Rat god

I spend a lot of time alone in a basement, surrounded by rats. Because of my sacharin nature, I have not been able to keep my foolish heart from becoming attached to my furry little experimental subjects. Some experiments that I conduct require me to sit in silence for long periods of time as I watch my rats explore, freeze, groom, poop, or otherwise ruin my experiment. Naturally, my brilliant mind wanders. Often, it wanders straight into crazy town (see below).

I hate how afraid my rats are of me. Every time I open up their cages to deftly pick them up at the base of their tails and gently place them in whatever experimental apparatus I pre-ordained for them that day, they flail their little feet as if I was doing something horribly torturous. Usually the task my rats are being drama queens about is something fairly benign from my point of view, like placing them into a large round container for 5 minutes while absolutely nothing bad happens to them – I’m just there to observe how much time they spend hugging the edges of the circle versus strutting confidently in the middle (this is a measure of anxiety). Then right back they go to the comfort of their own little homes.

I wish I could explain to them that I come in peace, that I mean them no harm. I wish I could explain to them that the bizarre little rituals I’m putting them through are for a reason. A grand reason that no street rat – whose miserable little existence comprises of  slinking around city dumpsters to forage for food before it gets eaten by a hawk or poisoned by pest control – would ever dream of. These lab rats of mine will never have such a gritty existence because these are no ordinary rats. They have special genetic mutations that cause them to over produce the “bad” form of a protein so that they begin to resemble humans with Alzheimer’s disease as they age. Almost everything about them – how anxious they are, how long it takes them to fall asleep, how well they learn a new task, how quickly they will give up in a challenging task, where and how much pathology is in their brains – could be an important key to helping millions of humans with Alzheimer’s disease. Think about how many humans aren’t even blessed with that sort of distinct purpose.

Another scientist in another lab created this rat strain for such a time as this. We didn’t kidnap their ancestors off the streets to fulfill our evil scientific schemes – these rats would not even exist if not for scientists. And then they came to me. I decide what happens in their lives. Some I randomly assign to be breeders. As such they get to have lots of great sex and raise little families. #toblessedtobestressed But most rats I assign for my experiments. They could be designated to a very short experiment, and the last thing they ever experience will be mild confusion in a weird new box before they join the Big Rat in the Sky. Or, they could be involved in a very long, complicated experiment in which they will be subject to all sort of weird environments, some even mildly aversive or painful, and have a lot of interaction with a large scary mammal who smells like coffee and tacos. Sometimes this large scary mammal seems sinister – most of them remember her taking them into a new, stinky room, losing consciousness, and then waking up with their head screaming in pain. But sometimes this large scary mammal seems compassionate – they also remember her visiting them at home when they had headaches, and giving them yummy food that eased the ache in their heads. This large scary mammal also frequently put them in stressful situations, but never seemed to let anything actually bad happen to them. Until, well… They don’t like to think about why all those cousins never came back that one time.

I am, essentially, Rat god.

I’m much more advanced, capable, powerful than these critters -why do I want to explain myself to them? Why do I care what they think about me? Why do I want to make myself known to them?

Because they’re cute.

ratcute

And this has led me to have a thought that’s probably wildly irreverent. One part of the Christian story that never made tons of sense to me was why God would ever choose to reveal himself to us. Why not just let us go about our dumb petty lives and then die, never the wiser? But my stint as Rat god has made me wonder.. What if God decided to work humankind into his plan and reveal himself to us because, well… he thinks we’re cute?

ratgod

 

Just think it over before you immediately dismiss it, that’s all I ask!

 

— Editorial Notes —

Obviously the God-as-kind-scientist metaphor can only go so far, but that’s ok. I’m not trying to design a new religion, so everyone spit out that grapefruit-flavored Topo Chico you just drank!

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How to slay with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Let’s be honest ladies – even a PhD isn’t an excuse to look like a sad mushroom in lab. Just because your day is filled with cleaning up rodent poo doesn’t mean your beauty shouldn’t shine forth! I have been working in an animal laboratory for over 10 years now, and I have picked up little tricks along the way to make sure that even the drabbest of labs can’t shroud my popping looks. Below, I have demonstrated some of my favorite tips. Please study carefully to properly employ in your own laboratory setting, and let me know if you have any of your own sassy tricks to add to the mix!

