September 5, 2013

It’s been a bit since I pontificated on discourse. (I know PhysioProffe really misses these types of blather.) I do recommend you read those prior comments.

For today though, a more conciliatory note.

While we might ferociously stick to our position, talking points and arguments in certain scenarios, if we really genuinely want to advance a discussion this can be unwise.

It is essential to drop your position and pugnacity for a second or two and really, genuinely consider where the other person is coming from.

To walk the proverbial mile in their shoes.

And above all else, to think hard about how your stance and opinions appear to other people. This requires including how they perceive you instead of how you perceive yourself.

It can also help to credit the other person’s concerns as if they were as important to them as your concerns are to you. Because chances are this is indeed the case.

I find myself in yet another knock down argument with a guy who, I am pretty sure, I share a lot of fundamental concerns with. On the face of it.

Yet I am convinced this guy is almost pathologically unable to genuinely recognize and consider the viewpoint and circumstances of other people.

There are generally two reasons for this.

First, a sort of overweening personal arrogance that, I am sad to report, is endemic to academics. This is the sort of arrogance born of a lifetime of being smarter than most other people, burnished by happening into a position of (modest, this is academics, mind) power in which many people do not challenge you. Underscored by a profession in which, despite the credit being supposed to come from the work you have done, obsessively views accomplishments as the subsidiary outcome of personal worth.

I don’t think, after a few go-rounds with this fine chap, that this is the problem.

This leaves me with the second problem. Wherein the inability to budge off talking points, the refusal to see complexity of human trajectories and the blindness to others’ lived experience comes from a theological adherence to a higher calling.

Religion, in essence.

It does funny things to people.

I do my fair share of preaching around this blog. And I do my fair share of sticking to my talking points.

But anyone who has been around long knows that what I’m really addicted to is the differential lived experiences of those of you more or less in the broader envelopes of academics, academic science and particularly the subfields that fall under the broad scope of Biology.

I am addicted to walking the mile in your smelly-arsed shoes folks.

8 Responses to “Discussion”

  1. dr24hours Says:

    I often feel like you have absolutely no interest in my opinion or perspective on anything except addiction and recovery. On those subjects you are thoughtful, inquisitive, and empathic. Perhaps because they were already independantly interesting to you.

    But take another subject about which you are religious, for example, keeping dogs as pets. You’re uninterested in anything except anecdotes that support your preconceived notions, and are impenetrable to evidence.

    You walk in other people’s shoes when you like their shoes. And not when you don’t. Like all of us.


  2. drugmonkey Says:

    Yeah, the difference, of course, being that I am entirely unserious when it comes to dogs and dog ownership. I know perfectly well that there is no (real) point whatsoever to arguing with delusional dog owners. It’s pure entertainment and the revelation of the depths of delusion otherwise rational people sink to when it comes to Fido.

    Other things I actually care about. Whether professionally or personally.

    Like I said at the outset, there is room for sticking to your guns and talking points and all that. Click through to the links. I meant that stuff (too).

    I am willing to credit that sometimes I mistake what a theological adherent is really up to. Perhaps these OA folks really know that they are all about preaching to the choir and moving the Overton window. And exercising their personal angst. If so, hey, good on them. Rule 9 and what not.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    you have absolutely no interest in my opinion or perspective on anything

    In some cases this is, ironically enough, because it is you who are unable to stipulate to an orientation that I hold. I see it as very much similar to the theme of this post.

    Let’s take the dog issue. If one stipulates to the dog owner point of view, which is that there is some basic god given right to own a dog, this carries the discussion in a certain inevitable way. If one stipulates to my point of view, one must start from the orientation that we do not have any need for dogs and they do not have any independent right to be bred by the millions as we do now. On the whole, I’m a heck of a lot more able to stipulate the doggy position and make arguments from there than any dog botherer has ever been seen to stipulate to my position.

    There was just a recent comment on the Twitts from a cyclist who was approached by a dog that bit his/her foot. As it happens. Try viewing this event from my point of view. In what other aspect of personal choice and behavior on the part of humans do we tolerate causing this level of assault and mayhem as we do from dog ownership? How many of those items have *no* other justification than a nebulous “cause I wanna, that’s why” answer?


