Friday, June 18, 2010

To Silence the Mockingbirds?

Today is my 1-month bloggiversary. After a month of blogging, and a little longer of following the happenings in the scientific blogosphere, I feel largely exhausted and disillusioned.

Why did I start blogging to begin with? I am a female professor in a competitive STEM field at a major research university. I am an academic, and I lead a complicated professional and personal life. I started blogging because I like to write and I feel I have something to share with people who lead similarly complicated lives. I wanted to connect to other scientists and academics, and hear how they face their challenges. I wanted to have a discussion among peers about the issues that penetrate our daily lives: how we manage research, teaching, and service with personal demands. I trust my readership are smart, educated, and thoughtful people. I believe I am one of such people myself.

There are indeed a number of very balanced scientific blogs that espouse the type of discussion I envision. And I have received a number of interesting comments and emails since I started blogging. People don't always agree with me and they certainly don't have to, but as long as they want to have an honest and respectful discussion, I am happy to engage.

Unfortunately, these supportive, constructive interactions are often and forcefully overshadowed by unpleasant ones. Even the most balanced of bloggers get surprisingly vitriolic comments, sometimes on the least inflammatory of topics! Where does this come from?

I was an unwilling recipient of a lot of negative attention by you-know-whos and a whole host of snide-comment writers a couple of weeks ago. They thought they saw something in one of my posts that wasn't there. This generated bursts of traffic on their sites and mine, resulted in a storm of unpleasant comments, judging and patronization galore. Everyone had a bone to pick. It was a couple of exciting days and gratuitous venom in the scientific blogosphere.

But these pile-ons are nothing specific to me. Apparently, the blogosphere is alive with the sounds of bullying. While I think bullies are a vocal and obnoxious minority, their effects can be so strong and so negative that they completely overshadow the majority of positive interactions one enjoys. Moderate people, while numerous, are significantly less vocal, which I find unfortunate, because these are the people I would actually like to hear much more from.

Tearing up someone's blog post is pretty easy. It is as easy as getting a research paper rejected without a chance of resubmission. You don't think so? Here's how it goes: no paper is perfect; if you are set on tearing it apart, all you have to do is find one among the assumptions/approximations that have been made, proclaim that it is ill-conceived and incorrect (nothing is ever 100% correct) and should be done better/more precisely/differently. Then you amplify said shortcoming, throw in a snide remark or two, comment on how the authors are dumb as bricks and this awful work is in the same vein as their group's regular shoddy output, and that no amount of additional experiments could possible salvage such an ill-conceived project, and there you have it: paper rejected, authors irritated, and you are feeling empowered. Scientific bullying at its finest. It’s all about picking a nit and blowing it up into a ballon-size louse. You can tear apart absolutely any paper if you are set on doing so. But do we as scientists do that? No. Or at least we should not. We trust people's qualifications; even if we don't know the authors, we believe they have been taught stuff at school so they are not idiots, and then we try to evaluate if there is something new and interesting in the paper and if it has been presented in a coherent and informative way.

So tearing apart is easy. Being snide/judgmental/patronizing at someone else's expense is easy. Bullying -- in science or on a middle school playground -- is easy. Really, any type of destruction is easy.

I am perfectly capable of running my real life; no one needs to tell me how to train my students or run my lab or how to split chores with my spouse in a blogosphere-preapproved way. I assume my readers are capable of running their lives too and do not need me to judge or patronize them. They may be interested in my experience, my thoughts, and perhaps some advice. And that is what I am interested in from other people in the scientific blogosphere.

But of course, there may be people with different takes on what is important for a vibrant scientific blogoverse. So please share your thoughts:

--Should someone's right to mock/ridicule/vent/judge/patronize ever trump my right to have a discussion with peers where everyone is treated with respect?

-- Does the blogosphere have to be a hostile environment for people who want to talk about life as an academic? Does the ubiquity of attackers restrict the population of bloggers to only those who can deal with these attacks? Is that good or bad?

-- Is it not enough that I must have a tough hide for my life as a female scientist, in order to handle day-today challenges of research, teaching, and service? Do I have to now special-order one for my blogosphere persona in order to keep blogging, and, if so, who is going to pay for it and where can I get it in purple?

72 comments:

KJHaxton said...

Q1 - No, but it does. A fair number of bloggers are incapable of respect, and taking the time to try to see where anothers point of view comes from.

Q2 - sadly I think that the attacks on bloggers does restrict the population to those who can take it, and/or restrict those who cannot take those attacks to topics that don't generally bring those attacks. There is no reason why the blogosphere should be as hostile as it is.

Q3 - Yes, you're going to need a tough hide to keep blogging about stuff you care about. And its probably going to feel worse because the challenges of blogging are often brought by people that should be 'on your side' by virtue of also being female academics in male-dominated fields. In many ways that feels worse than the day-to-day challenges of the physical world because you're arguing over small differences of philosophy and opinion and not the larger issues.

I don't know if blogging about these issues is worth the hassle to you, I know it isn't for me and so I respect anyone who, even for a short time, takes it on!

Anonymous said...

I like your blog and I hope that this disillusionment about the blogosphere doesn't make you stop blogging. As a new academic I find your topics very very useful and I agree with you on most of the things.

As for you-know-whos, well, I've been reading the academic blogosphere for quite a while now and I've seen the kind of bullying that you talk about now on several occasions. Always by a small group of bloggers who are not willing to see that others might not be in the same position as they are and who think that only their way is valid for any situation (of which they might not know anything about).

In addition, some of them seem to be incapable of a civil conversation in which they would agree to disagree. I tried having a conversation a couple of times and was always just brought down. In the end I simply deleted those blogs from my reader and I don't bother reading them anymore - there are plenty of great respectful academic bloggers around (like you!), so why bother with a handful of annoying personalities? Life is too short.