 

glove
#1: Choose a flirty color of latex-free glove to add a pop of color to your outfit. Extra points if it complements your eye color!
smoochmask
A mask is no reason look expressionless. Draw a sassy little pout on your mask to remind those around you that you are more than a pair of eyes.
20191219_141012b
Be aware of your environment, and take advantage of props to strike irresistible poses.
offtheshoulder
Don’t let the billowy lab gowns keep you from displaying your best features. Rock this off-the-shoulder lab gown to tease all the menfolk around you senseless.
jauntytilt
If you must cover your hair with a cap, try this jaunty tilt to add depth and charisma to your look.
leg
Never be too shy to show a little leg.
figure
Try gathering your gown behind you so your curvaceous figure can do the talking.
bumb
If all else fails, stick your bum out while your pushing a cart. 100% success rate!

Feeling beautiful? Send me your own laboratory glam looks!

8 secret perks of academic research jobs

[By “secret” I really mean “underappreciated” or “overlooked” but one must sacrifice perspicuity on the altar of catchy titles!]

I have now been in academia longer than I have been in any other professional setting. I’m sure this is common in many industries and organizations, but academics love to complain-brag (e.g. Omg I haven’t slept for 72 hours to finish this grant.. you all should be super impressed and feel super sorry for me!). We are especially apt to feel bitter that despite our 17,325 years of education, most of us don’t make *that* much money. And I won’t lie, I often add my voice to the belly-aching chorus… because who doesn’t enjoy a good-old fashion commiseration session?

BUT I must say that now that I am contemplating leaving academia, I am reminded how good the highly educated and underpaid nerdlesons have it compared to many many peoples.

How doth academia benefit thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Working with smart, passionate people
    • Many careers are filled with overly ambitious, cut-throat peoples, but I would wager many fields are not filled with people who genuinely love what they’re doing and like their work for its own sake – not just the pay or the recognition. Most of the professors with the most prestige will tell you that at the end of the day, they just find their research neat-o. It is also really great to have undergraduates working for you – usually for free – that are highly motivated and probably smarter than you in so many ways. No crippling apathy here!
  2. Flexibility
    • This one is probably my favorite. I have almost always been able to make my own schedule. If I want to be in at 7:30 am and leave at 3:30 pm, that’s fine. If I want to be in at 10 am and leave at 630 pm, that’s fine too. If I want to work from home and do data analysis all day – no one blinks an eye. When it’s time for vacation, most people say just say “Yo, I’m not going to be in lab these 3 weeks because I need to find myself and connect with nature.” and your advisor says “Word.” Usually no one cares as long as you’re getting your work done. It is incredibly nice not to be viewed as a slimy little worm who is trying to get away with the least amount of work. At least in the academic jobs I’ve had, you are treated like an adult.
  3. Job security
    • It is difficult to get fired in academia. You can be a miserable failure and the most your advisor will really do is write a lackluster letter of recommendation for your next position. I think you would have to do something that was seriously unethical to get fired, but failing continuously is probably not enough. It doesn’t serve you well in the long run to be unproductive, of course.. but you will at least be paid while you figure out your next career move.
  4. Street cred
    • You know when you’re trying to make small talk at a party and you ask a stranger, “So what do you do?” and they say “I’m a technical writer,” and you say “Cool!” *chirp chirp* Not so with academic positions. People are usually interested in your thesis or research, and you can usually entertain them with sharing your interest in the field and what you hope to accomplish. It’s not usual to have a job that intrigues a lot of people and makes them automatically think you are super smart, even if your only other interaction with them was to praise the hummus.
  5. Inclusivity
    • Once you get past admissions, I really don’t think academia cares about your demographics that much (of course there are fellowships and grants for those who identify as a member of a group underrepresented in science, but it can only take you so far). There are no headshots to turn in with your manuscript when you submit for publication. You can identify as a banana or the be the ugliest person on earth, but academia doesn’t care. Just do good research, and a place will be prepared for you. It’s a meritocracy if there ever was one.
  6. Bad fashion sense highly tolerated
    • I’m not sure if I would go so far to say that being a snappy dresser will hurt you in academia, but it truly doesn’t help. If anything, some of the people wearing the most egregious – whether that be flamboyant or downright geeky – outfits are senior professors. Wearing a suit in lab is not only impractical, it will probably be seen as an ineffective attempt to cover your own incompetency. So throw on a pair of sweats and a ironic tee and get to pipetting.
  7. Mentoring
    • In no other field is there such a built in culture of the person in the highest position taking an invested interest in helping the people working for them reach their career goals — whatever those might be. That is truly extraordinary. My advisor gets no benefit – either financially or research-wise – in helping me secure a job outside of academia. Yet he is seriously committed to helping me get there if that’s what I decide to do. Imagine your manager taking responsibility to help give you the skills and experience you need to move on to a better job at a different company! Unheard of.
  8. Benefits
    • Usually the health insurance is pretty legit. At least at my University, the retirement plan is very generous. You get access to a huge online library of journals for every topic you could possibly be interested in (just for reference, most published journal articles that I see are $35 a pop). You usually get a free or highly discounted membership to a gym that’s at least adequate. There are tons of talks with free foods. Little things all together, but nice.

