Archive for the 'Blogospheric science' category

Why reporting abusive tweets to the twit's mother might not work.

Folks have been tweeting about a particular exchange on Twitter in which:

  • One person tweeted something abusive at another Twitter user
  • A third Twitter user offered to provide the target of the abuse with the mailing address of the first person's mother, the better to print out and mail her the abusive tweet her darling son had sent
  • The first person tweeted what he said was a sincere apology for the abuse in his earlier tweet

The conclusion some have drawn from this one exchange is that Twitter needs a "report this tweet to the tweeter's mom" button, which will seriously cut down on Twitter abuse.

Now, I chuckled at the abusive twit's speedy about-face, but it only takes a few moments' reflection to recognize that this strategy for reducing online abuse has problems. Here are just a few from the very top of my head:

  1. It's not a sure thing that Mom will have any problem with the offspring flinging abuse at others. (Maybe Mom flings online abuse herself! Maybe that's where Mom's offspring learned how to fling abuse!)
  2. It's not a sure thing that the offspring flinging abuse actually cares whether Mom knows about it. There seem to be significant stretches of the lifespan during which Mom's approval isn't a goal worth putting any kind of effort toward.
  3. Even if the offspring flinging abuse does care if Mom knows about it and disapproves, tasking Mom with communicating her approval -- especially to offspring no longer living under Mom's roof -- is just giving her more work. When will Mom's thankless work be over?
  4. For some Twitter users one might try to shame, there's a decent chance of misidentifying the corresponding Mom. Now you're giving that misidentified Mom thankless work generated by some other Mom's offspring, which is not cool at all.
  5. Maybe Mom has shuffled off this mortal coil. How are you going to shame her surviving offspring into behaving online now?
  6. Maybe the offspring flinging abuse is not using a real name online.
  7. Maybe the mother of the offspring flinging abuse is not using a real name online. Are you going to compromise her anonymity (for which she may have very good reasons), including providing her actual mailing address to a stranger, simply to deal with her offspring's online behavior? That's not cool.
  8. Where the hell is Dad is all of this? Why is Mom presumed to be the only parent capable of exerting a civilizing force on offspring?

So, nice try, but we're going to have to think harder about how to share online spaces and how best to prevail on people not to be abusive jerks to each other. This is just a subset of the project of being a grown-up who is also a decent human being, and Mom would really like you to figure out how to do this without her constant intervention.

(Plus, would it kill you to sit up straighter while you're online?)

2 responses so far

Baffling things I have read in blog comments discussing Colin McGinn's exit from University of Miami

Baffling things I have read in blog comments discussing Colin McGinn's exit from University of Miami

Sure, people are always warned not to read the comments. But in the philosophy blogosphere you might expect more thinking-through of positions, more recognition that what is metaphysically possible is not always plausible, and so forth. Plus empathy and stuff. And yet ...

  1. The baffling things presented here are mostly paraphrases (on account of Twitter's 140-character limit).  The commenters whose comments I'm paraphrasing would undoubtedly say I'm being uncharitable in my paraphrasing. I leave it to the reader to peruse the comments at NewAPPS, Crooker Timber, The Philosophy Smoker, and other fine blogs dealing with philosophy and/or academia that have commented on the McGinn resignation to see how many of these sentiments turn up.
  2. Continue Reading »

9 responses so far

I don't know and I don't care: ignorance, apathy, and reactions to exposure of bad behavior.

I've already shared some thoughts (here and here) on the Adria Richards/PyCon jokers case, and have gotten the sense that a lot of people want to have a detailed conversation about naming-and-shaming (or calling attention to a problematic behavior in the hopes that it will be addressed -- the lack of a rhyme obviously makes this more careful description of what I have in mind less catchy) as a tactic.

In this post, I want to consider how ignorance or apathy might influence how we (as individuals or communities) evaluate an instance of someone calling public attention to a microaggression like a particular instance of sexual joking in a professional environment.

It has become quite clear in discussions of Adria Richards and the PyCon jokers that, for any particular joke X, there are people who will disagree about whether it is a sexual joke. (Note that in the actual circumstances, there was agreement between Adria Richards, the PyCon jokers, and the PyCon staff that the jokes in question were inappropriate -- and also significant, if not total, agreement from "mr-hank," who claims to be the PyCon joker who was fired, that some of the jokes in question were sexual.) Let's posit, for the purposes of this discussion, a case where there is no disagreement that the joking in question is sexual.

So, you're with others in a work environment (like audience seating for a presentation at a professional conference). You are in earshot of a sexual joke -- maybe as part of the intended audience of the joke teller, maybe not, but certainly close enough that the joke teller has a reasonable expectation that you may hear the joke correctly (which you do). Do you call the attention of the community to the sexual joking and the people engaging in it?

