Archive for the 'Blogospheric science' category

Pub-Style Science: Is a scientist without philosophy like a fish without a bicycle?

There will be a Pub-Style Science discussion of why scientists might want to think about epistemology in particular and (perhaps) philosophy more generally on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, starting 9 PM EDT/6 PM PDT. You can watch the hashtag #pubscience for more details (including the link that will let you watch the Google Hangout once it's hanging out).

I've heard it said that an understanding of philosophy of science is about as useful to a scientist as a hydrodynamics textbook would be to a fish. Indeed, I've heard it said that philosophy of science is worse than useless to a scientist -- that it a malign influence on one's ability to do science.

I'm disinclined to believe these rejections of the value of philosophy for the scientific practitioner. Then again, I left a path as a scientific practitioner to become a philosopher. You do the math.

Anyways, in advance of the discussion Tuesday night, I thought I'd point you toward a couple ancient posts I wrote on philosophy of science and science, plus some other things worth reading before the conversation:

A branch of learning that 'need not be learned'?: In which I examine a claim by scientist, Nobel Laureate, and notorious pre-internet troll Sir Peter Medawar that "scientific methodology" (which might be the picture delivered by philosophy of science) "need not be taught or, if taught, need not be learned".

Does writing off philosophy of science cost the scientists anything?: In which I argue that philosophy of science may be useful to scientific practitioners who want to communicate productively with people outside their narrow scientific disciplines.

You might find the comment threads on both of those posts interesting (depending on your tolerance for interlocutors committed to talking past each other).

You should also read Michael Tomasson's post setting the stage for Tuesday's discussion.

On the question of whether postmodern strands of philosophy might have a particularly malign impact on one's understanding of science, I recommend this Storify'd conversation.

No matter what we end up deciding, I expect it will be an interesting conversation.

4 responses so far

Civility, respect, and the project of sharing a world.

In recent days, this corner of the blogosphere has come back to the question of what constitutes civil engagement online (and, perhaps, offline).

If you've not being keeping up with the events that spurred this iteration of the conversation, you might want to read this, this, this, this, and this as background. However, believe me when I say the discussion in this space -- in this post -- is about the broader issue, and that you are not invited to weigh in here on behalf of your "team" in the recent events.

I'm someone who "does" ethics for a living, and my sense is that at its most basic level, ethics is a matter of sharing a world with other people.

Sometimes that world is one where we're sharing physical space, close enough to look each other in the eye or punch each other on the arm. Other times, the world in question is a virtual space in which we interact primarily by way of words on a screen.

Either way, whether sounds or strings of characters, the words we use are connected to ideas, and the people sending out or taking up those words are humans with their own interests, histories, social environments, grasp of the language, powers of empathy. These humans have privileged access to their own thoughts, intentions, and emotions, but not to those of the others with whom they're sharing a world. The words passed back and forth are part of how a human might get some (necessarily incomplete) information about what's going on in other humans' heads.

Conversation, in other words, is a hugely important tool for us in the project of sharing a world. So, arguably, figuring out what's happening when our conversations derail could help us do a better job of sharing that world. Continue Reading »

11 responses so far

A meditation on the expectation of trust.

Jan 05 2014 Published by under Blogospheric science, Personal

You should trust me.

Sure, when the first public word of my bad behavior came out, I claimed the account used theatrical language to make it sound worse than it was and flat-out lied to you that I had never ever engaged in any such bad behavior with anyone else.

But you should trust me.

Yes, I used the cover of friendship, your loyalty and my apparent track record of not-misbehaving with hundreds of women (including you!), of being a good guy except for one single lapse of judgment (which I swore was not as bad as it sounded, because that woman who you didn't know was trying to take me down), to ask you privately to convince a couple other people that I was still a good guy. I guess it was awkward when you discovered I'd split up the list of people who needed convincing and asked other people to do this too? And when you discovered that I described the task with one of the people I assigned to you as "getting her to put down the pitchfork". In retrospect, that probably seemed kind of manipulative of me.

But you should trust me, I totally get how what I did was wrong, and I won't do it again.

Sure, I haven't actually acknowledged that lying to you and trying to manipulate you to protect my reputation and relationships was a bad thing to do. I haven't acknowledged that it harmed you. I haven't said sorry.