Cherish said...

Oh! Purple! If you can get one in purple, let me know. ;-)

I went through a phase, wondering if I should change what I was blogging about or start a new blog or...myriad choices. A friend quoted Richard Feynman (or rather, his first wife) to me: "What do you care what other people think?" I realized that my goal in blogging is to have a place to talk about things I'm thinking about. Trying to gear it to what people think is not being true to the reason I started doing it. Granted, that will never get me to a place where I have a popular blog or anything like that, but it gives me my outlet to write. If I was trying to deal with what other people wanted, it would become a chore and not an outlet.

I like the things you've written. If you want to have a discussion on some of these things, sometimes you have to be the one to start it. I think you've done a great job of starting conversations you want to have, and some people have nothing better to do than to cry wolf. People get a lot more attention by spitting bullets of outrage rather than having an actual conversation. But in order to keep that attention, they have to keep spazzing out. That's the point where they are deleted from my feed reader, and, I suspect, others' as well.

melissa's said...

Hi GMP,

I have zero experience blogging, just an occasional commenter who has nonetheless found academic bloggers to be INORDINATELY valuable. To the point that I recommend to all my colleagues who anticipate going the academic route to read professor blogs. And the more voices that are out there, the better. One real problem is when established people act as gatekeepers for the whole community, ie if you don't apologize when they think you've done something wrong (whether the sin is egregious, subtle, or a misunderstanding) they feel they have the right to castigate you. This is actually a big problem in science too, where prominent people have the attitude of "well I invented this field so if I don't know you, you must not be important."

Anyway, I like your posts and it is clear you spend a lot of time and effort thinking about issues that could use further discussion. Your direct, serious but non-self-important tone is relaxing to read. I second the motion of "who cares what others think," blog in a way that allows you to get the most out of it, and to hell with all the other crap.

Anonymous said...

Just keep doing what you've been doing, GMP. Your blogs are easy and fun to read, they touch on important issues and start meaningful discussions with those who are willing to see other people's point of view. As for the others...
You will never be able to please all people, especially those whose only goal is to attack others as they see fit, to make-up for their lack of ideas on what to write about, or unwillingness to try to understand that other might not share their view of the world. The self-proclaimed "gatekeepers" can go to their blog-holes and help each other with some group psychotherapy. Just take them off your list of posts to read. I know I did.

Non-US FSP said...

The attacks from you-know-whos were grossly exaggerated and unfair. I find the allegory to "killing" a research paper to be spot on.
In fact, one of you-know-who have used a similar tactic to kill a research paper on her blog.

In my small retaliation, I have removed them from my reader and added yours instead.

Keep blogging.

Neo said...

Hi GMP,
Your blog is really cool, interesting. Please Keep posting! I look forward for more posts!


Take care!



Neo

Anonymous said...

Hey,
Just look at this post.
http://cr4.globalspec.com/thread/55756/Where-Did-Humanity-Fail

You find all kinds of people and comments. But you will surely find the discussion going well.
By the way, it's an engineers discussion forum. Just to give example. WWW is a real world, ma'am. You just have to take things sportively.

PUI prof said...

Please keep posting and commenting. I enjoy your blog.

Nastiness is never necessary. However, to play devil's advocate, its hard to make the judgment and say that blogs are a mechanism by which we can vent daily frustrations and anger out to the world in general but exclude the mechanism to "vent" (albeit uncivilly and disrespectfully) to a specific blogger about and idea they have raised.

The line between venting and attacking is there, but some people lack the judgment to determine where it is. Yes, they are jerks. But some of the PURPOSE of blogging (venting) encourages the negative behavior of attacking.

I affirm and support you and your opinions.

JaneB said...

I hope you keep blogging, and come hang out with some of us less popular people who come to the blogosphere to talk about the stuff we think and want to share, and to try and explain what we do and why in the hopes that others might find it interesting. So far I've pretty much lurked below the radar (apart from occasional wrath-attracting comments on the blog you refer to - I hate the 'you need to be like me' thing and tend to say so then think 'darn, I did it again, stupid me'). I do have the advantage of being non-US, non-biomed which kind of makes me beyond the pale to those who like to start shouting matches here.

pika said...

I'd like to echo what everyone said. Please, keep blogging and try not to mind those few annoying bloggers. Once I tried to talk to one particular person from this group, but it went nowhere, so off she went from my blog reader. On my own blog, I guess I am lucky that being on another continent and not biomed, I am uniteresting enough (for now).

But really, no point in being upset about some rather narrow-minded attitudes of people who can not appreciate the large and interesting diversity in academic life and blogging.

Venkat said...

GMP, I love your blog already. Even if I don't comment often, I do lurk around. Please ignore the overtly obnoxious, and tolerate the occasionally annoying ones (like me!), but please don't stop.
And I hear you get the tough purple hides in Target :)

Prof-like Substance said...

I have to say that part of blogging is also being aware that this domain is wide open to the world and there is no such thing as being able to restrict one's readership to a specific group unless you PW protect the thing or write about stuff that is not of general interest. There will always be times when people come out of the woodwork to throw rocks and it is up to each individual blogger to decide how or whether they want to deal with that. If the answer is that you are unwilling to put up with that, it's either time to restrict your blog or give it up. If you write interesting stuff, people will read it and it will spread further than you ever thought.

mat said...

If I had a place I blog (and I do) that I didn't want connected to a certain set of bloggers (maybe), I sure wouldn't go around to each of those blogs and systematically comment with links back to my blog (and I don't).

-just saying.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

If people come here to fuck with you, it means what you've written is on some level interesting to them. Would you rather be muttering into an empty room?

Anonymous said...

To second CPP, if you aren't getting hate mail, you're doing something wrong. If I want to read uncontroversial pablum I can pick up the NYT. I'd rather follow ideas around the blogosphere.