One reason to point out the microaggression is to address ignorance.

The people engaged in the sexual joking may not realize that they are doing something inappropriate in a professional environment. This lack of knowledge may require a serious commitment -- for example, not to read conference codes of conduct, not to absorb any workplace anti-harassment training -- but I suppose it's not impossible. So, pointing out to individual jokers, "Dude, that's inappropriate!" might reduce the ignorance of those individuals. It might also reduce the ignorance of the silent bystanders also in earshot of the sexual joking.

Drawing attention of the larger community to the particular instance of sexual joking may help dispel the ignorance of that larger community (and of its individual members, including those not in earshot of the joking), establishing the existence of such microaggressions within the community. If members of the community make a habit of pointing out each such microaggression they observe, it can also help the community and its members get good information about the frequency of behavior like sexual joking within the professional environment of the community.

Pointing out the microaggression, in other words, can help the community to know that microaggressions are happening, how frequently they're happening, and who is committing them. The hope is that having good knowledge here is more likely to lead to an effective response to the problem than ignorance would be.

There are other dimensions of ignorance you might want to address -- for example, whether people within the community experience discomfort or harm because of such microaggressions, or what empirical studies show about whether sexual joking in the workplace is harmful regardless of whether members of the community report that they enjoy such joking. Still, the thought here is that identifying facts is the key to fixing the problem.

However, you might not think that ignorance is the problem.

It might be the case that the people telling the sexual jokes are fully aware that sexual joking is inappropriate in a professional environment -- that what they're doing is wrong.

It might be the case that the larger community is fully aware of the existence of microaggressions like sexual joking in their professional environments -- and even fully aware of the frequency of these microaggressions.

In these circumstances, where ignorance is not the problem, is there any good reason to point out the microaggression?

Here, the relevant problem would seem to be apathy.

If the community and its members have good information about the existence of microaggressions like sexual joking in their professional environments, good information about the frequency of such microaggressions, even good information about which of its members are committing these microaggressions and still cannot manage to address the problem of eliminating or at least reducing the microaggressions, you might be pessimistic about the value of pointing out another instance when it happens. Reluctance to use good information as the basis for action suggests that the community doesn't actually care about the well-being of the members of the community who are most hurt by the microaggressions, or doesn't care enough about the harm caused by the microaggressions to put the effort in to doing something about them.

(Those silent bystanders also in earshot of the microaggressions? If they aren't ignorant about what's happening, its inappropriateness, and the harms it can do, they are letting it happen without making any effort to intervene. That's apathy in action.)

But perhaps it is possible, at least some of the time, to shake a community out of its apathy.

Sometimes bringing a microaggression to the community's attention is a way to remind the community that it is not living up to its professed values, or that it is allowing some of its members to be harmed because it won't ask other members to take a bit more effort not to harm them.

Sometimes reporting the microaggressions forces members of a community to reconcile what they say they are committed to with how they actually behave.

Sometimes exposing microaggressions to the view of those outside the community brings external pressure upon the community to reconcile its walk with its talk.

It's looking to me like calling attention to a microaggression -- sometimes attention of individuals committing it, sometimes attention of the community as a whole, sometimes the attention of those outside the community who might put pressure on the community and its members -- has promise as a tactic to dispel ignorance, or apathy, or both.

In the case that microaggressions are recognized as actually harmful, what's the positive argument against exposing them?

15 responses so far

Naming, shaming, victim-blaming: thoughts on Adria Richards and PyCon.

By now many of you will have heard the news about Adria Richards attending PyCon, notifying the conference staff about attendees behind her telling jokes during a conference presentation (about, among other things, making the coding community more welcoming for women and girls). Richards felt the jokes were sexualized enough to harm the environment of the conference. PyCon had a Code of Conduct for the conference that encompassed this kind of issue. In a room with hundreds of attendees, in a context where she hoped this harm to the conference community would be dealt with rather than let go (which gives it tacit approval) but where she also didn't want to disrupt the presentations underway, Richards took a picture of the men telling the sexualized jokes and tweeted it with the conference hashtag to get the conference staff to deal with the situation.

The conference staff addressed the issue with the men telling the jokes. Subsequently, one of them was fired by his employer, although it's in no way clear that he was fired on account of this incident (or even if this incident had anything to do with the firing); Adria Richards started receiving an avalanche of threats (death threats, rape threats, we-know-where-you-live threats, you-should-kill-yourself threats); Adria Richards' employer fired her; and PyCon started tweaking its Code of Conduct (although as far as I can tell, the tweaking may still be ongoing) to explicitly identify "public shaming" as harmful to the PyCon community and thus not allowed.

So, as you might imagine, I have some thoughts on this situation.

