Friday, January 08, 2010

What They Say/What I Hear

Years ago I remember seeing a Far Side cartoon that started with a panel titled "What we say to dogs", in which a man is telling his dog, Ginger, to stay out of the garbage. Then in the next panel, titled "What they hear", the man seems to be saying "blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah".

I am going to turn that around a bit and warp it to fit my strange little corner of the blogosphere. In this case, we will start with "What they say", in which "they" are some commenters I will single out for special attention. But then, instead of replying with just "blah blah blah Anonymous blah blah blah", I will explain how I interpret these comments. I suppose a subtitle could be "Lost in translation" or "FSP hears only what she wants to hear".


When someone comments, as happens from time to time: You spend so much time whining about sexism, you probably don't have any time to do your research.

I interpret that to mean that the commenter would be unable to manage their time writing a blog and doing their research, so they cannot imagine that I can do it. It is interesting how people project their own abilities and time management skills, or lack thereof, onto others, but I think we all do this now and then in various situations (though in most cases our intentions are not to malign).

When someone comments: You can't conclude anything from your n=1 anecdotal unscientific study that you haven't even discussed thoroughly and which, by the way, involves something you didn't realize/mention and so you have thereby undermined your entire argument and so I conclude that you suck as a scientist. (see entertaining sarcastic version of this by 'a physicist' on Tuesday's post)

I interpret this to mean that the commenter does not have a blog, or, if he/she does, then it might not be a blog that involves writing 5+ times/week or perhaps it has a totally different style. Here at FSP, I sometimes use an anecdote or something in the news as the nucleus for a post. In some cases I don't even give any particular opinion about the post-launching topic, but I use it to discuss related things. This annoys some people, but these people somehow forgot to send me their personalized lists of exactly what topics I should write about each day and what opinion I should have and how much detail I should include so that every post will interest them and fit exactly with their own opinions about the topic o' the day. But aside from that, I don't see what any of this has to do with whether I am a good scientist or not.

When someone comments: FYI, you never actually write about Science. Your blog would be more interesting if you wrote about Science.

My response is: Yes, I know. No, it wouldn't.

When someone comments: I hate reading your blog. I read it every day and it makes me angry.

My response: Please please find a way to identify yourself so that law enforcement officials can be notified that you are bound and shackled somewhere, with your head restrained and your eyes propped open so that you cannot avert your gaze from the horror that is my blog.. every day. Such torture is shocking and I personally am against it.

When someone comments: I hate the blog posts about feminism and how you are so discriminated against. You write about this boring topic so much that it makes an objective, neutral person such as myself realize that you are the main problem and if you would only stop complaining in your blog, everything would get better and you would get a raise so that your salary was equal to that of your male peers and everyone would respect you more.

I hear: blah blah blah blah unobjective Anonymous blah blah blah


Anonymous said...

What they say: "I dont' know why you say this (insert relevant anecdote) is an example of sexism. there are all these other possible explanations, such as.... (proceed to list out reasons that while plausible, really require a stretch of the imagination.)"

what I hear: "Since you are a Woman, you are over-emotional and irrational (common negative gender stereotypes of women). therefore your interpretation of the incident must be wrong and mine must be correct even though I wasn't even there to witness it, since I'm a male."

prosaica said...

There should be a way to just "like" posts. This is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Today's post had me laughing out loud. I don't usually read your comments, since I much prefer the high signal:noise of your posts. Keep up the great work with your daily column. Thanks from another FSP.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this blog for 2-3 years now. I'm a male science post doc, who began reading as a graduate student. I've always wondered how many other young male science readers there are-- well ones who actually enjoy reading it. I continue to read the blog because it is really about what it means to be a human science academic. The issues usually touch far beyond just issues of gender and equity, at least for me. I will also say that I was originally drawn in mostly by the frank discussions of graduate students (I was one) and advising, but also of writing and reviewing grant proposals, and stories of difficult colleagues. The discussion were valuable I think because the anonymous (and also female) voice allowed the author to talk about subjects in ways that no one else was. I think I was able better understand and navigate my relationship with my advisor because of it. So here's a thanks, from a male reader, for being a unique voice about academic life.

Anonymous said...