Fia said...

Cheers,
I like your blog and hope you keep posting! I remember rolling my eyes when the mentioned discussion came up, - I find it annoying how nitpicky people can get... The blogosphere is a community like any other, and there are different kinds of people and we've got to live with it, I guess. Sometimes I wonder whether it's not more about creating traffic rather than content? I hope you stick with us in your own style and speed.

Zuska said...

You-know-who here!

Everyone gets to a point in blogging, I think, where they feel it is burdensome, and they feel disillusioned about it. Perhaps you just reached it at warp speed? I once wrote about "the sensation that I have, quite often, that I am writing while sitting in a glass box in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, and many of the passersby are annoyed at the sight of me, and all have stones."

If you are going to blog, you do indeed need a tough skin. Your audience is never going to consist of only a pre-screened handful of folks who think the way you expect them to think and who understand what you wrote in exactly the way you expect them to. And that's a good thing, because otherwise you'd miss learning a lot of interesting stuff, along with all the rocks that get tossed.

Becca said...

Q1) It depends. I don't know that anyone has a 'right' to any particular conversation in a semi-public arena like the internet. By and large though, if you keep putting in the effort, I suspect you can build up a cadre of people to have the good quality respectful discussions with. I'd rather be one of those than just spouting off after having too much haterade.
Q2) I don't have answers to these questions, but I can't help noting the parallel questions:
Does academic science have to be a hostile environment? Does the ubiquity of attackers restrict the population of scientists to only those who can deal with these attacks? Is that good or bad?
Q3) Of course it's not enough. You can get a good one here though: http://s159.photobucket.com/albums/t125/realityhandbook/Grape_rhino.jpg

Female Science Professor said...

I like your blog. I hope the hateful comments don't make you too miserable, and I hope that you can enjoy the writing and discussing and the positive impact you will have (and already have had) on others. I'm glad you wrote about this topic today so that some of your fans can de-lurk and let you know that your writing is appreciated.

Meadow said...

GMP - I'm sure glad you are online and I think you write well. I've had my share of run-ins with the folks who dumped on you ;)

Hope said...

Well, I thought the you-know-whos treated you unkindly, but you must admit that you were partly to blame. Why on earth did you seek out the endorsement of someone whose “work” you knew so little? Just because she was popular and you wanted to be popular, too?

I started reading here because of comments you left elsewhere. I couldn’t care less who else likes your blog – I don’t even look at blogrolls anymore! There are a number of bloggers out there who just do their own thing and don’t get bogged down with the bullies. I admire them for that, and when I feel that I have something to add to the discussion, I comment on their blogs. I’m sure that they don’t get a ton of traffic, but that doesn’t seem to bother them – or me! If you would be content with that, then ignore the nastiness and just keep going. If not, you may have to re-examine your motives for being out here in the first place.

GMP said...

KJHaxton, Anon1, Cherish, melissa, Anon2, non-US FSP, Neo, Venkat, Anon3, pika, JaneB, PUI prof , Fia -- I appreciate your thoughts and support! I apologize if I missed anyone who wrote a supporting email. And I am glad many of you have de-lurked and am very happy to meet you.

mat wrote: I sure wouldn't go around to each of those blogs and systematically comment with links back to my blog

:) So you are saying I asked for it and should have been hiding instead? It probably would have worked (a whole host of burka-related analogies come to mind here, but I will pass).

PLS wrote: If you write interesting stuff, people will read it and it will spread further than you ever thought.

PLS, that's a really nice thought.

@CPP

If people come here to fuck with you,

That would definitely be more fun in real life than here, but I am certain that my husband would object ;)

it means what you've written is on some level interesting to them. Would you rather be muttering into an empty room?

I don't think comments are bad or disagreements are bad. I'm just saying that there is a line where disagreement turns into blatant trashing, and I am not a fan of that and don't see it's necessary. We forget that there are people behind all these pseudonyms.

@ You-know-who (a.k.a. Zuska, Mistress of Snark-ness ;)

Thanks for the link, Zuska. That is a really nice post.

Your audience is never going to consist of only a pre-screened handful of folks who think the way you expect them to think and who understand what you wrote in exactly the way you expect them to. And that's a good thing, because otherwise you'd miss learning a lot of interesting stuff, along with all the rocks that get tossed.

I can agree with that. But it does not make being hit by rocks any less unpleasant, so I question (and lament over) their necessity and wonder if the same learning could be achieved without them, or if rocks could be replaced by, say, chocolate-covered raisins? I would go for that.

Becca, you bring a nice parallel:
Does academic science have to be a hostile environment? No, but all we know it is.
Does the ubiquity of attackers restrict the population of scientists to only those who can deal with these attacks? Yes.
Is that good or bad? Bad. I'd say anyhting that weeds people out through making them uncomfortable is not good.



However, Venkat says purple hide is availabe at Target and Becca sent a really nice link to a purple rhino -- so I guess I am all set with a new tough hide for my stylish blog persona. (Nobody offered to pay for it though! ;)

Thanks for your comments everyone!

GMP said...

While I was composing the previous comment, 3 new comments came in... So here's comment post 2 of 2.


FSP, welcome! (I'm totally star-struck here...) I am glad that you like the blog and thanks for the support.

Aurora, always a pleasure! Thanks for the support.

Hope, I think everyone likes having their blog read. But you are right that I should not have engaged with Isis at all, especially since I actually knew very little about her blog. On the other hand, people email me abouth their blogs and I email them so I didn't really think it was a big deal. But regardless of that one incident with me, I wonder if the people whose blogs you follow and admire censor themselves in terms of post topic to avoid confrontation/being attacked? If yes, I would say the topic of this particular post has an importance beyond my personal experience.

Anonymous said...

