Rule Followers

February 12, 2021

As always Dear Reader, I start with personal confession so you know how to read my biases appropriately.

I am a life time Rule Follower.

I am also a life time Self-Appointed Punisher of Those Who Think the Rules Do Not Apply to Them.

What does “Rule Follower” mean to me? No, not some sort of retentive allegiance to any possible guideline or rule, explicit or implicit. I’ve been known to speed once in awhile. It doesn’t even mean that rule followers are going to agree with, and follow, every rule imaginable for any scenario. It is just an orientation of a person that believes there are such things as rules of behavior, these rules are good things as a social or community compact and that it is a good idea to adhere to them as a general rule. It is a good idea to work within the rules and that this is what is best for society, but also for the self.

The other kind of person, the “Rules Don’t Apply to ME” type, is not necessarily a complete sociopath*. And, in fact, such people may actually be a Rule Follower when it comes to the really big, obvious and Important (in their view) rules. But these are people that do not agree that all of the implicit social rules that Rule Followers follow actually exist. They do not believe that these rules apply to them, and often extend that to the misdemeanor sort of actual formal Rules, aka The Law.

Let’s talk rules of the road- these are the people who routinely speed, California Stop right on reds, and arc into the far lane when making a turn on a multi-lane road. These are the people that bypass a line of patiently waiting traffic and then expect to squeeze into the front of the line with an airy “oops, my badeee, thanks!” smile and wave. They are the ones that cause all sorts of merging havoc because they can’t be arsed to simply go down to the next street or exit to recover from their failure to plan ahead. These are often the people who, despite living in a State with very well defined rules of the road for bicycle traffic, self-righteously violate those rules as a car driver and complain about how the law-compliant bicycle rider is the one in the wrong.

But above all else, these people feel entitled to their behavior. It is an EXTREME OUTRAGE whenever they are disciplined in any way for their selfish and rude behavior that is designed to advantage themselves at the cost to (many) others.

If you don’t let them in the traffic line, you are the asshole. When you make the left turn into lane 2 and they barely manage to keep from hitting you as they fail to arc their own turn are the asshole. When they walk at you three abreast on the sidewalk and you eyeball the muppethugger trying to edge you off your single lane coming the other way and give every indication you are willing to bodycheck their selfish ass until they finally grudgingly rack it the fuck in…YOU are the asshole.

When they finally get a minor traffic citation for their speeding or failing to stop on a right on red… Oh, sister. It’s forty minutes of complaining rationalization about how unfair this is and why are those cops not solving real crimes and oh woe is me for a ticket they can easily pay. Back in the day when it was still illegal, this was the person caught for a minor weed possession citation who didn’t just pay it but had to go on at length about how outrageous it was to get penalized for their obvious violation of the rules. Don’t even get me started about how these people react to a citation for riding their bicycle on the sidewalk (illegal!) instead of in the street (the law they personally disagree with).

Back before Covid you could identify these two types by hanging around the bulk food bin at your local hippy grocery store. Rule Followers do not sample the items before paying and exiting the store. Those other people…..

Hopefully I’ve chosen examples that get you into the proper mindset of a complex interplay of formal rules that not everyone follows and informal rules of conduct that not everyone follows. I shouldn’t have to draw your attention to how the “Rules Don’t Apply to Me” sail along with convenient interpretations, feigned ignorances and post-hoc everyone-does-it rationales to make their lives a lot easier. That’s right, it’s convenient to not follow the rules, it gets them ahead and frankly those Rule Followers are beta luser cucks for not living a life of personal freedom!

We’re actually in the midst of one of these scenarios right now.

Covid vaccination

As you are aware, there are formal “tiers” being promulgated for who gets schedule for vaccines at which particular time. You know the age cutoffs- we started with 75+ and are now at 65+ in most locations. Then there are the job categories. Health care workers are up first, and then we are working a cascade of importance given occupation. Well, in my environment we had a moment in which “lab workers” were greenlit and Oh, the science lab types rushed to make their appointments. After a short interval, the hammer came down because “lab” meant “lab actually dealing with clinical care and health assessment samples” and not just “any goofaloon who says they work in a lab”.

Trust me, those at the head of that rush (or those pushing as the lab head or institution head) were not the Rule Followers. It was, rather, those types of people who are keen to conveniently define some situation to their own advantage and never consider for a second if they are breaking the Rules.

Then there have been some vaccine situations that are even murkier. We’ve seen on biomedical science tweeter that many lab head prof types have had the opportunity to get vaccinated out of their apparent tier. It seemed, especially in the earlier days prior to vaccine super centers, that a University associated health system would reach the end of their scheduled patients for the day and have extra vaccine.

[ In case anyone has been hiding under a rock, the first vaccines are fragile. They have to be frozen for storage in many cases and thus thawed out. They may not be stable overnight once the vial in question has been opened. In some cases the stored version may need to be “made up” with vehicles or adjuvants or whatever additional components. ]

“Extra” vaccine in the sense of active doses that would otherwise be lost / disposed of if there was no arm to stick it in. Employees who are on campus or close by, can readily be rounded up on short notice, and have no reason to complain if they can’t get vaccinated that particular day, make up this population of arms.

Some Rule Followers were uncomfortable with this.

You will recognize those other types. They were the ones triumphantly posting their good luck on the internet.