My big-picture thoughts on naming and shaming are posted at my other blog. This post focuses on issues more specific to this particular incident. In no particular order:

1. There is NOTHING a person could do that deserves to be met with death threats, rape threats, or encouragement to kill oneself -- not even issuing death threats, rape threats, or encouragement to kill oneself. Let's not even pretend that there are circumstances that could mitigate such threats. The worst person you know doesn't deserve such threats. Making such threats is a horrible thing to do.

2. People disagree about whether the joking Adria Richards identified as running afoul of the PyCon Code of Conduct was actually sexual/sexist/inappropriate/creating a climate that could be hostile or unwelcoming to women. (A person claiming to be the joker who was subsequently fired seems to be ambivalent himself about the appropriateness of the joking he was doing.) But it's worth remembering that you are a good authority on what kind of conduct makes you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome; you are not automatically a good authority on what makes others feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. If you're a social scientist who has mounted a careful empirical study of the matter, or if you're up on the literature describing the research that has been done on what makes people comfortable or uncomfortable in different environments, maybe you have something useful to add to the conversation. In the absence of a careful empirical study, however, it's probably a good idea to listen to people when they explain what makes them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome, rather than trying to argue that they don't actually feel that way, or that they're wrong to feel that way.

In other words, that certain jokes would not have been a big deal to you doesn't mean that they could not have had a significant negative impact on others -- including others you take to be members of your community who, at least officially, matter as much as you do.

3. So, if Adria Richards was bothered by the joking, if she thought it was doing harm and needed to be nipped in the bud, why couldn't she have turned around and politely asked the men doing the joking to knock it off? This question assumes that asking nicely is a reliably effective strategy. If this is your default assumption, please [I just noticed myself typing it as a polite request, which says something about my socialization as a female human, so I'm going to let it stand] cast your eyes upon the #Iaskedpolitely hashtag and this post (including the comments) to get some insight about how experience has informed us that asking politely is a pretty unreliable strategy. Sometimes it works; sometimes, buying a lottery ticket wins you some money. On a good day, politely asking to be treated fairly (or to be recognized as a full human being) may just get you ignored. On a not as good day, it gets you called a bitch, followed for blocks by people who want to make you feel physically threatened, or much, much worse.

Recognize that the response that you expect will automatically follow from politely asking someone to stop engaging in a particular behavior may not be the response other people have gotten when they have tried the approach you take as obviously one that would work.

Recognize that, especially if you're a man, you may not know the lived history women are using to update their Bayesian priors. Maybe also recognize, following up on #2 above, that you may not know that lived history on account of having told women who might otherwise have shared it with you that they were wrong to feel the way they told you they felt about particular situations, or that they couldn't possibly feel that way because you never felt that way in analogous situations. In other words, you may have gappy information because of how your past behavior has influenced how the women you know update their priors about you.

I try to recognize that, as a white woman, I probably don't really grasp the history that Adria Richards (as a woman of color) has used to update her priors, either. I imagine the societal pressure not to be an "uppity woman" falls with much, much more force on an African American woman. Your data points matter as you plot effective strategies with which to try to get things done.

3.5. An aside: About a month ago, my elder offspring was parked in front of her laptop, headset on, engaged in an online multiplayer game of some sort. As the game was underway, one of the other players, someone with whom she had no acquaintance before this particular gaming session, put something pornographic on the screen. Promptly, she said into her headset mic, "Hey, that's not cool. Take the porn down. We're not doing that." And lo, the other player took the pornographic image off the screen.

I was pretty impressed that my 13-year-old daughter was so matter-of-fact in establishing boundaries with online gamers she had just met.

I thought about this in the context of #Iaskedpolitely. Then I realized that I maybe didn't have all the relevant information, so today I asked.

Me: That time you were online gaming and you told the other player to take down the porn? Is it possible the other player didn't know you were a girl?

Her: Not just possible.

My daughter has a gender-neutral username. Her voice is in a low enough register that on the basis of her voice alone you might take her for a 13-year-old boy. This may have something to do with the success of her request to the other player to take the porn off the screen in the game.

Also, she didn't bother with the word "please".

In the three-dimensional world, where it's less likely she'll be assumed to be male, her experiences to date have not departed nearly as much from what you can find in #Iaskedpolitely as a mother would like them to.

4. Some of the responses to the Adria Richards story have been along the lines of "A convention or professional conference or trade show is totally not the same thing as a workplace, and it's a Bad Thing that organizers are trying to impose professional-environment expectations on attendees, who want to hang out with their friends and have fun." I'll allow that even a professional conference is different from work (unless, I guess, your entire job is to coordinate or do stuff at professional conferences), but in many cases such a conference or convention or trade show is also still connected to work. One of the big connections is usually the community of people with which you interact at a conference or convention or trade show.