But you should trust that I am sorry and that I won't do it again. I shouldn't need to say it.

Yes, it turns out I was also actively putting out disinformation about just how much of the diversity at meetings and workshops in these circles was a direct result of my intervention. OK, I guess I should have suspected that after some of my lies to you started unraveling you'd do the legwork to uncover these lies, too. But I really am a champion of diversity, and the community really would do worse with diversity without my active involvement in it.

You should trust me on that.

And sure, after an extremely brief hiatus from the spaces where I damaged relationships and burned trust, I never clearly and publicly acknowledged the harms I did beyond to those three named women. But trust me, even though I haven't pointed to these injuries, I accept that I caused them, I regret that harm, and I won't do it again.

You shouldn't need an explicit apology to trust me on that.

Trust that I am listening and learning, and that if any of my trusted friends had told me I was messing up and hurting people or community -- even if they had told me it was too soon to try to come back, or that I hadn't done enough to repair the harms I had done or to communicate that I really comprehend those harms -- even if what they told me didn't match what I wanted to hear, trust that I would take their advice very seriously rather than rushing forward, centering my own redemption narrative, and doing further harm.

You should trust me.

And really, how can you question that I understand the size and shape of the harm I've done? Sure, I've let commenters on my blog post characterize distrust of me as wrong, as cruelly refusing to let me move on, as a public flogging, a hanging, a witch-hunt. Sure, I haven't challenged those characterizations at all. But still, you should trust that I understand that I can't demand anyone's forgiveness -- that I'm not entitled to anyone's trust.

Because I really am listening. I really do get it. I really am a good guy.

You should trust me.

13 responses so far

Guest Post: Missteps on the road back.

This is a guest post from Martin Robbins, who writes about science and other interesting things for The Guardian, Vice and New Statesman.

* * * * *

The first time I ever met Bora Zivkovic, we talked about sexual harassment. We were in Dublin to take part in a panel at ESOF 2012, and I found him beforehand catching some air outside. The issue of harassment policies at TAM and other conferences was high on the agenda, and he explained to me that he felt a similar policy was unnecessary at ScienceOnline, though they’d probably stick one in to ‘keep people happy’. Bora argued that maintaining a high proportion of women at events was more likely to lead to a safe environment than any policy. It seemed like reasonable logic at the time.

During the panel, I took this photograph. As you can see from the comments, the #IHuggedBora meme was in full swing. If I’m honest I found his fixation on hugging everybody – even showing us pictures of previous hugs on his phone - a little odd in person, but nobody seemed to mind. It was July 2012, the same month that Bora told Kathleen Raven that he wanted to have sex with her, a few weeks before he told Monica Byrne that he was a ‘very sexual person’, and two years after he began his pursuit of Hannah Waters.

In October, these stories and others came to light. Bora was forced to resign from his positions at Scientific American and ScienceOnline, and he removed himself from public discourse. On January 1st he returned to the blogosphere - supported by his friend and ScienceOnline cofounder Anton Zuiker – with the intention of rebuilding his reputation and career.

In the rest of this post I intend to explain why I’m deeply unhappy with the manner of Bora’s departure and return. Along the way I will fisk Zuiker and Bora’s posts, and Bora’s later addendum, and explain why Bora’s apology is not just insufficient, but concerning to me. Then I’m going to try to answer Bora’s question, about what he needs to do next.

I’m going to do all of this without any personal anecdotes about brewing with root vegetables, and in considerably less than 5,500 words. Continue Reading »

127 responses so far

Good strategies and bad strategies for furthering your cause.

Let's say you're a non-profit organization "dedicated to building a global community who will speak up for the ocean."

Maybe part of your strategy to make this happen is to aggregate relevant news about the ocean environment and the impacts of human activity upon it on your website.

A quick and dirty way to do this might be to scrape content from other websites.

However, the people who generated that content might object to their copyright being violated by your quick technological solution.

Given that the people writing the stories that describe the ocean environment and the impacts of human activity upon it (whether in words or in pictures) might already be sympathetic to your organizational goals, a better strategy might be to respect their copyright (and, more broadly, their intellectual and creative labor). Instead of scraping their content, and burying attribution to the actual authors or artists at the very end of the post, it might be better to quote a paragraph, link prominently to the source, seek explicit permission for use, and cultivate a network of relationships with scientists and blog readers.