In toto— If you are in academia, put a pause on your belly aching and take time to appreciate the fun little perks of your position. If you are outside academia, maybe ponder the positive aspects of your job.. and if there aren’t any… come over to the dark side of academia!

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Think Like a Scientist: No evidence vs. evidence against in Facebook use and anxiety

This post will address one of the most important science-related concepts I think I’ve ever grasped: No evidence is not the same as evidence against.

“Whatever do you mean, Dr. Galloswag?!” exclaims you.

Okay – let’s think about Facebook use in relation to anxiety. Facebook has been accessible to the unwashed masses since 2006. I didn’t sign up until I began undergrad in Fall 2007.  #ancient Pretend my mum was nervous about the idea of me joining Facebook.

***

Mum of Cgallo: “I don’t know sweetums, it just seems like having that much interaction with random people without actually seeing them face-to-face could be bad for your mental health.”

Young Cgallo: “There is no evidence that Facebook use is linked to anxiety, Mum! Get out of my face!”

***

Guess what? Young Cgallo was technically right – at the time there wasn’t any scientific evidence. When I entered the search terms “Facebook, anxiety” into PubMed ( a database of life-science / biological articles), the earliest search result was from 2009, and the earliest might-be-relevant search result was dated 2013.

facebookanxiety1

facebookanxiety2
See?! I’m tellin the truf!

Why this delay? Because it took a while for older adults to realize how impactful Facebook was. Because research is slow. And so there was no evidence because, well, no one had looked for  it. But now there are articles galore on the relationship between Facebook use – and other forms of social media – in relation to anxiety.

facebookanxietyarticle
For example…

So Cgallo’s Mum in this imaginary situation was vindicated over time!

Takeaway #1: Sometimes someone can be technically correct that there is “no evidence” — but that’s because no one has published data on the topic at all!

Now, let’s imagine another scenario — what if there had been multiple studies of Facebook and anxiety, but most or all of the studies reported no significant correlation between Facebook use and anxiety. That is much more informative than there simply being no data at all… but it’s only moderately in favor of young Cgallo. When a study doesn’t find a relationship it could be because …

  • There is not a correlation between the variables of interest (in this case, Facebook use and anxiety)

OR…

  • Power issues: The study did not include enough participants to detect meaningful differences if they were there.
  • Operational-definition issues: The study defined anxiety in a funky way. One study might decide to look at Facebook use in relation to being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder by a therapist, another in relation to scoring high on a standardized anxiety scale, yet another in relation to self-reported feelings of stress.
  • Time-scale issues: The study could have looked at the effect of Facebook use over the course of a week and found no correlation to anxiety. That still doesn’t tell us much about the effect of Facebook use over several years.

Takeaway #2: Sometimes someone can be technically correct that there is “no evidence” — but that’s because all the studies conducted on the issue of interest had design issue(s). 

I remember the first time I really thought about this in graduate school, and it’s actually pretty frustrating. But there is almost always going to be another, usually different/better way a researcher could approach a research question. So often times, a lack of evidence means absolutely nothing meaningful IRL.

“What are you getting at here, Cgallo? Are you trying to suggest that we can never really say with confidence that two things are not related to each other??” demands you.