FSP, this post is too hilarious! I think you should include a warning at the beginning of your post to highlight the potential danger of bursting into uncontrolled laughter while reading this post...good thing I am not at the office.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It amazes me that people have the audacity to write lengthy comments about what YOU are doing wrong with YOUR blog. I guess certain scientists can't resist editing/peer-reviewing everything written. Maybe I can sneak my next manuscript into the comments for folks to edit, especially since they seem to have so much time on their hands...

Meadow said...

Happy New Year FSP, Speaking as someone who never manages to get a blog going, but does appreciate being part of the community, here's the biggest advantage I get from reading yours and others blogs even when I don't agree with the posts.

Often women (and thinking of myself here) lack self-confidence and a sense of what is acceptable and what isn't. For various reasons we put up with all sorts of crap, so after a while we just accept it as normal - like a frog in hot water we put up until it is too late and we get tossed out or give up and leave active research finding something along the side-lines.

What I get from reading your blogs is a sense of what I should ignore and what I shouldn't. It's helped me become confident. Now I know that when I object to something there's good reason and I don't doubt myself and worry about the consequences like I used to. I'm also confident that my ideas are good and are better able to defend them. Many times I've seen my ideas blown off, only for a guy to have them and everyone thinks he's the best thing. I don't let that happen as much anymore.

I like the variety of opinions expressed here and think of it more like a big social science experiment; how the comments all veer in one direction; then one strategically placed comment changes the dynamics and they shift in tone. Anonymous comments are key to this.

So thank you for writing this blog and allowing all sorts of comments. You've been a bigger help in getting our careers going than you'll ever imagine.

Ricochet said...

1) I love your blog

2) That is one of my 2 favorite cartoons. The other identifies communication with high school students (I teach math in HS). It also is a Far Side cartoon: "what we say to cats". Man tells Fluffy to stay of the curtains ("Bad cat, Fluffly! Stay off the curtains! Bad cat, Fluffy!") What the cat hears" empty word balloon.

Keep up the good work.

I have been telling girls (a lot lately) that part of what the feminism movement means is that if I will write a boy for hitting them, I will also write up them for hitting a boy. For this I put up with STUFF in the 1970s!

Lorac said...

I say... keep writing. You touch on important issues that should be discussed. Your experiences and observations are an important piece of the picture.

One aside though... criticizing others for remaining anonymous is perhaps a big disingenuous as you are an anonymous writer yourself.

Unbalanced Reaction said...

This might be my favorite post ever.

"Yes, I know. No, it wouldn't." Perfection!

Anonymous said...

hilarious! I enjoy reading your blog every day. It doesn't mean that I agree with everything you write or say, but still I enjoy reading it. It has given me so much insight about academic culture and sexism in general. I have faced this kind of incidents all the the time, but I used to think that I should ignore them and move forward. Your blog is a voice for all of us who are still not in position to write it openly, but have to deal with discrimination and lack of support all the time.

-A Female Scientist somewhere in north America

Katie said...

Love it!

sib said...

FSP: a hearty thumbs up! (blah blah blah ... :)

Drugmonkey said...

or you could just tell them all to, well, you know.

Anonymous said...

hahah! Love it! Love the last one!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog today!

Pagan Topologist said...

Beautiful, delightful post! Thank you.

Ellen Hunt , lager luv at large said...

You just type fast. So do I. A dear friend will sit across the table from me and ask, "How do you do that?! You can write a novel in the time it takes me to compose a page!"

Tsk, tsk. Oh. Well.

The key to writing fast is to write about something on the order of People Magazine, and this blog is People for Scientist (ahem). It doesn't take long at all to chatter up something this way. That's the secret.

Writing in my field for peer review. Oh, dear. That takes work.

But this? The flying fingers fry the keyboard, requiring that I always buy one of those keyboard skin silicon thingies or I will destroy my laptops in a matter of months.

Snort! Snort! That's how u do it. Huzzah! Horm. Etc.

Tobias said...

Your blogpost is bookmarked for future reference.

Anonymous said...

I lol'd. People in my lab looked at me funny and my adviser told me to "get to work!" Oh well. :)

Anonymous said...

As I'm sure you know, for every vocal objector there are probably about 10+ quiet appreciators. I haven't commented before, but I read your blog every day because I find it invigorating and inspiring. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

- a Female Science Graduate Student

Pascale Hammond Lane said...