GMP, I like your blog, I really do, and I find your advice useful. But it is also true that your post about diversity did come across as somewhat racist, and you came across as tone-deaf. Trust me, it really did seem hurtful to us brown folks, whose food have been called stinky by the white folks; that post did hurt.

That being said, I would not have taken such a harsh response to it as some people did. I am sure you did not mean to be mean to brown folks,
and I would have simply put it down to a mistake of a new blogger.

One thing that most people don't realize while blogging in the privacy of their home or office is that there are many different people out there who read these blogs. The audience of your blog is far more diverse than the audience of your scientific writing, and it is easy to get these kind of things wrong, particularly in the beginning. I am sure as you get more experience blogging -- and I hope you continue blogging and get more experience -- you will develop a thick skin to criticism, and you will learn to not write these kind of things that come off as tone-deaf.

Venkat said...

Anon: "Trust me, it really did seem hurtful to us brown folks, whose food..."

It is an error to assume that all brown folks took offense to whatever was said on food.

Venkat said...

i.e., whatever was said on food in the blog post you mention.

mat said...

All I'm saying, GMP, is that you jumped into a community with quite a determined splash. Good for you because that IS the way to get an audience going quickly. However it rings a little hollow when you then act all sniffy about being treated like one of the gang. These folks make the same sorts of challenging comments in threads where I've seen yours- did you miss that?

As I said before, if you don't want certain folks paying attention to you, stop jumping up and down waving your hand in the air.

GMP said...

Anon at 7:04,

I agree with you. I think the original post could have been interpreted as very racially insenstitve, and I am very, very sorry for that. The issue with some of my students having very poor habits and manners should *not* have been part of a culture post, but is rather a personnel issue (for what it is worth, among my very aromatically challenged students were 2 from my home country -- white boys from Europe. So I really was not intending to be racially offensive, and I truly apologize for that.)

Now let me address being tone-deaf. I must confess it was the issue of pride. See, if Isis had really wanted to point out the error of my ways and educate me in improving my blogging towards not being inadvertently offensive, she could have written a thoughtful comment, just like yours, on my blog. I would have promptly apologized and would have rewritten or removed the part that came across as offensive.

But, instead, she chose to write a humiliating post on her blog (by the time I realized that, there were alrady 40+ comments on her blog and many angry readers on mine). She has thereby completely deprived me of a chance to rewrite the contentious part, and I sure was not going to give anyone the satisfaction of apologizing because I felt ambushed and was royally pissed.

I certainly have things to learn about blogging with proper sensitivity to the vast readership out there. I am very very happy to engage if someone points things out thoughtfully. Isis's post was not constructive, it was an attack aimed (I guess) largely to amuse the masses; it was certainly not in the interest of educating me.

The worst thing, again, is that by posting what she did she deprived me of the ability to further revise the post and minimize the potential offense to people.

While I am sure everyone is tired of that darn post, I think it's a good example how a more discrete approach would have given me a more effective lesson and would have caused less damage overall.

Thanks again, Anon, for the comment.

Venkat,

I never wrote anything about food and race. It was about some students leaving food out to rot -- in every generation of students I have at least one who's averse to using the fridge and leaves salami sandwiches or fruit to decompose in a desk drawer.

Mat,

These folks make the same sorts of challenging comments in threads where I've seen yours- did you miss that?

Just because I am in a comment thread with certain people does not mean anything except that we picked up on the same post. When you see that I have left an overtly snarky comment anywhere, absolutely feel free to call me on it, OK?

All I'm saying, GMP, is that you jumped into a community with quite a determined splash.
As I said before, if you don't want certain folks paying attention to you, stop jumping up and down waving your hand in the air.


Mat, fair enough. Let us say that I am indeed as shallow as you say. Nevertheless, the point of this post still stands: a lot of people do censor what they write about, or as you say, stay away from certain threads, in order to avoid running into unpleasant people. Don't you think that is bad -- having to avoid posts and threads if you want to be in peace? You are welcome to dislike me, but I think the issue is worth discussing and a lot of comments near the beginning show that people are uncomfortable in a hostile blogosphere. Do you really think that the best thing (for non-shallow people) is to just not make yourself known? I bet a lot of people who lurk and are uncomfortable posting on some of the more militant blogs actually have interesting things to say, and I am personally interested in hearing them.

Anonymous said...

Just because I am in a comment thread with certain people does not mean anything except that we picked up on the same post. When you see that I have left an overtly snarky comment anywhere, absolutely feel free to call me on it, OK?

I think you're missing mat's point. The trouble you have encountered has stemmed (note that I'm not saying you deserved what you got, because I don't think you did) from you jumping into a conversation without (apparently) having listened to it carefully enough, to follow what has been said previously, and thus to know what kind of response to expect to your remarks. I have no doubt that you listen carefully before joining in as a matter of course in the academic conversations (in the broadest sense) in which you take part 'in real life'.

I belief mat's remark was to say that you obviously had been party to prior conversation that revealed what peoples believes and attitudes are, and how vitriolic and trigger-happy they can be about them, because you have contributed (at least in parallel) to these discussions. Which raises the question, 'did you somehow miss that?'

Let's put it another way. When I read your diversity post (before the storm), my immediate reaction was honestly 'Isis is going to go apeshit'. Not that 'what GMP said is indefensibly racist', but that the reaction to it from certain people (Isis, notably) would certainly be intense, and hostile. Had you had the same information I did, you may have decided not to write what you did at all, which would have been a shame. I would hope that instead you would have approached it in a different way, and made it more clear from the outset what you were saying and what you were not saying, that could have avoided 'misunderstanding' and lead to a more productive discussion for everybody. The blogosphere's just like the scientific literature, if you jump into a discussion ignoring what's been said before, you're just inviting trouble.

