you to do that to others?
It is not OK. If I did something like that I’d get a new one ripped for me by those who love to spew hate on Twitter, and for once they would have a point.
In the past I have asked other sleep scientists about the distasteful tactics being used on Twitter by people who agree with them about permanent Standard Time. A few have agreed with me privately, but are afraid to say anything publicly lest they become the target for online attacks.
Just to be absolutely clear because my position gets so twisted: I am like most people, I don’t really care that much which way we Lock the Clock, I just want the changes to stop. I want to get that done, and to do that I support whatever bills do that, especially the ones that have a chance of passing. I have personally and publicly advocated for some states, especially those on the western edge of their time zone, to consider Standard Time permanently, and been rebuffed every time.
Given that the momentum is so clearly moving in that direction, I would think that those who want Permanent Standard Time would want to work with lawmakers instead of working against all the current bills and laws. If they would work with them then they’d have a chance to make sure that there is a one-year implementation stage. If they were smart, they would also try to work with the federal lawmakers to ensure that the law is written in a way that states can, if they want, easily switch to permanent Standard Time after the new law takes effect. If the horrible things happen in ST that they say will happen, it will become clear to all and it will be an easy sell to convince lawmakers and the public that permanent ST is better.
It may take a couple of years to get that to happen, but we’ve been stuck with this current rotten system on and off for more than 100 years, so a year or two of Permanent DST is a small price to pay to actually make progress.
Time for scientists to be smart about science AND about how to get things done. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
So, here is my bottom line:
To Dr. Johnson: Delete that tweet. It’s not a good look for you to use someone else’s research deceptively. If you want to make the case that it is time zone misalignment, and not increased traffic, that causes an increase in traffic crashes, you can do that, but be honest about the underlying research, or at the very least provide a link to it.
To circadian sleep scientists in general: Embracing some ambiguity and giving respect to other scientific disciplines and public opinion does not weaken your point of view, it strengthens it. Your current tactics clearly are not working, so maybe try to listen first and start from a position of wanting to learn more rather than announcing that you have the only opinion that should be listened to. Then you will be a part of the conversation.
To the permanent Standard Time people of Twitter: I ask you all the question that I asked one guy who attacked me recently: “Do you talk this way in real life? I'm just imagining us talking at a bar and you calling me a liar with no evidence and then saying "Good day" as if that settled it.” Tweeting invective may make your tweets more popular with the cabal of fake Twitter accounts who are so adamant that permanent Standard Time is the only possible solution, but it does not reflect well on you as people. I am a real flesh and blood person, so I hope that you will imagine that you are sitting next to me in a coffee house having a discussion. If you are tempted to tweet something that you wouldn’t say in person, then maybe it would be a good idea not to tweet it.