Friday, February 14, 2014

Not good enough.

Is it just me? How come, in some fields, it's perfectly acceptable to put out absolute garbage?

I'm talking about everything from poorly formatted files, complete lack of replicates or error bars, ugly raw excel plots, to absolutely fabricated data visualizations with way too many variables and complicated crap thrown in just to look artistic.

If I brought anything remotely like that to my advisors at any time from grad school through postdoc, I would've been shot on sight.

I keep thinking about how my advisors had no fucking clue what to do with data in unusable file formats. Even if it was the default output from equipment we used all the time. And how come the companies that made that equipment somehow managed to stay in business, in spite of their complete lack of understanding of what their customers actually needed.

And if someone showed up to lab meeting with a graph of n=1 attempt with no replicates, any of my advisors would have just laughed and tell them to do it again in triplicate.

How, if I tried to make a figure with a different kind of graph, as a clever way to represent trends in the data, they would simply refuse to even try to understand what was going on.

But I see people doing this all the time in other fields, and when I point out how uninterpretable and useless it is, everyone looks at me like I'm the one who's being "too demanding".

I don't get why it's good enough for everyone else.

I can only assume that most people don't know any better, which means they don't appreciate that it's worth taking the time to develop tools to convert data into usable formats. Or to do an experiment correctly. Or to figure out how to represent data clearly and simply.

The other thing I keep thinking about is how, when I was struggling to do all of these things at an exceptional level to please my impossible advisors, they were rarely any help. But because of the way most people interpret authorship, they still get all the credit.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Color and size: still controversial topics

This week, a friend asked whether I had an opinion on the infighting among feminists on the internet. I said, what? Which got me thinking about how I'm so tired of controversy. Why can't we all just get along?

For example, I was just reading this surprisingly controversial post by a somewhat clueless writer, and I just wanted to say that I think (?) I can see both sides. I'm not completely sure why it's gotten so much attention. There is so much writing on the internet, I don't really understand why some things attract a lot of traffic and comments and others don't.

Anyway. It's interesting how blogging has made me, if anything, less sensitive to people's clueless use of language. More aware, but less sensitive.

For those who haven't seen it, the original post in question was written by a young woman experiencing a misplaced and kind of condescending Privileged White Guilt. Basically, she writes that she was uncomfortable while witnessing a young, overweight black woman struggling in her yoga class. It attempts to be a thought piece about race, socioeconomic status, and body image.

I thought the post was well-intentioned, especially if we assume the author is new to blogging and the editor of the site, if they saw the piece at all, is white and clueless herself and/or maybe wanted (?) to stir up controversy.

But I can see why black women, for example, this author , were annoyed.

Having said that, I always do the experiment where I swap genders to see how I would feel if it were me. What if some guy wrote a piece about me being the only girl in my martial arts class? If he was trying to exhibit compassion for me, would I be insulted? Probably not, actually.

But maybe it's not like that at all. It's always dangerous to assume what other people intend by their actions or behavior, whether you happen to be correct or not. I should know, because I've often correctly interpreted people's behavior toward me, even when it seemed like I was making unfair assumptions. But in the process of doing that and writing this blog, I've learned two things that I think have improved both my ability to analyze human behavior, and my writing. First, it's important to recognize the possibility of being wrong (the null hypothesis, if you will). Second, it's important to separate your observations into variables.

1. Beginning something new is always hard. The new person in yoga class is a beginner. Maybe that should have been the point of the piece? Compassion for people starting out on a path that you've already been down, knowing how hard it is? But the author didn't write about that.

2. We should try harder to be inclusive of all skin colors.  Personally, I think the piece might have worked just as well if the author had omitted the description of the new student as "black", because part of the problem was the (perhaps inadvertent) insinuation that all black women are overweight (?). Which is ridiculous.

The author could have simply written more about why her studio isn't more diverse, why that matters to her, and what would have to happen for diversity to be a priority.

Or, she could have written a really honest piece about how she knows nothing about black culture, to the point of being scared when she sees black people, and feels guilty about her socioeconomic status and racial privilege. That would have been really brave, if it's the case (and her writing certainly implies that it is). But she didn't manage to actually focus on that.

3. Does size matter? I have personally witnessed overweight beginners (men and women of all races, actually, at my yoga studio), who seemed uncomfortable, or downright miserable. I'm not obese, but I have myself felt like the fat girl in class. It's all relative.

Maybe the author's self-conscious writing about her own "skinny white girl" body image was clumsily conflated with her perhaps subconscious jealousy of black women's curves? She could have written a whole piece on that, and maybe it would have prompted a more honest discussion of why, even in this day and age, women's sense of identity is still so wrapped up in our body image.

If anything, yoga should be about learning to love and respect your body, to work with all your strengths and weaknesses. But the author didn't write about that.

4. Some other reason you can't see. Maybe the new student was ill or hadn't slept well. Maybe she was struggling for reasons that had nothing to do with her size, or being a beginner.

I have been that person who, for whatever reason, cannot keep up with the class. In my case, I was injured, and consequently frustrated at the pain and my body's limitations, but I'm sure the look on my face would be taken as hostile to anyone who saw me and didn't know what was going on.

As one of my friends used to say, "Maybe she's not mad at you. Maybe that's just her face."

Yoga is a journey, not a destination. Perhaps most upsetting to me as a yoga practitioner is that any halfway decent teacher should have gone over to speak to the new student and asked if she was ok. If she needed help. And suggested modified poses to help a beginner get started. But not all yoga styles are the same, and a lot of yoga teachers are clueless, if not downright dangerous. The fact that the author apparently didn't know that just makes me sad.

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard given to beginning yogis is this: eyes on your own mat.

In other words, don't worry about what anyone else is doing. This author clearly failed to focus on her own yoga practice. If she was so worried about it, I can't help wondering, why didn't she ask the teacher to intervene?

The other piece of advice I give everyone as they advance in yoga: stop competing with everyone, including yourself. For a lot of people, the combination of meditative and physically challenging aspects of yoga bring up a lot of questions. I applaud people who want to write about their internal debates, but that doesn't mean that every thought piece should be published.

In this case, I think the blame rests with the editor who didn't vet the piece with more sensitivity, and maybe was deliberately trying to be controversial.

I was recently reading about a similar case where the editor ended up apologizing at length for the outing of Dr.V.

As independent bloggers, we have to take all the responsibility. I would hope that Jane Pratt would know better, but the tagline for the site is this: is where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded."

In that regard, the author definitely succeeded.