It takes relatively little to get the people blogging about science (and the audiences reading them) on your side. However, being too lazy or careless to respect their work is likely to communicate that you're running one of those non-profits that plays fast and loose with important things when it suits you. Maybe those important things are proper attribution, maybe those important things are sound scientific research. If you're cutting one kind of corner, what are the odds that you're willing to cut another kind?

Don't do that. In a crowded field of nonprofits, this kind of careless behavior will make you stand out in the wrong way.

2 responses so far

DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students 2013: let's dedicate December to helping public school classrooms.

Since 2006, science bloggers have been working with DonorsChoose.org and our readers to help public school students and teachers get the resources they need to make learning come alive.

Chances are you care about science, or education, or both. Probably you're the kind of person who thinks that solid -- and engaging -- math and science education is an important resource for kids to have as they hurtle into the future and face the challenges of our modern world.

It's a resource that's getting squeezed by tight public school budgets. But as 2013 draws to a close, I invite you to do something small that can have an immediate impact.

DonorsChoose is a site where public school teachers from around the U.S. submit requests for specific needs in their classrooms — from books to science kits, overhead projectors to notebook paper, computer software to field trips — that they can’t meet with the funds they get from their schools (or from donations from their students’ families). Then donors choose which projects they’d like to fund and then kick in the money, whether it’s a little or a lot, to help a proposal become a reality.

Over the last several years, bloggers have rallied their readers to contribute what they can to help fund classroom proposals through DonorsChoose, especially proposals for projects around math and science, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, funding hundreds of classroom projects, and impacting thousands of students.

Which is great. But there are a whole lot of classrooms out there that still need help.

To create the scientifically literate world we want to live in, let’s help give these kids -- our future scientists, doctors, teachers, decision-makers, care-providers, and neighbors -- the education they deserve.

One classroom project at a time, we can make things better for these kids. Joining forces with each other people, even small contributions can make a big difference.

How to join in the fun with a challenge of your own:

1. Go to donorschoose.org

Scroll to the bottom of the page. In the second column of links from the left, right under Campaigns, click Create a registry.

2. You'll find yourself on a page that gives you several options for what kind of Giving Page you'd like to create. Click the one that says "Science Bloggers for Students".

3. Name your challenge, add a personal message if you like, and choose a "Giving Group" from the pull-down menu. Specify the kind of classroom projects you'd like to appear on your Giving Page. (If you'd rather hand-pick projects for your Giving Page, you can do that after you've saved your Giving Page customizations -- instructions are under #3 on the "Customize Your Giving Page" page.)

4. Share your Giving Page -- on your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, wherever! Let people know about the projects you'd like to help fund, and put your dollars (and networks of information sharing) together to make it happen. Let me know you've mounted a challenge -- and give me the link to your Giving Page -- and I will publicize it here, and on Twitter, and on Facebook!

How to help as a donor:



Follow the links to your chosen blogger’s challenge on the DonorsChoose website.

Pick a project from the slate the blogger has selected. Or more than one project, if you just can’t choose. (Or, if you really can’t choose, just go with the “Give to the most urgent project” option at the top of the page.)

Donate.

Even if you can’t make a donation, you can still help! 

Spread the word about these challenges using web 2.0 social media modalities. Link your favorite blogger’s challenge page on your MySpace page, or put up a link on Facebook, or FriendFeed, or LiveJournal (or Friendster, or Xanga, or …). Tweet about it on Twitter (with the #scibloggers4students hashtag). Share it on Google +. Sharing your enthusiasm for this cause may inspire some of your contacts who do have a little money to get involved and give.

Here’s the permalink to my giving page.

Thanks in advance for your generosity.

No responses yet

An open letter to men scared that women will call out their behavior publicly.

Hey guys,

It's come to my attention that some of you are feeling kind of uncomfortable at the possibility that women in your life -- in your community, in your trusted circle of friends -- might call you out in the event that you engage in behavior that hurts them or someone they care about. Some of you have been telling me that you're especially worried that you'll be called out in front of other people, labeled persuasively as a bad guy, and that this will destroy your good name, your career prospects, your happiness.