Mais non!” Cgallo sputters.

For one, if there are many good quality (e.g. large sample size, good operational definitions, relevant time scales) studies conducted on an issue and none of them find an association, that’s a pretty good clue that there may not actually be a relationship between Facebook use and anxiety, or whatever you’re interested in (autism and vaccine *cough cough*).

But let’s contrast all of this with the gold standard: evidence against!

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What do I mean? Well, many researchers are terrified of publishing mumbo jumbo, so they err on the side of caution and choose statistical tests that are more likely to give false negatives than false positives (I may go more into what this means in a future post, if it pleases the queen). As a result of this statistical conservatism (teehee), it’s quite difficult to get results that say “yes! Thing 1 is related to thing 2 in a meaningful way!” *SO* if you really want to argue that there’s no relationship between Facebook use and anxiety, find evidence against this statement. How? Well, what if there was an entire body of research pointing to Facebook use being linked to feelings of calm, tranquility, peace, stability, happiness, etc.? That is very different – and in my opinion, much more meaningful – than a simple absence of evidence.

Takeaway #3: The absence of evidence for something (e.g. Facebook use being anxiogenic) is not nearly as powerful as evidence for the opposite (e.g. Facebook use being anxiolytic).

Great! I think we all feel better now! Make sure you share this article on Facebook!

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Think Like a Scientist: Don’t be a doof about “scientific proof”

“Scientifically proven”  is often thrown in as a final punch to convince you to buy something (“Scientifically proven to support liver health!” or take a certain political stance (“there is no scientific proof that teaching abstinence in public schools reduces teenage pregnancy.”). But regardless of my own susceptibility to marketing plots or personal political beliefs, this phrase often makes me cringe.

Cringe Smile GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now, my goal here is *not* to convince you to doubt anyone and everyone who talks about scientific proof. There is, for example, strong scientific proof of gravity. So going too far in one direction – immediately rejecting a claim solely because someone assures you it has been scientifically proven – is just as stupid as immediately accepting a claim because someone assures you it has been scientifically proven.

So, how do you even begin to evaluate the “scientifically proven”claims?

Let’s start with a real life example of mine, with the nutrition company Neolife.

A few years back I had several friends who were bigtime crusaders for Neolife supplements.  “Cgallo you will be especially impressed by these supplements because they are backed by Science!” they would insist. In fact, the company tag-line is even “Based in nature | Backed in Science.” Being the curious and trusting person that I am, I went ahead and bought a 3 month prescription of their little super pack of wellness, which included all sorts of goodies like vitamins, minerals, fish oils, etc. At the end of the 3 months, my pee was very yellow and I was $100 poorer, but I wasn’t filled with such electrifying energy that I wanted to give up coffee or sprint up a mountain.* So of course after I spent my money and yellowed my pee, I decided to look into the original research that Neolife was so cocky about.

I found two original research articles. I think both of us only have the time and mental energy to tackle the first one. So, let’s chat about the article “Effects of a carotene-deficient diet on measures of blah blah blah” by Dixon and chums, published in 1994. The author affiliations were from respectable places like the University of California and the Center of Disease Control, so that seemed legit.

dixonetal
Always check author affiliations! It’s okay to be snobby about Neverheardof University. Of course, that doesn’t mean that any and all studies published by researchers at Harvard are flawless.. but it gives you an idea of the quality of research.

 

It was also published in Free Radical and Biology Medicine journal, which although I had never heard of, has a high impact factor,** so another check.

Then I began to read the methods.

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subjects

Umm.. 9 subjects? That is a very low number — especially for a study involving humans, who are chockfull of randomness and variation. Even lab rats have tons of variability in behavioral and physiological measures despite being in-bred and kept in extremely similar environments — so humans with all of our snowflake complexity are even worse!

*Anyway*

All 9 women were given a beta-carotene (which our bodies convert into Vitamin A) supplement for 4 days. These 4 days were considered baseline.

Then, for over 2 months the women were made to eat a diet very low in beta-carotene while taking nonsense (aka placebo) pills to trick the women into thinking they were taking beta-carotene.

