Monthly Archives: July 2013

Are the Social Sciences “dead”? Or I can’t respect an academic who can’t build a parallel argument

This recent article in the NYT drives me crazy.  In it,  Nicholas Christakis questions the value of the current social sciences, claiming that they are moribund, and that is why they often lack respect.

One huge flaw in his analysis is the basic comparison.  Political science is held up to anatomy, not biology.  No one would argue that we don’t need to teach biology, even if molecular genetics now exists.

Another major problem is how Christakis presents different “future” fields of social science:

Some recent examples offer a glimpse of the potential. At Yale, the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs applies diverse social sciences to the study of international issues and offers a new major. At Harvard, the sub-discipline of physical anthropology, which increasingly relies on modern genetics, was hived off the anthropology department to make the department of human evolutionary biology.

These fields are not new nor are they the provience of the lofty Ivy leagues.  International studies are particularly common as a quick google will tell you; physical anthropology, meanwhile, has existed for cenutries.  Many other interdisplinary programs also exist – from gender or racial studies to UX or human computer interaction to human geography or proxemics.

The third big flaw is the fields he focuses on.  Evolutionary psychology sounds sexy, but is often criticized.  It’s hard to analyze physical anthropology without considering its relationship to eugenics.

 picture books "The human face of big data"

People don’t respect social science because it’s hard to see the value of it and to understand that there is more than the basics.  Science and business are lauded because it’s easy for someone to assign dollar amounts to it.  Culturally, we treat science as hard where the social sciences are seen as something we all intrinsically get.

This is a selling problem of social science, not a heuristic one.  We need to clearly show the value-add of, say, sociology as well as the difficulty of it.  Too often I read comments in an article on education where it’s clear that very few people know anything about sociology or psychology beyond a few pop social science books or main stream news.

We also need to demand more of our students.  Every crappy grad makes it that much harder to show the value of the social sciences. Too often social science departments end up with the responsibility of graduating the poorest students.  That’s one point where I do agree with Christakis, we should be having students “do” research starting from day one and actively challenging them.   That would entice those with an innate passion for social sciences while weeding out those who would like to just read Freakonomics and write a two-page book report on it.

Aesthetic Snafu in Progress; or How I turned a trip to the library into a Coke and some fries

This story starts at the library I love the Chicago Library system.  Yes the branches can be a little skuzzy and the librarians a little cranky, but the library is everywhere and has the most amazing collection including, among other weird things, fishing poles.  I pretty much stopped buying books a few years ago and get all my reading material from the library; meanwhile my husband favors random dusty cds of Bach variations played by Hungarian royalists in October.

I love him, but people the music, it confuses me.

Really the story starts by returning some of those cds to the Bezazian branch.  Did I know as a (lover of a) lover of classical music, I could get two free tickets to a classical concert at Ravinia, a fancy music venue/park thingie?  Most of them were gone but a few shows were left and when I came back the next day with a first and second choice, the librarian informed me that the program was for two tickets for two separate concerts – I had to take four (or else? security kicks me out of the building?? they force me take fiction books out from the main branch where they only alphabetize by last name???)  Worried about the unknown potential ramifications, I dutifully took my four tickets.

We went to our first choice concert, an out-of-town event I have yet to write about (see also event #1, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park, and #3 San Fransisco).  The other tickets we semi forgot about; they were for yesterday but when one of my favorite ex-coworkers invited us to cook out at his house on the same night we were already planning to grill with someone else, we made plans for… last night.

Notably neither party ended up grilling.

But this realization started a lacidasical attempt to give the tickets away that ended at First Slice, an amazing non-profit pie shop conviently around the corner from my therapist.  I asked the barista if she wanted them or would be willing to offer them to anyone who wandered in and she responded “do you know anyone who needs a lunch today?”

Before I really thought about it, I ended up trading my free ticket obligation for an envelope with $15 and a take someone to lunch obligation.


 I am not brave and while I spend a good chunk of my time interacting with people -see librarians, baristas, and working in market research- approaching strangers scares me half to death.  Luckily Derrick approached me first and while he found my suggestion to take him to lunch at 2:30 in the afternoon a little odd, he was a good sport.