Here's a good operational test: Can you totally opt out of the conferences or conventions or trade shows with no resulting impact on your professional life (including your opportunities for advancement, networking, etc.)? If not, the conferences or conventions or trade shows are connected to your work, and thus it's appropriate to expect some level of professionalism.

None of which is to say that conventions one goes to off the clock, for fun, should necessarily be anarchic events, red in tooth and claw. Unless that's how the community at that particular con decides it wants to have fun, I suppose.

Also, this is not to say that companies should necessarily fire their employees for any and every infraction of a conference Code of Conduct. Depending on what kind of violation (and what kind of ongoing pattern of problematic behavior and failed attempts at remediation an employee might have displayed) firing might be the right call. I have seen none of the personnel files of the persons directly involved in this case -- and you probably haven't, either -- so the best I could do is speculate about whether particular firings were warranted, and if so, by what. I'm in no mood for such speculation.

5. On the matter of tweeting a photo of the PyCon attendees who were telling the jokes Adria Richards felt were inappropriate in the circumstances: Lots of people have decried this as a Very Bad Way for Richards to have communicated to the conference staff about bad-behavior-in-progress with which she felt they should intervene. Instead, they say, she should have had a sense of humor (but see #2 above). Or, she should have turned around and politely asked them to cut it out (but see #3 above). Or, that she should have done something else. (Email conference staff and hope someone was monitoring the inbox closely enough to get promptly to the location ten rows back from the stage so that Richards could point the jokers out in a room with hundreds of people? Use a Jedi mind trick to get them to stop quietly?)

She alerted the conference staff to the problem via Twitter. She made the call, given the available options, the fact that she didn't want to generate noise that would disrupt what was happening on the stage, and probably her judgments of what was likely to be effective based on her prior experiences (see #2 above).

Maybe that's not the call you'd make. Maybe the strategy you would have tried would totally have worked. I trust you're prepared to deploy it next time you're at a conference or convention or trade show and in earshot of someone behaving in a way likely to make members of the community feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. I hope it's just as effective as you imagine it will be.

Even if Adria Richards was wrong to tweet the picture of the jokers, that doesn't mean that their joking was appropriate in the circumstances in which they were doing it at PyCon. It wouldn't mean that the conference staff would be wrong to investigate the joking and shut it down (and deal with the jokers accordingly) if they judged it in violation of the Code of Conduct.

Also, one of the big complaints I've seen about the tweeted photo of the PyCon jokers is that using Twitter as a tool to report the problem removes the confidentiality that ought to accompany allegations of violations of the Code of Conduct, investigations of those allegations, penalties visited on violators, etc.

There's a couple things I want to say to that. First, dealing with bad behavior "privately" (rather than transparently) doesn't always inspire confidence in the community that the bad behavior is being taken seriously, or that it's being addressed consistently (as opposed to, say, being addressed except when someone we really like does it too), or that it's being addressed at all. Especially when the bad behavior in question is happening in a publicly observable way, taking the response completely private may be nearly as harmful to the community as the bad behavior itself.

Second, shouldn't the people who want us to trust that the PyCon staff would have dealt with the PyCon jokers fairly and appropriately in private themselves trust that the PyCon staff had addressed any violation of the conference Code of Conduct Adria Richards might have committed by tweeting the picture of the PyCon jokers (rather than emailing it or whatever) -- and that they'd dealt with such a violation on Richards' part, if they judged it a violation, in private?

There's just a whiff of a double standard in this.

6. On the post-conference update to the PyCon Code of Conduct to to explicitly identify "public shaming" as harmful to the PyCon community and thus not allowed: I'm hopeful that PyCon organizers take account of the effects on the community they have (and on the community they are trying to build) of opacity in dealing with bad behavior versus transparency in dealing with bad behavior.

It's not like there isn't already reason to believe that sometimes conference organizers minimize the impact of instances of harassment reported to them, or deny that any harassment has been reported at all, or back off from applying their own explicit rules to people they judge as valuable to the community.

These kinds of actions may harm their community just as much as public shaming. They communicate that some harassers are more valuable to the community than the people they harass (so maybe a bit of harassment is OK), or that people are lying about their actual experiences of bad behavior.

7. There has been the predictable dissection of Adria Richards' every blog post, tweet, and professional utterance prior to this event, with the apparent intention of demonstrating that she has engaged in jokes about sex organs herself, or that she has a history of looking for things to get mad about, or she's just mean, and who is she to be calling other people out for bad behavior?

This has to be the least persuasive tu quoque I've seen all year.

If identifying problematic behavior in a community is something that can only be done by perfect people -- people who have never sinned themselves, who have never pissed anyone off, who emerged from the womb incapable of engaging in bad behavior themselves -- then we are screwed.