I concede, however, that some amount of (ahem) 'fuckwittitude' would have arisen from certain corners anyway. But with more information, you would have at least been able to make an informed decision as to how (or if) to broach the subjects that you did. Moreover, if you had lurked around the 'sphere as long as some of us have, you'd probably have have come to a better-educated feeling for how much admiration certain people really deserve, and for who the real trolls are sometimes.

What you're doing is great; your writing is appreciated. Do it now with greater (painfully earned) wisdom, and don't let the bastards grind you down.

Hope said...

@GMP: I wonder if the people whose blogs you follow and admire censor themselves in terms of post topic to avoid confrontation/being attacked?

I think you misunderstand me. The bloggers that I admire are willing to voice unpopular views. They get attacked, but it hasn’t stopped them from blogging … or from tackling controversial topics. This is precisely why I admire them.

I have been attacked before in the comments section of certain blogs – it really doesn’t bother me that much. What makes me stop contributing to or reading a blog is not fear of disapproval, but the realization that a certain space has become an echo chamber and no one is really interested in a discussion. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

It is unfortunate that the blogosphere can be so hostile.* But if people can’t muster the courage to stand up for what they believe in a realm where you can express yourself anonymously, if you wish, then I don’t know what can be done about that.

*I once got into it with another commenter who told me that as a woman, the only way she could make herself heard was by being in-your-face rude to others. Then some guy chimed in and confirmed that he never paid attention to women unless they were yelling at him. I remember this because it’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever read.

Anonymous said...

But, instead, she chose to write a humiliating post on her blog (by the time I realized that, there were alrady 40+ comments on her blog and many angry readers on mine). She has thereby completely deprived me of a chance to rewrite the contentious part, and I sure was not going to give anyone the satisfaction of apologizing because I felt ambushed and was royally pissed.

Just want to say that's how Isis rolls - I've seen her do this to several other blogers and also at least one research paper. That's why I don't read her anymore.

Prof-like Substance said...

Just to play Devil's advocate here, it is also NOT anyone's responsibility to use every slip up by other people as a "teaching moment" for the people who slip up. In a very real sense, the amount of discussion created by the post here and the response on Isis' and other blogs was educational for a huge number of people - again, taking the lesson to a bigger audience. So, while it was not a good experience for GMP, I would argue that far more people learned something* than if there had been a discrete exchange between bloggers.

*Those who are willing to listen.

Isis the Scientist said...

GMP, I wonder if you reacted the same way when someone first challeneged you at a scientific meeting?

mat said...

I think you mistake my point GMP. I like your blogging. I admire that you understood how to get an audience, this is not being "shallow", this is rapidly mastering a new line of work.

Getting jumped on by these people for one awkward post doesn't mean they hate you. Look, Zuska and ScienceMother are giving DrugMonkey hellfor just this week, as it happens....

Prof-like Substance said...

Indeed. It's all part of the ebb and flow and what makes blogging both interesting and educational.

Ping!

GMP said...

Sheesh, I can't write the response fast enough...
And it got too long, so here goes comment, part 1 of 2:

Anon at 1:24 AM, thank you for your comment.

I think you are right -- longer lurking would have probably helped. I agree with you. But let me also bring a counterpoint: when you switch fields in science, how much reading of the literature is enough? This is what I think and most of my collaborators too: you want to read the background literature enough to understand where the field is and what the open important problems are, but not too much -- not to the point where all the background work weighs you down. One of my favorite colleagues, a brilliant midcareer guy from Europe and a very nice person, says his best-cited work was the work he did when he switched fields, so his ideas were fresh to that field, unburdened by common techniques, and that is *exaclty* what made them appealing. I can second his opinion from the experience with my own papers. At some point you have to decide you are ready to say something and just say it (but of course there is always a chance you'll get grief for it, and I suppose I should not complain about that).

@ PLS: Just to play Devil's advocate here, it is also NOT anyone's responsibility to use every slip up by other people as a "teaching moment" for the people who slip up.
while it was not a good experience for GMP, I would argue that far more people learned something* than if there had been a discrete exchange between bloggers.

PLS, of course it's no one's duty to educate other bloggers. Isis *said* in her post it was supposedly to teach me about senistivity/something about my bloggie chops. I am saying is that, if that had really been her goal (it hadn't), she would have been discreet; her goal was clearly to reach the masses, which she did, and as you say that as a result perhaps someone learned something. I sure did.

But let me give you a classroom example. This is the equivalent of what Isis did, and what none of us would imagine doing it in class: take a student who did poorly on the test, stand him in front of the class, take his test and say to the class "Joe is an idiot. You would not believe what he wrote on his test," and then you read it out loud -- especially the idiotic parts -- and everyone laughs their asses off (and then you post Joe's paper on the class website). Is it a teachable moment for everyone in the classroom? Oh yeah. Does everyone understand what Joe *should have* written differently? Some do, some don't. But I bet *everyone* understands that they sure don't want to be in Joe's shoes and everyone is relieved they aren't Joe. And Joe will certainly never ever trust you.

Hope and Anon 5:33, thanks for the comments!

GMP said...

Comment, part 2 of 2

@ Isis: GMP, I wonder if you reacted the same way when someone first challeneged you at a scientific meeting?

I honestly don't remember the first talks I gave. I was probably scared shitless and might have blocked them out (and it was a while back). But I know that I try to be polite nowadays if someone is being stupid in a talk. If they are being very very stupid, I don't even ask a question right after the talk with all the audience in, but wait to ask the person 1-on-1 (this especially for students, whom I really don't want to humiliate). But, when someone is hostile to me after my talks nowadays, I would say I am twice as nasty back. My beloved PhD advisor taught me that: when challenged in a hostile manner, you must run them into the ground. But I hate tearing people down without provocation; I have colleagues who do that, especially to other people's students when the advisotr is not present, which is totally in bad taste.