For 28 days after that, all the women were given a supplement with a butt-load of beta-carotene AND for the very last 12 days, given six capsules of Neolife’s “carotenoid complex.” What is probably the most puzzling aspect of this study is that although they threw in Neolife products at the end of the study, they make no effort to distinguish the effects of mega-beta-carotene supplement alone from the effects of mega-beta-carotene supplement + Neolife carotenoid complex. So it is entirely unclear if any effects shown are due to the whopping serving of beta-carotene, the Neolife supplements, or a combination of both.

neolifetable

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Throughout all of this roller coaster of carotenes , they would take samples of the women’s blood to analyze the content for various markers of oxidation. Honestly, I’m a neuroscientist and unfamiliar with the exact techniques used in this study to measure different oxidants, so I’m not even going to touch that. But the great news is, neither you or I don’t have to know a thing about the techniques or measures of this study because the design and analyses tell us enough.

Let’s just review what we know so far, just by reading the methods —

  • This study was done on such a small number of women, even with an otherwise perfect study design all of the results should be taken with a grain of salt.
  • The researchers looked at the effects of supplementation for roughly 1 month. Neolife people want you to be popping their pills for life. That’s a pretty huge difference. If there’s some sort of long-term benefit or detriment to lifetime use, this study doesn’t even begin to address it.
  • As I harped on before — but is definitely worth saying again — this study made no effort to distinguish between the effects of a regular ol’ beta-carotene supplement and Neolife’s carotenoid complex.
  • Even if everything else about this study was perfect — including the techniques used to measure oxidation, that’s still just one measure. A very important general principle when evaluating “scientific proof” is what the researchers are using as their metric of effect. Often, extremely specific results like “beta-carotene supplementation reduced plasma TBARS and erythrocyte superoxide dismutase
    activity” — through a twisted game of telephone as non-scientist writers try to interpret and communicate the findings — eventually gets presented as “carrots can save your life!” But how many people know what plasma TBARS and erythrocyte superoxide dismutase activity actually is, and what low or high levels really mean? Certainly not I. So always look and see how researchers evaluated their end point, and try not to accept overly-simplistic explanations like “oxidation = bad. Supplement make oxidation low. Supplement = good.”
  • There was no “control group” that was not deprived of beta-carotene before given supplements, or any group that was deprived but then allowed to just start eating normally again without taking a booty load of carrot pills. Disrupting the body by force-depleting levels of a nutritive substance… and then showing your supplements can bring the levels back to normal … doesn’t tell us anything about whether they would work in populations with a normal range of beta-carotene levels, much less if it would even be healthy to increase levels too far above baseline! In almost every biological system, it’s about balance, not blasting the system with any one nutritive component. In fact, see this article written for lay audiences (original article here) indicating that too much beta-carotene can be risky biz.

 

Okay.. well that was cathartic for me, at least. I hope you all feel super smart and can now lay a scientific whoopin’ on anyone who tries to close the argument with “scientific proof.”

YOU’RE WELCOME, AMERICA!

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— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*I always want to saunter up a mountain. But sprinting is a different story.

Think Like a Scientist: Overcoming y axes deceptions

I have been through a lot of schooling. Some of it was a complete waste of time and utter nonsense. Some of it was useful. Thankfully, I am intellectually generous enough to share the highlights of my education so you all can be PhD-level thinkers without all the poverty-level stipends, rat bites, and bi-monthly existential crises.

I decided to write a series of short posts covering some of the most generally useful tools I learned to see through the b.s. when marketing companies, pop-science articles, politicians, and other ruffians present data in order to convince you of something.

This episode of Think Like a Scientist, let’s talk about y axes.

Okay, let’s set the scene. I’m the writer of Galloblog. I want you to read more Galloblog. In order to convince you, I throw this figure in your face –

galloblogfigure

Yowza! Pretty convincing, amiright?! Look how far apart those bars are! Reading Galloblog is equivalent to playing with puppies while eating peanut butter and listening to Tim Keller sermons!!

Or.. is it?!
galloblogfigure_yaxeshighlight.png
Let me give you a few things to consider when you look at that figure.