People mess up. The hope is that by calling attention to the bad behavior, and to the harm it does, we can help each other do better. Focusing on problematic behavior (especially if that behavior is ongoing and needs to be addressed to stop the harm) needn't brand the bad actor as irredeemable, and it shouldn't require that there's a saint on duty to file the complaint.

8. Some people have opined that it was bad for Adria Richards to call out the PyCon jokers (or to call them out in the particular way she did) on account of the bad consequences that might befall them if they were known to have violated the PyCon Code of Conduct. But the maxim, "Don't call out bad behavior because doing so could have negative consequences for the person behaving badly" just serves to protect the bad behavior and the bad actors. Being caught plagiarizing can be harmful to a scientist's career, so for heaven's sake don't report it! Being convicted of rape can end your future as a football player, so your victim ought to refrain from reporting it, and the authorities ought to make sure you're not prosecuted!

Bad behavior has bad consequences, too.

The potential bad consequences of being caught behaving badly should, perhaps, help motivate people not to behave badly, especially in cases where the harms of that bad behavior to individuals or the community are not themselves sufficiently motivating to prevent the behavior.

9. Finally, some people have been expressing that it makes them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome when they are not allowed to act they way they want to, tell the jokes they feel like telling, and so forth.

I don't doubt this for a minute.

However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, it comes down to a question of who you want in your community and who you want out of it. Personally, I don't want my professional communities to be comfortable places for racists or sexists, for rapists, plagiarists, or jerks. Other people, I imagine, would prefer a professional community that's a comfortable place for racists or sexists, for rapists, plagiarists, or jerks to a professional community that's a comfortable place for me.

But here's the thing: if you say you want your community to be welcoming to and inclusive of people who aren't yet represented in great numbers, it might require really listening to what they say about what's holding them back. It might require making changes on account of what they tell you.

It's still possible that you'll decide in the end to prioritize the comfort of the people already in your community over the comfort of the people you thought you wanted to welcome into your community. But in that case, at least have the decency to be honest that this is what you're doing.

* * * * *

Also, pretty much everything Stephanie says here.

* * * * *

UPDATE: So, there are people who seem very eager to share their take on this situation (especially, for some odd reason, their autopsies of every wrong thing Adria Richards did) in the comments, but without engaging with anything I've written in the 3000 words here -- including the things I've written here that directly address the points they're trying to make.

There are many, many places on the internet where these not-really-engaging-with-the-conversation-we're-having-here contributions would be welcome. But it's probably worth updating some prior probabilities about whether those comments will make it out of moderation here.

74 responses so far

#scio13 aftermath: synecdoche.

It seems inevitable that I come back from ScienceOnline conferences with an odd glow of enthusiasm which my colleagues want me to explain to them. What is this weird conference? Why does it attract such an odd array of researchers, educators, communicators, tool-builders, information curators, and science lovers? Are the conference-goers split off into their disciplinary tribes to focus just on the topic and initiative that are squarely in their wheelhouses?

With 10,000 words I'm not sure I could come close to explaining it. But as David Quammen pointed out when he spoke to us in a CONVERGE session, sometimes focusing on a piece of the experience, a part of the whole, can convey something more.

I had the pleasure of sitting right across the aisle from Jason Goldman on our short flight from Raleigh-Durham to Charlotte on Sunday, and he mentioned that he had captured a tiny bit of video that he was showing to folks to explain what ScienceOnline was like to them. He gave me permission to share that video here:

Science Online, Gangnam style

As a bit of background, Carin Bondar had launched a plan to create a music video to capture some sense of what it was like to be at ScienceOnline 2013. (She made one at ScienceOnline 2012 that was a big hit, so people were pretty enthusiastic to help.) This year's effort sought (among other things) masses of conference attendees delivering something recognizable as "Gangnam Style" choreography. If you don't know what that is, let me introduce you to pop phenomenon PSY:

PSY "Gagnam Style"

The mission: get an odd array of researchers, educators, communicators, tool-builders, information curators, and science lovers to dance like PSY.

Our sensei: John Rennie, esteemed former editor in chief of Scientific American, adjunct instructor in New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program, science writer, editor, and blogger.

John's resume does not, as far as I can tell, include a stint as a dance instructor on a cruise ship or on land. However, when given the challenge of mastering some key choreography and of teaching it to a bunch of people (most of whom are not experienced dancers) on the spot, he attacked that challenge so earnestly that we were all committed.

We wanted to learn the steps. We believed we could figure them out, not just because we wanted to, but because John found a way to communicate them to us despite the fact that our entusiasm was much bigger that our talent. And by golly, we had an awesome time being part of the simultaneous transfer of skills and enthusiasm.

What happened that evening with a dance routine is not unrelated to what happens during the whole rest of the conference with our knowledge, our tools, our questions, our ideas for communication, for pedagogy, for outreach, for better ways of doing science, for better ways of sharing our world.