Mat, no worries, I appreciate your comments. You should call me on all of my Barbie-like qualities (shallowness, devastating good looks :). Seriously, I appreciate the input. I know these guys don't hate me; I just hate looking like a bigot for all posterity on the interwebz. I am glad you read my blog.

If I may interject: I REALLY didn't plan on this post to be a rehash of that unfortunate post from 2 weeks ago, but I guess that's what happened. As PLS says in his infinite wisdom: It's all part of the ebb and flow and what makes blogging both interesting and educational.

prodigal academic said...

Hi GMP,

Just wanted to echo what others have said--I enjoy your blog, and find your comments interesting and insightful.

I also learned from your trial by fire experience how to better handle being called out for being unintentionally insensitive. It is so hard to get tone from written remarks, and to gauge intent without much outside context/knowledge of the players.

That said, I am kind of glad my blog is low profile. :-)

Prof-like Substance said...

Your Joe analogy is off the mark, because as a teacher you have a responsibility to your students to treat them with respect and give them constructive feedback. The same is true for scientific meetings and the trainees there who may or may not give good presentations. There is no teacher / student responsibility here. There is no understanding that some people are in a position of power over others and need to act accordingly. Someone can bash your writing, but that is not the same as abusing a mentoring relationship or PI / trainee dynamic.

Again, this is not a class room but many people learn a great deal. If you don't think that Isis was using your post to hammer a consistent point of hers home, you are missing the greater context.

Venkat said...

@GMP: yes, I know that you just mentioned that food rotting on desks is unacceptable. That is why I don't understand how someone can imagine something else and take offense to that. Its not even about taking sides. In this particular instance (about food), it is reading just what you said Vs imagining crazy shit that happenned to one elsewhere and getting offended at the drop of a hat. I also do not understand why someone would take offense to (valid things you said on) personal hygeine, especially when you worded it carefully.
Some of the comments on encouraging/enforcing language had some merit, but the negative tones of the commentors didn't help for sure.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I am saying is that, if that had really been her goal (it hadn't), she would have been discreet; her goal was clearly to reach the masses[.]

Hello!?!?!? This is fucking blogging! What the fuck do you think the goal is????

If you want to have a "discreet" conversation, send a fucking e-mail.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

First off, happy one-monthaversary! And oh boy, have I missed a lot recently! Looks like I have some reading to do....!

Isis the Scientist said...

Your analogy is poor, GMP. You are not my student and I am not your teacher. You are someone who came into this discourse with the expressed goal of discussing strategies to succeed in academia. That makes us equals. I grow weary of the whining from many in the blogosphere that I somehow have the power to destroy poor mortal bloggers. I started on blogspot just like many others.

I never said that you are a bigot and I didn't say that my post was to teach you a lesson. I said that I thought your post was an unfortunate foot-in-mouth event, that you would probably continue to develop your blogging chops, and that I thought you would have valuable insights. Blogging is much more challenging than many think. Even though you've established a lifetime of scientific credibility, no one knows you from Adam when you start your blog. No one knows your tone, or your intent, and the readership is much more diverse than what we frequently encounter in academia.

Now, we can go on the attack and be hostile and try to destroy each other, but that doesn't interest me. But, I don't know why running someone into the ground when someone is "hostile" is a valuable lesson. I have learned here that understanding people's anger can have tremendous value. The many times people like drdrA, Zuska, and ScientistMother have taken me to task over something on their blogs, I have learned something tremendous. I have come to think of drdrA and Zuska as great friends and would love to someday share a cocktail with ScientistMother.

Why speak publicly about anything? Because we can more safely speak publicly here, especially when we are people who are not in a position of power in academia. Women, especially minority women, don't have the power to speak openly in academia. They are frequently not included in discussions. Seeing these discussions is valuable. If it wasn't, why would people read blogs? We'd all just get our mentoring in our departments and keep quiet.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I grow weary of the whining from many in the blogosphere that I somehow have the power to destroy poor mortal bloggers.

Well, there was that one douchebag who stopped blogging after you ripped him a new asshole. lolz

Isis the Scientist said...

His decision to stop blogging was his and his alone.

If some academic left the university after she received negative reviews on her grant, would you blame the reviewer?

GMP said...

CPP,

Hello!?!?!? This is fucking blogging! What the fuck do you think the goal is???? If you want to have a "discreet" conversation, send a fucking e-mail.
Yeah, look how that worked out for me. A freakin' email started everything.


Isis and PLS,

I think perhaps the Joe analogy was taken too literally. I know Isis has no duty to teach anyone in the blogosphere. But, I know how Joe feels and I am pretty confident I know that a lot of people feel like Joe's classmates (read all the comments above, about people being happy they are low profile). I am sure most of Joe's classmates did get the message about being careful about what they write, but they are also darn happy they are not Joe/GMP.

And of course, Isis, you have no duty to be anything to me. But whether you like it or not, you are in the position of power in this situation (to quote Spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility" :). I am totally at fault for being insensitive and I apologize for that, and I understand why you were personally hurt. I did not know about your roots at the time, and am sorry about any offense you took.

But let me emphasize that I do not think you acted from 100% pure intentions (i.e. to bring light to the important issue) as PLS thinks. Only you know your motives, but while you are a domestic and laboratory goddess, you are also human: my guess is that you acted out of a mixure of personal offense (I am so sorry again!), desire to educate the readership, as well as just to get some kicks, and finally -- because you could. There may be other components there, but I don't know you well enough to speculate further.

Btw, Isis, I do not wish to be hostile. You asked how I acted in meetings and I said so; that was *not* supposed to be a threat. I am deeply sorry about any offense you or ScientistMother took. But you also depicted me as a snooty tea-drinking something (I am partial to coffee myself) and I cannot get over the zoo picture!