I don't doubt that you are anxious here. So, I have a few questions about how you'd like us to proceed.

First, can you provide assurances that, when women bring criticisms of your behavior to you privately, you will take those critiques seriously and change your behavior accordingly?

If so -- and if you make this commitment public, so the women in your world know about it -- you should be fine! You'll address the harm you are doing right away, and everyone will move on.

In the (I'm sure rare or non-existent) event that you don't respond to privately raised critique of your harmful behavior in a way that addresses the harm, can you provide assurances that you will respond promptly and constructively to a gently worded public critique?

If so, you should be fine! You'll address the harm you are doing promptly, and everyone will move on.

In the (purely hypothetical) event that you don't respond to a gently worded public critique of your harmful behavior in a way that addresses the harm, how many free passes on your harmful behavior do you believe you are entitled to?

Give us the number -- is it two? five? ten? -- so we know the point at which you recognize that you deserve a critique that is not private and not gently worded.

Yes, having your behavior criticized makes you feel defensive. We know this. As fellow human beings, we have those feelings, too.

But if you are defaulting to the position that it's never OK for the women in your life to tell you when your behavior is harming them, never OK for them to expect you to address those harms, you know what? The women in your life will be defending themselves against you.

They will not trust you. They will not see your good-guy status shining through your actual behavior. When you proclaim yourself an ally, your best-case reaction will be eye-rolls.

It does not feel good to be told your behavior is hurting others. But it does not feel good for others to be hurt by your behavior.

Prioritizing your own hurt feelings over growth is a sure way never to be trusted as an ally by anyone paying attention.

And we are paying attention. For our own well being, we have to.

Sincerely,

Dr. Free-Ride

_____

Related reading:

On being an ally and being called out on your privilege

On the Fixed State Ally Model vs. Process Model Ally Work

On allies.

On the labor involved in being part of a community.

11 responses so far

I have awesome friends.

Not to brag (at least, not more than I should), but my friends are pretty great.

When I checked my mail at work today, I found an envelope that contained this note:

Note with text: "Sorry the blogosphere is rough. : (   Audrey."

and these gloves:

Gloves with letters on the fingers that spell FEMINIST.

And I gave thanks for having friends who understand that, some days, trying to get the world into better shape is a slog, but who remind me that it is work worth doing, and who show me (and many, many others) kindness to help me (and the others) find the strength to get the next incremental piece of the job done.

Thank you, Audrey. You rock!

3 responses so far

#ripplesofdoubt and harassment's collateral damage.

For context, in the event that you want or need it, read my last post, and Hannah's, and Kathleen's, and Erin's. (If you want a dash of irony with your context, read this post I wrote after Bora solicited my support for Kathleen and Erin in the wake of some casual sexism in a professional context.)

Then read Karen's #ripplesofdoubt Storify.

This post is about some of my ripples of doubt.

I am not trolling for reassurance -- I recognize that these doubts are not entirely rational. But I'm presenting a peek at what's going on inside my head right now so that you can get a sense of why sexual harassment (among other instances of treating women in the community as not fully human, not full members of the community) is harmful even to those who are not the direct targets of that harassment.

This is also going to be more stream-of-consciousness than most of my posts. Things inside my head get kind of tangled.

* * * * *

Eight years ago, people who were not my students were just starting to find this blog. A big part of this was because Bora Zivkovic (who had loads of readers, was on lots of blogrolls, and had lots of blogospheric visibility) started regularly linking to my posts.

(Would anyone have found my blog if Bora hadn't promoted it? Did he promote it because it was actually good, or for some other reason?)

And then, I got invited to "sell out" and join ScienceBlogs at its initial launch. Which was exciting, because I was on a network with some very engaging (and very high-traffic) bloggers. I didn't kid myself that this meant I was better than the excellent bloggers I was reading who were blogging elsewhere, but it felt a little like an independent confirmation that my blog crossed some quality threshold. It felt good.

(But the process by which those blogs were selected for the initial Sb launch was opaque to me, and I got the sense later that some of that was shaped by blogospheric tastemakers like Bora -- maybe even by explicit advice from Bora. His judgment is feeling pretty suspect to me, so can I trust his judgment that my blog was quality?)