That's not the whole of the ScienceOnline experience, but it's an essential part of it, and it's just as infectious as a pop song.

One response so far

Dispatch from #scio13: Tweet me maybe?

So, last night at ScienceOnline there was an Open Mic Night, masterfully MC'd by Jacquelyn Gill and David Schiffman. There was a lot of talent on display, but also initial issues with the sound at the venue. (Scott Huler and Brian Malow were the committed empiricists who figured the issue out ... it turned out something was plugged into the wrong hole. (Insert gratuitous punchline here.)) The evening culminated with a inspiring dance lesson from John Rennie, who is without a doubt the science journalist you want to teach you how to dance.

Anyway, as conveyed on the Twitters, I made the (almost surely ill-advised) decision to get up and sing at Open Mic Night. While I am pleased (and relieved) to report that I didn't end up in the Shatner zone in the chorus, a sound engineering issue meant that I lost half of my first verse. So, here are the lyrics to my song about social media, set to a possibly recognizable tune. (If you don't mind, imagine me singing it in tune.)

I threw a post on my wall,
Only been blogging since Fall,
Your "like" pleased me most of all,
And now you're in my feed

I'd trade my soul for a link,
I'd kill to hear what you think,
I'd even write you with ink
'Cause now you're who I read

FriendFeed was slogging,
Tumblrs were reblogging,
G+ hangouts, I'm no quitter,
Mention me on Twitter, baby?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet me, maybe?

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

My comment got voted down,
Emoticon was a frown 🙁
You took my logic to town,
But still, you're in my feed

I didn't give up the ghost,
Redeemed myself the next post,
Got linklove, I shouldn't boast,
But it's what I need.

Bora Z retweeted,
Ed Yong said to read it,
SiteMeter ebb and flowing,
Holy crap I'm linked on BoingBoing!

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet me, maybe?

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
My stats were so bad
My stats were so, so bad

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
And you should know that
My stats were so, so bad

It's hard to match your
Traffic baby,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my handle,
So tweet, maybe?

And all the other blogs,
Try to shake me,
But here's my hashtag,
Retweet me, maybe?

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
My stats were so bad
My stats were so, so bad

Before this ScienceOnline
My stats were so bad
And you should know that

So tweet me, maybe?

6 responses so far

Will fresh cranberries play well with pancake batter? Preliminary findings.

Jan 26 2013 Published by under Blogospheric science, Food

As I was trying to get motivated to crawl out of bed and make breakfast for my family, I tweeted:

Of course, I got a variety of opinions in response:

As you might expect, I set some limits on how far I was prepared to go with this:

But, in the interests of science, I committed to sharing what I learned:

So, as promised, here's the report.

I started with my standard pancake batter.

Beat together:

2 cups buttermilk (or you can use 4 teaspoons of lemon juice and/or vinegar to sour 2 cups of milk, or 2 cups of plain soymilk)
4 eggs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Sift together:

2 cups flour (I use "white whole wheat" flour)
1.5 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.75 teaspoon salt

Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well incorporated, but don't over-beat. (It's OK if the batter is a little lumpy.) Add a bit of milk or water to thin it if it's thicker than you like to spread the way a pancake batter should on the griddle.

While the griddle is heating up, melt 4 tablespoons of butter (half a stick). Cool it slightly, then pour into the batter and stir to incorporate it.

Now, the usual procedure for pancakes at Casa Free-Ride is that half of the batter is made into plain pancakes and the other half gets blueberries added to the pancakes when they're on the griddle.

We've been using Trader Joe's frozen organic wild blueberries. They are teeny tiny little things. I pour a bunch into a custard cup, thaw them with tap water, then pour the water off.

The very best tool for getting them from the custard cup to the proto-pancake without too much residual water/juice being slopped along is a bar-spoon.


The little holes at the end of the bar-spoon get the draining done.

I decided to try three distinct approaches to the fresh cranberries.

Option 1: Halved

Obviously, this was the easiest preparation. I just rinsed some cranberries, cut them in half, and then added them to the proto-pancakes on the griddle before they were flipped in the same way I typically add blueberries.


The predictions here were that maybe the cooking time would be insufficient, leaving the cranberries too raw and tart, or that they would make the pancakes too soggy on account of juice coming out of the cranberries as they cooked.


However, it's worth noting that the raw cranberries are notably not juicy. They're actually pretty dry. And, on the griddle, the halved cranberries didn't have any observable effect on the texture of the cooking pancakes.

Option 2: Chopped and sugared

Here, I rinsed some fresh cranberries, chopped them coarsely, and stirred in a bit of granulated sugar. Then I used a wee little spoon to distribute the cranberry fragments to the proto-pancakes on the griddle before they were flipped.