Note the y axes (in red) is zoomed in to show 0.7 to 0.8. The more zoomed in, the more dramatic any differences between bars will look.  Look at the figure below — far less impressive. Glancing at this figure, you may conclude that there are no differences at all, yes? But look! It’s the exact same data.

galloblogfigure2Now, “zooming” in on the differences between groups isn’t always a shady scientific practice, but when evaluating the quality / importance of the data presented it’s important to have an understanding of what the possible range of scores actually is.

Ooo! I threw this in at the last minute for free! Something that drives me *insane* that I have seen far too many times in peer-reviewed scientific articles is showing two figures side by side – as a way to say “the difference between these two groups in this condition  (in this example, reading Galloblog) is real and we want you to be impressed by this, but we don’t want you to be impressed by the difference between these two groups in this other condition (in this example, reading Matt Walsh’s blog)” – but with different y axes!

galloblogfiguremattwalshfigure

If you just glanced at the figures above, you would think – “Yowza! Galloblog readers are so much happier than Matt Walsh blog readers!”

galloblogfigure2mattwalshfigure3

But if you made the Matt Walsh blog y axis scale the same “zoom” as the y axis in the Galloblog figure, they look pretty similar. The only real difference here is in the overall happiness level of Galloblog and Matt Walsh blog readers – not the effect of reading the blog. Surprise, surprise! 😉

Finally, let’s talk very briefly about the label of the y axis. The y label is “Happiness Factor (AU).” What is a “happiness factor” – is it a legit scale that many other researchers have used to evaluate happiness, or did Galloblog researchers pull it out of their bootays?

AU usually means arbitrary units, which means this scale isn’t linked to an observable measurement per se (e.g. “number of times smiled”) but is a relative scale. This doesn’t mean it’s not worth noting, but it does mean you should be asking “what is this happiness relative to?”

Okay — that is all the lecturing either of us could handle for right now. Stay tuned for more opportunities to become a sophisticated critic of all data!

xoxoxo,

cgallo, PhD

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

No Galloblog readers were harmed in the writing of this article. 

The disturbing truth about Galloblog’s readers

MOST OF THEM ARE MALE CHAUVINIST WEIRDOS!

.. This excludes my fb fam, of course … !

So I wrote this post a while back that was fairly straight-forward – I simply took a classic example of an article written for women that teemed with sickening fawning over the female sex and derision toward the male sex. Then, I changed the pronouns so that my lady readers would “woke” and realize that the way we talk about ourselves – especially in relation to men – is often very offensive.

Anyway – it’s one of my only posts that could be considered an “evergreen.” That is – I actually still consistently get daily hits from rando interwebbers on this blog post, even though it died a quick death in fb world.

Today I was looking over the search terms that people use to find my blog, and the overwhelming majority of them are “unknown search terms.”

 

galloblog_searchterms_pie
I usually make up my own data and facts for this blog, but this is for real. Hot of the press! Pie chart made in excel LIKE A BOSS!

 

But of that small minority of search terms that were actually registered, I was alarmed to find out that almost everyone coming to my page is a creepy male supremacist!

 

galloblog_table3
Also real search terms, I promise. Also note these quantities represent 10,000 😉 Also note I praise-handed the terms that I actually want to lead people to my blog 😀

 

Y’all… I don’t know what to do. My only kinda-long-term-successful post is driving traffic to Galloblog from…. the Milo Yiannapoulos fan club?!?

If you are reading this because you want to woman-hate, move it along. Also, I’m not patheric, YOU ARE! Lolzzzz

 

Alarmedly yours,

Galloswag

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

I’m sorry if you were expecting an actual point or conclusion to this. This was about as “about nothing” as I’ve ever posted. But holy moly! What hath Galloswag wrought?

 

 

Don’t confuse educationz with brainz

Getting a PhD has had some interesting social ramifications. Some fab, some.. drab. #myrhymesareacrime

In many ways, getting my PhD has freed me to be much less guarded in what and how I communicate – especially to snobbish strangers. When I was majoring in psychology in undergrad, it was way more likely that I would be dismissed as another vapid college student who thought that her Psyc 101 course qualified her to give sage mental health advice to friends and family. So, I tended to be the quiet one who would wait until I had a read on people before I participated in whatever convo was going on. When I did participate, it was usually some rando sarcastic comment. People usually conveyed a sense of amazement when they found out I had some brainz. Now, I am free to make an idiot of myself by loudly saying whatever makes me lolz. I know that even if I’m being a cotton-headed ninny muggin,  people will think “Well, she has her PhD, so she has to be smart…” and give me the benefit of the doubt. So that in of itself has made the last 6 years worth it 😉