About a year later, Bora and Anton were planning the first North Carolina Science Blogging Conference, the ancestor of ScienceOnline. Bora invited me to be a keynote speaker. I had never been invited to be a keynote speaker anywhere before. I felt so validated and excited that I jumped up and down on my bed for about five minutes before emailing back to accept the invitation.

(Why was I invited to give a keynote? What real expertise did I have to share on science blogging and its larger significance? Bora and I had never met in real life at that point. I was still in my 30s, and my profile picture was more "flattering" than "accurate". Why did Bora invite me to give a keynote?)

At ScienceBlogs, somehow I developed a reputation as a "voice of reason" kind of sensible person, able to find middle ground where there was some, able to at least grok the impulse driving opposing sides of blogwars.

(In retrospect, I wonder what role Bora played in constructing that narrative. Did people listen to me because he flagged me as reasonable? Was there some ulterior motive for positioning me this way?)

I'm resisting a strong urge to scour my curriculum vitae for workshops and panels I have been on that Bora has also been on, or that I have good reason to believe I was invited to be part of on the basis of Bora's recommendation. Off the top of my head, I'm counting at least four.

(Was it Bora's professional reputation and influence that got me these invitations, rather than anything I had done on my own to demonstrate my own expertise? How on earth could I tell?)

My invitation to blog at Scientific American was definitely due to Bora. There were lots of murmurs at launch (and there continue to be today -- I've seen them on social media, posted literally today) that the way the blogs were selected was inappropriate-to-deeply-flawed.

(That's my blog they're judging as not belonging at Scientific American. It's not good enough to be there, but Bora chose it anyway. What was his game here?)

Bora never hit on me. Bora never veered into inappropriate topics of conversation with me. When we talked about blog network issues, Bora treated me very professionally. When we interacted as friends, he treated me cordially and never disrespected my boundaries.

(But that's not how he treated other women. How did I escape the inappropriate interactions that are coming to light now?)

I took Bora for a real friend -- not just a real friend, but one who grokked systemic gender bias, how important it was to listen to women's accounts of their own experiences, how people's boundaries should be respected. He didn't always get it right away, but he seemed committed to learning.

(While meanwhile, he was ignoring other women clearly asserting their boundaries, telling him to stop.)

He acted like he valued my friendship.

(Maybe he just valued my loyalty and that reputation I had as a reasonable voice in the blogosphere ...)

(Maybe he was using me as cover, a loyal friend who would deny, on the basis of her N=1 personal experience, that he could ever harass a woman or disrespect her boundaries.)

When specifics from what he claimed was his one-and-only instance of harassment came out, he asked me to get particular other people in the community on his side, to reach out to them and get them to put down the pitchforks.

(Appealing to me as reasonable. Appealing to me as loyal. Appealing to me as a friend, who should know, from her own experience, that he couldn't have done this more than once, one tragic moment of misunderstanding.)

(Just as he had groomed me to be. As if maybe that was the point all along.)

(Maybe I wasn't actually a valued friend -- not really, not valued for myself so much as my usefulness in a crisis.)

(And maybe my work never was that good.)

(And how can I trust my own judgment, about my own work, my own friends, my own community, if I could have been so wrong for so long about Bora?)

Edited to add:

There are also profound ripples of doubt in my head about why I didn't see the harassment that was happening, what I did to make myself unapproachable to people in the community who who targeted -- who I would have liked to help in some way if I could have. Those are far more painful to me right now, and words fail me when I try to spell them out. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you folks. You didn't deserve to be harassed.

39 responses so far

This is not a post I want to write.

I think sexual harassment is bad. I think other kinds of harassment, especially those that work by way of power imbalances, are bad. That's a position I stand by, and I hope I still would even if I had not been sexually harassed myself, and even if I didn't count among my friends an alarming number of people who had been sexually harassed.

We'll never know about the truth of that counterfactual claim, though, given that I have been sexually harassed (in more than one professional field), and that the number of people I know who have themselves been sexually harassed seems only to increase.

I know what it is like not to be able to share details of my own experience for fear of the professional repercussions it could have for me. When the person who harasses you has enough power that he could literally destroy any chance of a career for you in your chosen field -- when it's clear that your professional community values that person a lot and that it hasn't even gotten a chance to know you, let alone to value you -- choosing to go public looks an awful lot like choosing to burn your own career.