There was some suggestion that chopped and sugared cranberries might lead to better results because the smaller fragments would have a better chance of cooking sufficiently by the time the pancakes were done cooking, and the extra sugar would balance any residual tartness from the cranberries not having all that long to cook.

However, I observed that the pancakes with the chopped and sugared cranberries did become a bit soggier on the griddle. That extra sugar was drawing the juice out of the cranberries!


Raising the flame under the griddle seemed to take care of this problem, though.

Option 3: Sauced

Finally, I rinsed a bunch of fresh cranberries, halved them, and put them in a tea cup. I squeezed in the juice of a small navel orange, added a few tablespoons of granulated sugar, and popped it in the microwave.

I had planned to microwave it for a couple minutes, but it just about boiled over before a full minute of cooking. It looked and tasted like a cranberry sauce.


It was thick. If you want a pourable sauce, probably adding some water or additional orange juice would thin it nicely.

So, how did they taste?


I liked option 1 the best, and not just because it was the easiest. The pancakes had a nice tart kick to them and the same pleasing pancake texture that our plain and blueberry pancakes have.


My better half preferred option 2. The ones cooked on high enough heat had a good pancake texture (although the ones cooked at lower griddle temperature were just a little soggier than optimal). The cranberry flavor was very prominent in these pancakes, but the tartness of the cranberries was toned down by the sweetness of the sugar.


The sprogs were big fans of option 3. For very little labor, it's a good fruity sauce that plays well with plain pancakes (as well as with pancakes that have blueberries or cranberries cooked into them). For my own tastes, it was just a little too sweet; I might back off on the granulated sugar. The sprigs, on the other hand, might have included just a bit more sugar in the preparation. This is the kind of thing you have to fight out with your fellow breakfast eaters, I guess.


5 responses so far

2012 in review: 12 months of Adventures in Ethics and Science.

I thought I was too late for the 2012 edition of the year-in-review meme (for which DrugMonkey has been keeping the flame alive), but Pascale, and ProflikeSubstance, and Bashir, and Dr. Becca all done did it too, so who am I to resist it?

The rules: Go to your blog's archives. For each month of 2012, link the first post, and follow it with the first sentence of that post. (Including the title of the post is totally optional; my sense is sometimes it's more fun to stare at the first sentence for a while to try to come up with a hypothesis about what the post was about without a title there to give it away.)

If you have a blog and haven't done this one yet yourself, consider yourself tagged! (That will teach you to go reading meme-ish blog posts!)

January: Happy New Year! As I type this post, only 18 days remain until the official start of ScienceOnline 2012, which means soon it will be time to pack.

February: Or, maybe my mother did tell me about this particular reason to "clean up" images from deep space and I just wasn't paying attention?

March: Apropos of the discussion here, I offer some general thoughts on pursuing partner, career, family, or other aims one deems important:

April: Do you have an ethical dilemma?

May: I have long maintained that bodies are suboptimal vehicles with which to schlep minds around.

June: Two Fridays ago, I was poised to jump into what I hoped would be a very productive summer.

July: Overheard from the backseat of the Free-Ride hoopty as we were driving the Free-Ride offspring home from a visit to the Grandparents Who Lurk But Seldom Comment:

August: The Fall semester is now upon us, in much the same way you might imagine a ton of bricks or a locomotive would be upon us.

September: At my fair university, we are in the brief window of time between "drop day" (the date by which students need to drop a course if they don't want it to be listed on their transcript with a W, for "withdraw," next to it) and the "late add" deadline (after which, for all intents and purposes, you can't add a class).

October: On the Twitters, becca pointed me to this post which raises an interesting evaluative question:

November: We're coming into the home stretch of our annual DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students drive:

December: It has been eleven years since I was last on the market for an academic job, and about six years (if I'm remembering correctly) since I was last on a search committee working to fill a tenure-track position in my department.

2 responses so far

To tweet or not to tweet the professional conference? (Some thoughts in 140-character chunks.)

There's a lot of discussion kicking around the tubes at the moment about whether it is appropriate to live-tweet a session at a professional conference. The recent round of discussion looks to have originated among English faculty. At the blog Planned Obsolescence, The Modern Language Association's Director of Scholarly Communication, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, offers sensible advice on tweeting or not at meetings. Meanwhile Prof-like Substance is quizzical about the request to keep private what a scholar is presenting in the public space provided by a professional meeting (while recognizing, of course, that there are venues like Gordon Research Conference that have explicit rules about not publicizing what is presented beyond the bounds of the conference).

It's no secret that I've tweeted a meeting or two in my time. I've even mused at some length about the pros and cons of tweeting a meeting, although mostly from the point of view of the meeting attendee (me) absorbing and interacting with what is being presented, compared to taking notes in my notebook instead.