I am also very tired of that whole issue, as I am sure everyone is. Please, if I offended you in that particular post, I really apologize.

***************
But can we please, please, everybody, read the comments in THIS post to see how many people say they are happy to be low profile or avoid certain threads or have removed certain bloggers from blogrolls for hostility alone. All I am saying is that maybe we are weeding out some good bloggers because they want to avoid attacks. Discussion is good, and confrontation may be necessary. We can learn a lot from other people's anger, as Isis says, but people react very differently to anger and I know a lot of people don't like confrontation. That does not mean there should not be a place for them in the blogosphere, or in science for that matter. Not everyone cares to shop for a tough purle hide.

Isis the Scientist said...

I am totally at fault for being insensitive and I apologize for that, and I understand why you were personally hurt. I did not know about your roots at the time, and am sorry about any offense you took.

Thank you for this. In my mind, this is done and I am ready to hear some more academic stylings from GMP.

There are lots of blogs out there to read. Not every blog resonates with every person. I am aware that I make a number of people uncomfortable. Personally, I find discomfort informative. There are also a lot of people who value what I have to say. There are a lot of blogs I don't find useful, and a number that I do. No one of us is going to make a fan of every person.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Everyone loves my blog.

scicurious said...

GMP, I appreciate your blog a lot, but your Joe analogy is incorrect in one other very important respect: Joe's test isn't public. This blog IS. You did the internet equivalent of shouting something into a crowd, and then got upset when some in the crowd didn't agree with you. Whether it was polite or not isn't the point. We could all use to be more polite, but we're all humans, and just being in academia doesn't make people any better at being people.

I think many people forget when they blog just how public these things can become if they are not password protected. While you have every right to be upset at responses, you have to realize that this is public and responses WILL occur, and not all of them are going to agree with you.

You've definitely undergone a trial by fire, but this is the blogsphere. Don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen. I hope you will stay around, I think you've got great things to share.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Politeness is for douchebags.

GMP said...

scicurious:

Don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Thanks for your comment. Regardless of what anyone thinks of me, this post hopefully showed that there are plenty of people who don't particulary care for the heat. I think it's very territorial of the heat-loving crowd to kick them out of the kitchen, especially when the heat-averse people may in fact be able to prepare some of the most delicious cold hors d'oeuvres that anyone has ever eaten.

CPP:

Politeness is for douchebags.

I think you meant "Politeness is for motherfucking douchebags." :)

Comrade PhysioProf said...

HAHAHAHAHAH! Exactly!

Isis the Scientist said...

I suspect GMP may actually be FWDAOTI.

Dr.Girlfriend said...

GMP -

You can alway shake of unwanted attentions by starting again. Not saying you should - but you could. That is the beauty of blogging anonymously.

This is your blog and you can take control of it.

You can choose who you want to engage in debate/discussion with.

If you want moral support and fellowship then you have to make that clear and turn away any unwanted discourse.

If you want respectful debate, you might have to police/pre-approve comments or block certain emails.

In an open forum all participants are equals, but a blog is different. Unless your motive is to provide a service for your readers, your needs should take priority.

You are head of you own blog, and you have the right to set the house rules for your readers.

Anonymous said...

Prior to this post I had been thoroughly enjoying your positive attitude. It is a refreshing voice amongst the academic bloggers. I hope you can figure out how to re-harness that attitude, as your reactionary comments to having your buttons pushed are unpleasant.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I hope you can figure out how to re-harness that attitude, as your reactionary comments to having your buttons pushed are unpleasant.

Jeezus fuck, holmes. Get a fucking grip.

GMP said...

Anon at 6:08 PM

Prior to this post I had been thoroughly enjoying your positive attitude. It is a refreshing voice amongst the academic bloggers. I hope you can figure out how to re-harness that attitude, as your reactionary comments to having your buttons pushed are unpleasant.

Anon at 6:08 PM, you are totally right. The comments got a bit out of hand, and so did my reactions. I apologize if you got uncomfortable; the last thing I want here is to alienate my regular readers by gratuitous incivility.

As the comment section is getting out of control, I must re-claim the reigns. I don't want to delete comments posted so far or close the comments completely, but it looks like I may have to start moderating.

I am very serious about the issue raised in this post, so let me summarize:

Whatever you think about that post of mine 2 weeks ago and the reactions to it, I think it's time to lay it all to rest. I apologized profusely for any unitentional offense I might have inflicted with that post; none was my intent. I did not get any apology for the intentional offense to me, but I am not holding my breath. This thing is done and I will no longer discuss it.

The point of THIS post was the following:
People should not be universally expected to respond well to hostility, in real life or otherwise. Resilience to hostility and/or profanity should NOT be a prerequisite for blogging or leaving comments. There are plenty of people out there who have interesting things to say but do not want to engage in unnecessarily unpleasant exchanges. I certainly want to hear from those people and I want my blog to be a safe place for them to comment. There are a number of balanced blogs out there that everyone can enjoy.

Everyone please be civil. Excessively nasty or profane comments will not be allowed in the future. Thanks!

Female Computer Scientist said...

I just found your blog today and find it refreshing and delightful. I hope negative comments don't deter you from keeping with it, and look forward to reading your posts in the future.

Rosie Redfield said...

I particularly like the way you have refrained from publicly pointing to the people who you feel have behaved badly. That's exactly the level of good manners that was missing from the posts in question.

irongrrl said...

Keep up the good work, GMP, I am enjoying your posts very much. I imagine that a particularly frustrating thing about blogging (and in particular, having a portion of your post quoted in someone else's post) is all the commenters who obviously did not read your original post but still feel it necessary to jump on the bandwagon and start dishing out judgment. The other kind of blogs I read are fitness blogs, and I see this all the time there as well. Just try to focus on how you're helping people -- I've learned so much from the blogosphere.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Excessively nasty or profane comments will not be allowed in the future.