In my region, we next started to have vaccine “super centers”. These centers recruited lay volunteers to help out, keep an eye on patients, assist with traffic flow, run to the gloves/syringe depot, etc. And, as with the original health center scenario, there were excess doses available at the end of the day which were offered to the volunteers.

Again, some Rule Followers were uncomfortable with this. Especially because in the early days it was totally on the DL. The charge nurse closest to you would pull a volunteer aside and quietly suggest waiting around at the end of the day just “in case”. It was all pretty sketchy sounding….. to a Rule Follower. The other type of person? NO PROBLEM! They were right there on day one, baby! Vacc’d!

Eventually the volunteer offer policy became someone formalized in my location. Let me tell you, this was a slight relief to a Rule Follower. It for sure decreases the discomfort over admitting one’s good fortune on the intertoobs.

But! It’s not over yet! I mean, these are not formalized processes and the whole vaccine super-center is already chaos just running the patients through. So again, the Rules Don’t Need To Be Followed types are most likely to do the self-advocacy necessary to get that shot in their arm as quickly and assuredly as possible. Remember, it’s only the excess doses that might be available. And you have to keep your head up on what the (rapidly shifting and evolving) procedure might be at your location if you want to be offered vaccine.

Fam, I’m not going to lie. I leaned in hard on anyone I think of as a Rule Follower when I was relating the advantages of volunteering** at one of our vaccine super-centers. I know what we are like. I tell them as much about the chaotic process as I know so as to prepare them for self-advocacy, instead of their native reticence to act without clear understanding of rules that entitle them to get stuck with mRNA.

Still with me?

NIH has been cracking down on URLs in grant applications lately. I don’t know why and maybe it has to do with their recent hoopla about “integrity of review” and people supposedly sharing review materials with outside parties (in clear violation of the review confidentiality RULES, I will note). Anyway, ever since forever you are not supposed to put URL links in your grant applications and reviewers are exhorted never ever to click on a link in a grant. It’s always been explained to me in the context of IP address tracking and identifying the specific reviewers on a panel that might be assigned to a particular application. Whatever. It always seemed a little paranoid to me. But the Rules were exceptionally clear. This was even reinforced with the new Biosketch format that motivated some sort of easy link to one’s fuller set of publications. NIH permits PubMed links and even invented up this whole MyBibliography dealio at MyNCBI to serve this purpose.

Anyway there has been a few kerfuffles of EXTREME ANGER on Science Twitter from applicants who had their proposals rejected prior to review for including URLs. It is an OUTRAGE, you see, that they should be busted for this clear violation of the rules. Which allegedly, according to Those To Whom Rules Do Not Apply, were incredibly arcane rules that they could not possibly be expected to know and waaah, the last three proposals had the same link and weren’t rejected and it isn’t FAAAAAIIIIR!

My gut reaction is really no different than the one I have turning left in a two lane turn or walking at sidewalk hogs. Or the one I have when a habitual traffic law violator finally has to pay a minor fine. Ya fucked around and found out. As the kids say these days.

For some additional perspective, I’ve been reviewing NIH grants since the days when paper hard copies were submitted by the applicant and delivered to the reviewers as such. Pages could be missing if the copier effed up- there was no opportunity to fix this once a reviewer noticed it one week prior to the meeting. Font size shenanigans were seemingly more readily played. And even in the days since, as we’ve moved to electronic documents, there are oodles and oodles of rules for constructing the application. No “in prep” citations in the old Biosketch….people did it anyway. No substituting key methods in the Vertebrate Animals section…..people still do it anyway. Fonts and font size, okay, but what about vertical line spacing….people fudge that anyway. Expand figure “legends” (where font size can be smaller) to incorporate stuff that (maybe?) should really be in the font-controlled parts of the text. Etc, etc, etc.

And I am here to tell you that in many of these cases there was no formal enforcement mechanism. Ask the SRO about a flagrant violation and you’d get some sort of pablum about “well, you are not obliged to consider that material..”. Font size? “well…..I guess that’s up to the panel”. Which is enraging to a Rule Follower. Because even if you want to enforce the rules, how do you do it? How do you “ignore” that manuscript described as in prep, or make sure the other reviewers do? How do you fight with other reviewers about how key methods are “missing” when they are free to give good scores even if that material didn’t appear anywhere in figure legend, Vertebrate Animals or, ISYN, a 25% of the page “footnote” in microfont. Or how do your respond if they say “well, I’m confident this investigator can work it out”?

If, in the old days, you gave a crappy score to a proposal that everyone loved by saying “I put a ruler on the vertical and they’ve cheated” the panel would side eye you, vote a fundable score and fuck over any of your subsequent proposals that they read.

Or such might be your concern if your instinct was to Enforce the Rules.

Anyway, I’m happy to see CSR Receipt and Referral enforce rules of the road. I don’t think it an outrage at all. The greater outrage is all the people who have been able to skirt or ignore the rules and advantage themselves against those of us who do follow the rules***.


*Some of my best friends are habitual non-followers-of-rules.

**I recommend volunteering at a vaccine super station if you have the opportunity. It is pretty cool just to see how your health care community is reacting in this highly unusual once-in-a-generation crisis. And its cool, for those of us with zero relevant skills, to have at least a tiny chance to help out. Those are the Rules, you know? 🙂

***Cue Non-Followers-of-Rules who, Trumplipublican- and bothsiders-media-like, are absolutely insistent then when they manage to catch a habitual Rule Follower in some violation it proves that we’re all the same. That their flagrant and continual behavior is somehow balanced by one transgression of someone else.