If pressed for a blanket statement on whether tweeting a conference presentation is OK or not OK, I would say: it depends. There are complexities here, many linked to the peculiar disciplinary norms of particular professional communities, and given that those norms are themselves moving targets (changing in response to the will of active members of those communities, among other things), any ruling that somehow got it right at this moment would be bound for obsolescence before very long.

In other words, I don't have a grand argument covering all the relevant contexts. Instead of trying to frame such an argument, I'm going to give you my thoughts on this, in tweet-sized bites:

  • Tweeting a meeting is a way to include members of the professional community who didn't have the funds or flexibility to be there IRL.
  • Tweeting a meeting is a way to include interested people beyond the professional community in the audience and the discussion.
  • Since Twitter is interactive, tweeting a meeting is a way to promote discussion of what's being presented RIGHT AWAY, for better or worse.
  • For worse: discussion may start before relevant facts, ideas are on the table, assuming things speaker isn't claiming as speaker's point.
  • For better: speaker can get rapid feedback on which points are persuasive, which seem iffy, as well as on fruitful tangents and connections.
  • Worry: conference tweeters distracted from engaging with speakers, people in room, & asking questions there. Some folks are not on Twitter!
  • Worry: conference tweeters may give inaccurate account of speaker's claims, fail to distinguish their commentary from reporting of talk.
  • But, if multiple attendees tweet session, more basis to tease out which thoughts are from speaker, which from tweeters responding to talk.
  • Worry: live-tweeting sessions opens speakers to having results/ideas/arguments swiped by someone not at the meeting. Might get scooped.
  • Of course, others in the room could swipe speaker's results/ideas/arguments. Why assume you couldn't already get scooped?
  • Is community pressure stronger on people in the room (not to scoop speaker) than on members of the community following tweets? If so, why?
  • Live-tweeting meeting w/proper attribution of speaker could serve as record of results/ideas/arguments and who presented them. Protection!
  • Challenge to proper tweetribution of talk contents: getting speakers' Twitter handles right. These could be listed in conference program.
  • Could be issues including speakers' Twitter handles in tweets of their talks if their use of Twitter is primarily personal, not profesisonal
  • Some speakers freaked out by people tweeting their talks (especially in workshop-y/preliminary results scenarios). Should that be respected?
  • Are they also freaked out by people taking notes at their talks? Is worry sharing-beyond-room or rapid amplification potential?
  • Big Q: Does community view its professional meetings as public venues or something more limited? If latter, what is rationale for limits?
  • When meeting tweets help scholars figure something out, will they cite tweets? Easier than citing chat at hotel bar & easier to recall later
  • Expectations different in different disciplines; tweeting interdisciplinary conferences likely to expose differences in norms.
  • Never a bad idea to ask if speakers are OK with having their talks tweeted. If not, talking about why afterwards could be informative.
  • Things not to tweet (identifiably) from a talk: how bored you are, commentary on speaker's looks. Save that for your notebook.
  • If tweeting conferences becomes a standard thing, might be tensions between "official" tweeters and independent attendee tweets.
  • Mass tweeting might also make serious bandwidth at conference venue a requirement. Expect that would increase registration fees!
  • Some fields likely to have harder time with 140 char limit than others. Push to be concise might be a positive influence on them.

I welcome your thoughts in the comments (and you can use more than 140 characters if you need to).

3 responses so far

Sunday ponderable: Does who's following you on Twitter influence how you tweet?

I know that some of you have been very good at resisting the siren song of The Twitters. I have pretty much turned right into the rocks.

Not that I'm tweeting 24/7 or anything. My tweets are primarily:

(1) Links to my new blog posts, when I manage to get it together to write new blog posts.

(2) Retweets of good stuff others have tweeted, especially links to pieces that I want to reread more carefully later.

(3) Passing thoughts about my job, my kids, my commute, or whatever.

(4) Occasionally, live-notes from a conference session I'm attending.

(5) Playing along with hashtag games (e.g., the recent #ReplaceLoveWithSoup).

My tweets, generally speaking, involve much less time and thought than my blog posts, and they are frequently more silly and/or smart alecky.

But here's the thing:

I've been picking up Twitter followers, as one does. Some of them are actually pretty famous and well-respected people in fields upon which my work (not just my blogging-work, but my actual professorial research/teaching/service-work) touch. Some of them are pretty famous and well-respected people in my home discipline. Also, not that it necessarily matters (but I can't rule out the possibility that it might), some of these famous-folks are a generation or two older than me.

... and now there's something like the possibility of meeting some of these famous-folk in real life (say, at a professional meeting) and having their primary information about me at that moment come from my tweets. And it's hard to anticipate how famous scientists and philosophers feel about replacing love with soup.

Or to know whether it should matter to me.

Are any of you in a similar situation? Does it influence how you tweet? Have you decided that your Twitter followers deserve what they get from your tweet-stream?

5 responses so far

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