So mostly, you don't.

Maybe, eventually, once you find people within the community you feel like you can trust, people who've given indications that they value you, you share some of the details. Probably you wait for some sort of sign that these are people who, at least in principle, agree that harassment is bad. And probably, as you're naming your experience, you avoid naming the perpetrator, just in case there's a longstanding professional relationship that you didn't know about.

Because even people who are against harassment in principle can be damned loyal to their friends.

But often by the time you're ready to share some details with someone, you've so internalized the apologia that comes out when people do tell that you aren't even sure if you can call what happened to you "harassment". You wonder if, objectively, what happened to you can really be as big a deal as it feels like it is to you -- if the fact that it feels like a big deal to you, one that you can't just shake off, means that something is wrong with you.

Some days, when you start to notice how much harassment there is, how many of your peers (and mentors) have been harassed, and how little that seems to faze your community, you maybe even start to wonder if harassment is just the price of admission to the community, if shaking it off is the kind of skill people in the community need to cultivate to survive.

The landscape we bump up against every day discourages us from making a fuss.

It encourages us to use the most equivocal language available to describe our experience, if we talk about it at all.

It reminds us that we're weak if we can't shake it off, that we will be blamed for not finding some way to prevent what happened to us even though someone else did it to us.

It underlines that push come to shove, people are going to side with someone with more social capital, even if that person did something that the people siding with him are against in theory -- and that people are going to trust their own gut feeling that the person who harmed you is a good guy over the most careful and accurate recitation of the facts, even over what they see with their own eyes.

Not speaking up is the most rational move in most circumstances. Jennifer L. Berdahl, a Professor of Organizational Behavior, notes that

It's individually adaptive to go along with or try and act like members of the majority group when one is outnumbered. There are even rewards for criticizing others for not doing the same. But this individually adaptive behavior perpetuates the status quo.

So, if people aren't brave enough, or fed up enough, or whatever, to risk the individual harm that comes with speaking up, we are likely to be stuck with how things are right now. And some days, how things are right now is indescribably shitty.

The proximate cause for my writing this post is that writer and playwright Monica Byrne described her own experience of being harassed and named an influential member of the online science community, Bora Zivkovic, as her harasser. In a statement on his personal blog, Bora confirms the facts of Ms. Byrne's account, describes the measures put in place at Scientific American to address the professional harms to Ms. Byrne, and offers an apology.

I have known Bora for years. I have respected his professional judgment. I have deep affection for him and for his wife. I count him as a friend. He has never harassed me.

But that doesn't mean that I am going to offer apologia for his bad behavior. It doesn't mean I'm going to preemptively disbelieve Ms. Byrne's account, not just of what happened but also of how it affected her.

People make mistakes, even people who are our friends. People who do great things for a community can also do great harm to individual members of that community -- and, by extension, to the very webs of trust within that community that they worked hard to build.

I'm not going to stop being Bora's friend, but I'm not going to try to minimize or excuse his behavior, either.

I'm going to keep caring for him, but part of that will involve me continuing to hold him to a high standard -- because I know he can be that good, and I'm prepared to do what I can to help him do that.

I'm not going to cut Bora off as irredeemable, but I'm not going to center his redemption over mitigating the harms caused by his bad behavior. I'm not going to prioritize telling the world about his redemption, since I understand redemption as a quiet, personal, daily effort to live the standard one endorses.

I'm not going to argue that anyone else should forgive Bora or trust Bora. That's a personal matter, and I'm not equipped to make that call for anyone else but myself.

I am going to argue that, within our communities, we should look very hard at the power gradients that enable bad behavior that doesn't seem like bad behavior to the people committing it. We should interrogate the factors that make it dangerous for targets of bad behavior to speak up. We should recognize our tendency to focus on intent and ignore actual effects. We should notice when we get sucked into the familiar narrative of apologia and cut that out.

We should hold each other to high standards and then get serious about helping each other reach those standards. We should keep tinkering with our culture to making being better to each other (and to ourselves) easier, not harder.

Being good can be hard, which is one of the reasons we need friends.

I stand with others who have been harassed. And I hope, as a loving and honest friend with high expectations, I can help bring about a world with fewer harassers in it.

30 responses so far

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