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Don’t be fooled by this guy! He can write a book on 16th century technology but he ain’t no genius! (pixabay image)

BUT in different contexts, or at least with some people, getting my PhD has set up this expectation for me to have deep and well-developed thoughts on every aspect of the brain, anything remotely related to life-sciences, theology, politics, organic farming, and T-Swizzy’s latest attention-whoring bout of drama. People will say, “Hey, you have a PhD. What do you think?” Usually I haven’t thought about it at all, so I try to nod slowly, stare out in the distance, and say something vague, like “Well, I think both sides have merit, but I have heard some convincing criticisms of each position, too. It’s certainly a complex issue.” Then I smile winningly and change the subject.

I s’pose the point of this post is two-fold. One, although I appreciate people giving me the benefit of the doubt now, it annoys me that some of these same people would probably completely dismiss me if I had gone on to be a .. Idk, palm reader. Rando example, but my point is— it’s not really fair for people that don’t have their degree to have this undue burden to prove their intellectual worth. Just because someone is being silly at a party or dropped out of high school doesn’t mean they’re an uninformed buffoon.

Two, just because someone wrote their dissertation on the astrophysical epistemology of the Ornithorhynchus anatinus and never confuses “your” and “you’re” does not mean they have something meaningful to say about the science of climate change, or have great insight into international affairs.

KNOW WHAT I MEAN, GREEN BEAN?!

So.. yah. PhDs aren’t ignoramuses, but they’re not necessarily brilliant. They’re just people who chose to geek out on a subject for a few years. And uneducated folk may not be be brilliant, but they’re not necessarily ignoramuses. They’re just people who may not have had the opportunity or necessary masochism* to go into 20+th grades.

So.. yah yah yah — evaluate ideers for their own merit, and don’t be snobby.

 — EDITORIAL NOTE —

 *I mean this in the general use, DON’T BE A PERVO!

— ALSO — This post has some similar ideas to this other brilliantly written, amazing post.

Stop taking yourself so facetiously

In generations past, people were told to stop taking themselves so seriously. I think we millennials have taken the idea so seriously to not take ourselves seriously that we have driven ourselves into the other ditch – we see ourselves as jokes, and want to make sure everyone else does, too.

 

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Okay okay, I lolzed at this. But also—- go apply for a job you lazy millenial!!

I think a lot of it may do with the kind of overwhelming crappiness of our times and growing connectivity with the rest of the world – we see ourselves as tiny little specs of dust in this huge dust storm of humanity that’s being driven by uncontrollable winds of huge corporations, insane political figures, and fidget spinners. So, we retreat, make memes, and giggle our way through every situation.

I’m kinda writing this about my not-so-distant-past self. I got pretty caught up in the “FML” culture of PhD students – a kind of ironic learned helplessness. There’s something pride-zapping about making poverty-line wages and having your research projects fall way short of your expectations that can drive even the most Pollyanna of us all into self-deprecating pessimism.

And look, I’m all for a good lolz. But they can be taken too far. Sometimes you need to take yourself seriously enough to take a shower, put on some nice clothes, and actually try, ya know?

I say all this coming out of a successful post-doc interview. I was gratified by how much they.. respected.. yes, respected!! me and my dissertation work! The whole experience made me realize that I use sarcastic, self-deprecating humor as a shield against expectations.  I didn’t want to disappoint people, so I made sure they kept their expectations low so I wouldn’t have to deal with their disappointment or be assigned more responsibility. #realtalk

But yeah.. this past week has opened my eyes to my own value in my field. It’s scurry, but I actually have the potential to bring some good to the world through my research. Eeks!

So, I know most of you aren’t in PhD world, but I think this could apply in a lot of situations. Being a mom, for instance, is huge. I’m sure getting spit-up on and getting into intense arguments with 4 yr olds isn’t always validating, but you have this unbelievable influence in how a real life human being sees the world! That’s really not small. For realz.