What the fucking fuck is that supposed to mean?

Neo said...

Hey GMP,
This is not about current discussion. But I'm just curious to get your points. Can you please discuss something about this? I would be very thankful if you can go for a separate post. (I hope I'm not asking for too much)
The title of article (from the chronicle) is
"We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low-Quality Research"

http://chronicle.com/article/We-Must-Stop-the-Avalanche-of/65890/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Thank you


Neo

Anonymous said...

First, I have to say that ERV sent me over here. Thanks, Abbie! I appreciate the new interesting blogger.

GMP: Keep posting, and don't let the negative stuff change your "voice". I am finding your posts interesting! (Still have a few of the early ones to go; I've been reading steadily since Abbie linked to the one post on Facebook)

Two comments on the kerfluffle that Abbie linked to:

1)I read the original post with a totally open mind since I didn't know what it was about at all. I did not think what you had to say was negative in any way. I do not work in academia, but I do work in a multi-ethnic business, in healthcare. There are people who are immigrants, and those who have been here for generations. Language is important. Professionally, if your ability to communicate in the language of the workplace is limited, so will your job opportunities be.

Many years ago, when I was a freshman in college, my wonderful professor elected to give his graduate students teaching experience by allowing them to lecture to us. Unfortunately, their spoken English skills were very poor. Trying to understand the nervous system in anatomy class is hard enough without trying to also figure out what word(s) the teacher is saying. I quit going to class and studied only from the anatomy test. While I did well on the exam, I felt cheated (and still do!) that I was paying for a class in which I could not understand the teacher. This had nothing to do with nervousness; neither student could speak English well in a one-on-one situation either. However, this was also before universities started testing the language skills of grad students. My children, currently in colleges, have not had this issue no matter where their professor/grad student instructor was from.


2) The same thing goes for hygiene and odors. In the business/academic world, cleanliness is expected. Skin odors given off by persons of different cultures are not unpleasant in anyone who washes regularly, whether deodorant is used or not (I have many friends who are 'antideodorant'- minded but do not smell offensive since they bathe regularly). However, the odor of uncleanliness becomes offensive and a manager/PI has the duty towards his/her other employees/students to request that all persons practice good personal hygiene by washing their body and hair regularly, brushing teeth, and wearing clean clothing.

Last comment: Many times in the past I have seen bloggers ripped apart for an unintended offense. Many times the 'rippers' are always the same few. Then there are those bloggers who analyze a post and point out where they see errors, but give the original blogger the ability to explain and/or correct what they said. I almost never read posts by those who ripped you up because I find that destroying others is the majority of their posts and I learn nothing from them. Those bloggers who offer constructive criticsm - well, I've found a lot of thoughtful, interesting bloggers that way!

Dawn

GMP said...

First thanks to the people whom I may have missed so far, and who left very supportive comments. I really appreciate it: prodigal academic, unbalanced reaction, Dr. Girlfriend, Female Computer Scientist, Rosie, irongrrl, Dawn (Anon at 8:28 AM). A big welcome to those who are new to this blog!

Neo, thanks for the suggestion. I will follow with a brief post later today.

mat said...

Anyone who reads ERV regularly and wants to talk schmack about "constructive" criticism automatically rules themselves out of serious consideration.

wildlifer said...

GMP,
Don't let the victim bullies get you down. I've read all your entries including the one from which they manufactured the controversy, and you've nothing for which to apologize.
Keep on writing ... I plan to keep reading your blog.

Anonymous said...

Isis and Zuska have a schtick and are best ignored. They like going after people, especially people trying to be on the right side. What's especially funny is that people who like rough confrontation also claim to want supportive environments. Then they turn around and say that calling people out should be an uncomfortable experience and the person being called out has no right to complain.

So ignore them. They are threatened by women who don't play their game.

Prof-like Substance said...

If you want to read a great post on why one might get a reaction that they see as disproportionate to their offense, go read this.

tideliar said...

Honestly, it used to shock me, but you get used to it. maybe that's sad?

ScientistMother said...

Its not easy blogging and sometimes stuff gets said with unintended consequences. It happens in real life, it happens on the blogosphere.

We can also agree to disagree and still be blog buddies. As Isis said, her and I have had our disagreements, but we still support each other.

I understand your desire for civility. Somewhere on my blog I've talked about sticking to issues or comments vs name calling. Unfortunately, like real life, not everyone agrees with it, so you have to decide where you will participate. I tend to stay on the edges and only step into the lime light once in awhile.

In the end, I hope you continue to blog. I personally feel like the more FSP's visible the better. Even if I don't agree with your opinion, I'd rather be able to know that you're there to disagree with vs not knowing you exist.

Mike from Ottawa said...

@Isis:

"I never said that you are a bigot ..."

Not in those words, but you got the message through without coming right out and saying it, giving your denial above a whiff of 'Some of my best friends are ...' Your accusation came through clearly, though your means was innuendo. It was particularly clear in your inclusion of your racist-bingo card.

And the title of your racist-bingo card, "racial bingo card" is itself misleading. You being so aware of race issues, it is impossible to believe you're not aware of the difference between "racial" and "racist" and so impossible to believe you're not trying to shirk responsibility for the implications of using "racist" in using the less confrontational title.

"I didn't say that my post was to teach you a lesson."

Again, not in those words. You did say:

"I have learned over the last two years in the science blogosphere that being a feminist and an advocate for minorities are not necessarily coupled. Sometimes my feminist colleagues and allies still need a little help to ensure that they don't end up playing racial bingo."

which sure sounds like you're out to teach a lesson to your inferior.

Perhaps you're just new to the game and are still working on your blogging chops. Because otherwise, your denials above are merely BS.