  4. dr24hours Says:

    I don’t want to derail this into a discussion of dogs again. But I’m not entirely sure how you are using stipulation. I generally use it to mean, “Temporarily assume that a point under debate is resolved to your opponant’s favor.” This is generally done as a rhetorical device to say, “Even if you were right about this thing, you’d still be wrong about the larger issue.”

    As such, I’m not entirely sure why you want me to stipulate, or what about. I don’t see it as “walking a mile in your shoes”; rather “preparing to demolish your argument”. I’m perfectly capable of walking in your shoes about dogs. They’re often dangerous, they’re messy, etc..

    In the open access debate, I can stipulate AND empathise with the OA position on many subjects, but not with their religious exclusivity. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in describing it in ecclesiastical terms. Not only do Eisen et al insist that they know the truth, they are set to go to war with anyone who disagrees. When the terms of debate and consequences of victory are not only unknown, but unknowable.


  5. drugmonkey Says:

    Well, if it IS the case that stipulating the viewpoint of another demolishes your argument this should be meaningful. It means that either your argument is flawed or that you are arguing over the wrong thing. You may need to be addressing the differences in viewpoint rather than the surface issues you are currently discussing.

    Arguing whether it is a very specific breed or breeds of dogs that are dangerous misses the point. It may be that the fundamental “god given right” versus “freedom from assault without good reason” is the real discussion.

    Or it may be the case that your inability to stipulate means that you are asserting something that you don’t want to assert in public. Like “yeah, my affection for Fido really does trump the right of some kid I don’t know to be free from face ripping, fuck you.”

    In the case of the OA fevers of large, well funded and Glamour quality labs they may really be saying “fuck all you small time assholes you don’t do good science anyway” but be unable to admit this in polite company. (Note, PP gets major props for actually being willing to say this. I disagree, but at least he’s an honest motherfucker to discuss things with.) So instead of arguing about what they meant about “make all the data available” they really need to be saying “hey, if you can’t run with the big dogs, and grab your own meal off the carcass before anyone else does, please clean up the shit. and die.”.

    they are set to go to war with anyone who disagrees.

    I see it less of an issue of attacking “anyone” than I do as an issue of not caring about the fate of the foot soldiers that they would like to deploy in their wars.

    I see it as exhorting others to take risks that oneself does not run. or is not willing to take. Yeah, we all struggle in this academic life. Sure we do. And at some time in the past we had it worse than we do now. But trying to pretend that one’s struggles from firmly in the middle of the pack are the same as those of someone just barely trying to enter the pack….that’s assy.

    I hate the Glamour Chase. I really do. I think it is all that is wrong with science today. It makes people say insane shit like “complete story” and “if I can’t do science at that level as a PI then I’m getting out”. Insane.

    I burn a pixel or two railing against it.

    But I never for a second start exhorting junior faculty to ignore it and put all their work in PLoS ONE. Even though I think science would be enormously better if we all stopped scrambling for JIF points. I don’t tell junior faculty to fight the good fight because I know it is bad for them as individual scientists.

    As I observed on the Twitts awhile ago, maybe this is the difference between great leaders/great people and nobodies.

    The willingness to sacrifice a great many others in the pursuit of your own goals.

    Committed as I may be to my beliefs, I just can’t see doing that.


  6. Dr Becca Says:

    I’m a heck of a lot more able to stipulate the doggy position

    Just leaving this here.


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    Nice Dr B. Nice.


  8. dr24hours Says:

    Well, when it comes to dogs, I think the larger issue is important, so I do you the favor and stipulate your point about breeds. The larger issue to me is not about fundamental rights, but about the role of the law: should the law be a blanket to protect us from harm, and inhibit liberty in the meanwhile, or should it allow for just recompense from damages and safeguard liberty? There, I tend to side with liberty and consequence, rather than proscription and safety. Though not always.

    On the OA position, I’m beginning to understand where you’re coming from. Stipulate for the moment (but certainly not forever) that OA is the better model from the point of view of dissemination of science, and then examine the damage done to careers as the transition is made? And is it worth it to say: many fine scientists must fall on the OA sword to change the culture?

    Then, maybe, maybe not. Young lives are sacrificed in war. We usually have to evaluate the worth of that sacrifice after (WWII, most say was worth it, Iraq II, not so much.) If we ended up with a utopia in which all science was freely disseminated and hiring and tenure decisions were all made on the individual merits of the production of the candidates? Maybe so. But I don’t believe for a moment that OA actually gets us there.


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