(This is getting a little ramble-y, but I blame it on the ferocious winds of Irma whirling my brain to and fro’. #science)

My point is – don’t discount yourself, kid! Lolz it up, but don’t lolz yourself into a false sense of insignificance.

..Unless you just want to be insignificant, and then I guarantee you that you will succeed in that 😏

*Gallosmoochies*

 

You can not speak good and still be right

I recently watched the Jimmy Kimmel interview with George W. Bush, and I recalled how everyone used to talk about what an idiot George W. was when he was president. That always annoyed me – I mean, the dude went to Yale and he became President of the free world – obviously there’s something going on up in there. Plus, anyone with that good of a sense of humor has to be intelligent in at least some capacity. Yet because he’s not very articulate, a lot of people consider him to be stupid.*

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Confession: I have a celebrity crush on the W. JUDGE ALL YOU WANT! (pic from youtube screenshot – hopefully no copyright issues there??)

Now, put this together with people’s snobbery in general towards Southerners, &/or people who don’t use perfect grammar. If you see a fb argument and someone accidentally uses “their” instead of “there,” the argument is over. That person is destroyed and must fall on their cyber sword. I’m not hating against using standard English or talkin’ fancy, especially in writing (some people’s writing is so bad that I seriously don’t even know what they’re trying to say). But there are two points here I want to make –

1) You can be a terrible speaker/writer and still be really smart, and you can be a great speaker/writer and still be fairly basic.

I don’t think this needs much explanation, but if I stuttered through my dissertation defense – wouldn’t the quality of my dissertation itself be the same? Yet if an 8 year old child memorized my presentation, took acting and diction lessons, and rattled through my defense presentation perfectly… would that kid be smarter than me, or have a superior understanding of my dissertation topic? Nope-ity dope-ity.

Okay, second point is kinda sorta loosely related to the first.

2) Using good logic or extrapolating from known data doesn’t guarantee you will come to the right conclusions, and being illogical and subjective doesn’t necessarily make you come to the wrong conclusions.

Example 1: “It’s okay for people to force inferior beings to work for you without pay. Black people are inferior to white people. Therefore, it’s okay to force black people to work for white people without pay.”

I intentionally chose something super inflammatory to make the point that the argument above isn’t illogical, but it has a very flawed assumption – that black people are inferior to white people. At the time, though, there was “science” that people used to “prove” that white people were superior. If you argued against them at that time, they could have accused you of ignoring the data, or being anti-science, or being illogical. And maybe they weren’t even trying to be sinister — I’m sure there were people who believed in the scientific racism at the time and thought it was high quality science. And truly, if you accept their interpretation of the data, then the statement above is logical. But as (I hope!) you would agree, it was an evil, wrong conclusion.

Example 2: “It’s not okay to use black people to do work for you without pay, because I like black people and I just don’t feel right about forcing them to work for free.”

The example 2 argument is not a good argument. It draws on subjective feels and intuition. At one time, it would have gone against the “scientific data.” But as (I hope!) you would agree, it’s the right conclusion.

So my point: this is not an “anti-science” post. I love science. I am a scientist. But at the same time, I just want to caution academics and other members of the intelligentsia to not be intellectually arrogant, and to at least consider the possibility that the intuitive, subjective conclusions that the uneducated masses from Podunkville have made could be right. The same applies if you’re an outsider evaluating the merit of different choices or options. It’s important to use logic and good data to draw conclusions and make assumptions, for sure. But 1) think critically about all the assumptions behind the logic and 2) at least consider the possibility that the data is incomplete, limited, or even just wrong.

Finally, also consider what incentive people have to either agree or disagree with the data. For example, if someone presented data that strongly implicated that my Dad was an ax murderer, I would be *WAY* more critical of that data than some random person in Moscow would be. And being more critical of that data wouldn’t make me less intelligent, it would just mean my life history gives me a very different threshold for convincing. In fact, rando in Moscow would probably be less qualified than me to look at the data, because this person has no personal experience with my Dad. Yes? *anyway*

Main point: don’t be a snooty-pants. ❤

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*all politics aside – I’m not talking about stupid policies. That’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

FOR THE LOVE OF GEORGE W. BUSH, LIKE, COMMENT, OR SHARE! (even if you didn’t like it, I want to know! Please and thank you 🙂 )