The way to be a better writer is to write.
Writing a blog lets me practice real writing skills, not the stilted BS required in the world of science.
I'm not as fast as PhysioProf (my posts generally take 20 minutes or so), but they let me get stuff dealt with so I can concentrate on the real work.
Keep it up FSP. We luvs ya!

Anonymous said...

I think you should irk your negative readers even more just for the fun of it, by not writing what they want you to write in the way they want you to write it, but by posting more about your Cats. Then, you can rename your blog "FSP, and the Cats." then your critics can go to town complaining about how if you would only write less about cats you would be a much better scientist.

just a suggestion by the way, I'm not trying to tell you what to write in your blog... :-)

Anonymous said...

This has little to do with you being a good scientist. I heard this once on the Penn and Teller show "Bullshit":

"Smart people are very good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non smart reasons".

All I tried to say the other day is that you seem to jump to your conclusions with a certain bias. I am suggesting that you do not apply the impartial scientific method while deciding whether something was sexist.

You're a tenured full professor. They dont give that to just anyone.

And "a physicist's" mockery (of me?) that you praise is quite ridiculous. So a lot of others posted their anecdotes on sexism. According to "a physicist" that should count as evidence! Dear O Dear!!!! Doesn't he/she see that the post acted as a magnet for everyone who thought they had been victims of sexism? Go to Michelle Malkin's blog. By the same standard of evidence, you will see that most of America consists of foaming at the mouth right wingers.

Kevin said...

"By the same standard of evidence, you will see that most of America consists of foaming at the mouth right wingers."

No, applying the same criteria one would conclude that foaming at the mouth right-wingers still exist. Personally, I think that is a reasonable conclusion.

Hope said...

@Anon 3:30 – You’re getting tiresome. You speak of the “impartial scientific method” – well, an integral part of that is collecting evidence. So I say, as I said to you in the thread in question: show me the evidence! Show me where FSP says that the James Chartrand incident is proof that sexism still exists. All she did was use this as a jumping off point to talk about what a name could/should reveal. But you would rather pretend otherwise – not very “scientific” of you, if you ask me. Try to stick to the facts; in other words, what FSP actually said, as opposed to what you would like FSP to have said.

Dear O Dear!!!! Doesn't he/she see that the post acted as a magnet for everyone who thought they had been victims of sexism?

You are not really this dense, are you? I think you know very well that other posts on the internet about sexism — even about James Chartrand — were *not* written in response to FSP’s post.

Ace Kittyhawk said...

FSP, I've been reading this blog for a couple of years. I don't have time to read blogs any more (at my shiny new tenure track job) - yours is the only one I still follow. This blog has helped me significantly in navigating academia so far. This is feminism in action today. You're an icon, FSP. Thanks for setting an example.

blah blah blah Anonymous blah blah blah said...

Than you for answering with a post, but let me insist.
What do you write about? About your true interests: feminism, feminism, feminism.
So, you are more interested in feminism than in science.
Your readers seem more feminist than scientist, like the previous commenter who says "This is feminism in action today. You're an icon, FSP".

I appreciate your anonymous posts about tedious faculty meetings and unpleasant colleagues, but I disagree. As you take criticisms personally, please compare these two other blogs

as an example of two female scientists: one does science, the other does feminist rants. Do you have any doubt about who is a better example?

Anonymous said...

question: sexism is the reason why there are 40 female nobel laureates out of a total of 800 total winners?

question: what larry summers said, he suggested men are more biologically inclined to excel in sciences than women?

(I just want to know the right answer, and the truth)

more retarded males, so more male geniuses....

Hope said...

@DM: or you could just tell them all to, well, you know.

Nah … she’s got too much class for that!

FSP, even with the occasional trolls, I find people on your blog to be comparatively well-behaved; the discussion here doesn’t often sink to the levels I’ve seen elsewhere. I think that speaks highly of you – you set the tone, and your audience follows suit. Either that or you wield a heavy hand during moderation! (Actually, I’m curious what percentage of comments you don’t let through….)

This is the only blog that I read regularly anymore. I can’t think of any blogger whose opinions/insights about academia I value more.

Anonymous said...

Similar to a commenter above, I have been a quiet reader for quite some time. I'm a female junior faculty member going through the gauntlet of tenure. I am the first tenure-track woman ever hired by my department (in an engineering field at a "well-endowed" R1 university, conscious double entendre). This job at times is a total slog and at other times is absolutely freaking-fantastic. I adore that your blog captures this reality. It helps to give me pause and see the humor in my daily life. Thank you!

Ace Kittyhawk said...

blah Anonymous,

I resent your implication that myself and FSP are feminists above scientists.

Here is a link to my CV with publications:

You'll notice a) I am a kickass scientists, b) none of my papers are about feminism.

FSP, sorry for using the F-word in my comments, thereby attracting more trolls.

John Vidale said...

What do you write about? About your true interests: feminism, feminism, feminism.

So, you are more interested in feminism than in science.

Your readers seem more feminist than scientist, ...

This statement is ridiculous.

Sometimes I suspect FSP makes up alter egos to entertain us, but I know she doesn't.

Does anyone really think that if we were actually scientists, we couldn't help but slip in a few more subduction-then-orogeny references or Riemann sheet transformations?

Does any really think the issues of women in science are not of great interest to real scientists?

Anonymous said...

So sad... again...scientists skipping all standards of scientific evidence to confirm their bias.

Who is debating the existence of sexism? Not me!

But more or less all of the great evils of the world continue/will continue to exist in some form: racism, homophobia, even nazism.

The real question is whether sexism exists to such a degree that it could become not just ONE explanation, but THE preferred explanation for events. I'd say not.

If the anecdotes on possible sexism PROVE sexism in academia, the universal agreement against sexism among academics on any any any blog forum PROVES that academics have a deep desire to root out sexism. And YET, apparently sexism is flourishing in academia. Don't we have a contradiction here?

The answer is simple: anecdotal evidence, interpreted in a subjective manner, proves absolutely nothing.

Maybe I am missing something, but I thought that scientists are among the most intelligent and intellectual people in the world. Scientists are the cream of the intelligentsia, the people who split the atomic nuclei, the people who discovered string theory and dark matter. Why would this most intelligent of all communities hang on to medieval prejudices like sexism? It doesn't make sense, does it?

I would request you to think about racism. The very same things that were said about female incompetence in the old days were said about people of colour...sometimes much worse things were said. Would you say academia is racist today? If not, why do you think academics would give up racism and be too dumb to do the same with sexism?

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you do it FSP. It makes me annoyed to no end. Like this person above, acting as if there is no actual data on this... Yes, scientific institutions today are sexist and racist. you have to read the study with Karen, Brian, and D'Shuan sending their CVs to be assessed by academics. The same CV. By no means is that an anecdote. No amount of science can prove anything meaningfully if people choose to ignore it - who's biased?

Anonymous said...

question: sexism is the reason why there are 40 female nobel laureates out of a total of 800 total winners?

Probably another extension of women dropping out of the academic pipeline due to cultural roadblocks that prevent women from entering and being accepted in science at the same rates as men. If the ratio of female scientists (or female TT faculty) to men is not equal, how can the rate of Nobel prize awards be?

Anonymous said...

To blah blah blah Anonymous:

"as an example of two female scientists: one does science, the other does feminist rants. Do you have any doubt about who is a better example?"

By your own standards what does it say about YOU, that you apparently spend your time reading and commenting on the blogs of people you dislike just so you can pass judgment (not that anyone cares about your judgment)? Shouldn't you be off doing your science instead? Or does this mean you're not a good scientist since reading and commeting on blogs that are not about science is what you spend your time doing (your own standards being applied to you)

Swims With Fishes said...

Hey, I am an FSP too. Two words - you rock. It is like you live inside my head some days. I am grateful that you are willing to share your thoughts. No, I don't agree with them 100% of the time, and who cares?! Your blog is your opinion, and anyone who has an issue with it simply need not read it! I think you have a great thing going here. I appreciate that you are willing to broach these issues and at the very least help me to define my own position.

Anonymous said...

Anon6:22PM, what makes you think that there is no racism in academia anymore?? As with sexism, lip-service is paid to the issue of publicly decrying racism, and the official institutional stance is always against it, but individual personal prejudices behind the scenes are far from dead, and the resulting influence on actions and decisions that affect people, are very real.

To attack FSP for covering "only" feminism in her blog and imply that since she apparently ignores racism and homophobia and nazism that she is not being "objective enough" for you, is absurd. Blog writers write about their own everyday worlds. If racism, homophobia, nazism, communism, environmentalism, any other -isms are not things that make up a large part of FSP's daily world (because she happens to not be of a minority race, nor a communist, nor gay, nor any of the other things), why should those subjects appear on her blog? How does that diminish her writings on feminism in any way?

Just as you alluded to there not being racism in academia anymore (which I can assure you is incorrect) simply because that is not a large factor in your own world, how can you similarly attack FSP for making claims based on her own personal experiences?

Anonymous said...

@ blah blah Anonymous blah blah blah blah:
What do you write about? About your true interests: feminism, feminism, feminism.
So, you are more interested in feminism than in an example of two female scientists: one does science, the other does feminist rants. Do you have any doubt about who is a better example?"

This makes no sense. Who says that there is a rule that you must only write about the one thing that is nearest and dearest to you? I am a TT scientist, but my blog is about my dogs and animal welfare issues. Because I do have room in my mind for more than one interest besides my work.

What makes you think that just because a scientist chooses to make their blog about science, that this somehow shows they are better scientists than another who chooses to blog about, say, politics, gardening, cats, dogs, sports, their own kids, or...feminism in science?

has it ever occurred to you that there are tons of science blogs out there. But there are far fewer blogs on social issues in science such as feminism and sexism in science, hence FSP may have chosen this to fulfill a niche in the blogging world.

Anonymous said...

engineering girl grad student here...been reading for a while. i mostly read it to find out what academia is like, as i make decisions about what to do in my career. i don't always agree with everything on the blog, but it's been a great resource. everyone's not going to agree on everything...that's what makes it more fun (minus the childish comments about the blog sucking, etc.)

hkukbilingualidiot said...

Just a question to all those who says that sexism don't exist in science or any other field for that matter...does it have to happen in front of your own very eyes for it to be real? If that's the case then sexism is happening way too often already!

Anonymous said...

The anonymous supposed "holders of the standard of science" miss the simple fact that a blog is not a scientific journal.

Their criticisms would be perfectly valid if FSP had published an academic treatise on sexism in a social sciences journal. However she publishes
her anecdotes in a personal blog.

Additionally, any scientist worth its salt will tell you that the origin and motivation of most studies are anecdotes and intuitions.

To a weak scientist it might look like we make random hypothesis and test them in the lab, but all to the contrary, we almost always start with an expected outcome, and then work really hard to design controls to prove our predetermined conclusion to the skeptics, a role which is usually played by the referes.

FSP, with her anecdotes, is letting the people in charge of such things that sexism and racism is still alive. Some of us are lucky enough to be in departments where that is rare, and as such might have a hard time believing it... until one happens to visit a colleague at one of those medieval institutions where those things are still the norm and we get to witness it first hand.

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite:

When someone comments: I hate reading your blog. I read it every day and it makes me angry.

It just makes me laugh how there are people who will say how much they dislike your blog, and how angry it makes them, yet they still obviously spend their time and energy reading it AND writing comments on it. Obviously people with no self-control at all.

FemalePhysicsGradStudent said...

I heartily disagree with your commenters who think you discuss feminist issues too often here, and who believe your commentary on feminist issues to be rabid.

One can easily find sources of feminist outrage online, but seldom do I come across articulate, fair-minded discussions of sexism in the workplace. (Sorry sexism apologists - the problem exists whether you see it or not.)

You are always so careful to make sure your readers understand why a particular experience could be considered sexist. You also deal with the alleged culprits generously; you allow for mistaken interpretations and write evenly about the events without the rage and hatred other feminist blogs commonly include. Indignation is (I think) a reasonable response to sexism at work, but it's rarely useful, and I'm always amazed by how you leave it out of your posts.

As a young female physics grad student, your (few!) posts dealing with these events are refreshing; such events seem bound to happen, but you deal with them with so much grace and character, it gives me ideas on how to approach them myself.

Also, this post cracked me up :)

Thank you!

claud2112 said...