We went to McDonald’s, his 2nd favorite after White Castle.  He had a small coffee; a fish fillet; an apple pie; and a sundae, caramel, no nuts.  I had a coke, and we split some fries. We won him a quarter pounder and me two Illinois Aves.

It was really weird, terrifying to think about, but pretty awesome while happening.  I was super nervous about some family events, and it was a perfect distraction while waiting to hear how things went.  A textbook definition, if there was such a thing, of an aesthetic snafu.  Some random stuff happened, I made some questionable choices, but ended up getting exactly what I needed when all was said and done.

I have $5 of obligation left; I’m trying to decide if I’m brave enough to go around offering popsicles to random people in the neighborhood on the next really hot day.

Is There an Authentic Way to Sell Yourself?


I really loved this recent post on self-promotion by Aubrey at Barcode Alternative.  In it, she explains her problems with self-promotion, starting with advice she was given about using Twitter to manufacture relationships and ending with a recent situation where she bought an advertising package on another blog.  When she discusses it, her unease drips off the page:

I felt like a fraud because I was paying for someone else to interview me. It would have been different if they wanted to interview me, share my posts, etc. It made me constantly wonder, if my stuff was shared because I paid for it and nothing could stop that questioning because money was involved.”

I get her unease.  Paying for promotion that crosses the line from a clearly marked ad that we all know is paid for to something else that, well, isn’t as clear can feel really fake.  Am I just paying someone to pretend to be my friend?  Is it clear that this is just advertising?  Are we acting as business people or pretending at friendship (or actually becoming friends?)

But at the end of the day, Aubrey is also a potential small business person and, at some point, she will probably need to promote herself (and, well, eat).

So my question is:  is there an authentic way to sell yourself?

I think there is.  Aubrey mentions that making a good product and promoting good products is a way to create a new dynamic.  I like the concept but, unfortunately, we don’t get to live in that world.  Even if you and I can or do live at that level, there’s a lot of people and corporations who are just pretending. We live in the world where the saddest and best piece of advice is to brand yourself and to constantly promote brand you.  I have some ideas that start with and come back to:

Own your shit.  Don’t claim that professional decisions are personal ones.  If someone calls you on something you did, own it.  You don’t have to be embarrassed if you’re not, but don’t pretend you didn’t do it.   For that matter, don’t pretend to have emotions that you don’t have.  Don’t say you’re something you’re not, especially if you’re not even going to try to be whatever that is.  If you have ulterior motives behind what you do, at least don’t lie to yourself about it.  Try not to lie to other people about it either; people generally get upset when they’re mislead, especially if it feels personal.  As someone (approximately) said in my thesis research –  if I find out X was pretending to be female and we talked about comics I don’t care, but if we talked about childbirth I’d be pissed.  Don’t fake friendships for profit or because you think it’ll make you look better.  Give credit where credit is due, and don’t take other people’s toys.

Make good stuff.  Something where, at the end of the day, you’re proud of yourself.   That doesn’t mean that thing has to be perfect; works-in-progress or beta are always acceptable.  In some ways, they’re even better.  Engage experts, peers, and/or your consumers in a meaningful and actual way to improve who you are and what you do.  If you want to be fancy, you can call it market research, crowd-sourcing, or UX.  It can also be a way to promote yourself – if people like how you take their advice, like what you created with them, like you, they’ll probably share/brag to their friends – but don’t ask them to do it.  Don’t work with people just because you think it’ll be free publicity, do it because you actually want to work with them, which leads to….

Only work with people you respect and that respect you.  Ideally, you should also like them, but that’s not a requirement.  Work is a lot easier and better when you’re not constantly inner-eye rolling and counting the minutes until you can grab a beer and complain to your best friend.

Ask and emphasize over and over that you want people to be honest about you.  Negativity is ridculously hard to stomach but it makes the positive even sweeter.  It’s also a good way to learn about people: what do they value?  Do they use the opportunity to be helpful or vicious? It’s your right to feel however you feel about their honesty, but keep in mind if a lot of people say it, it’s probably true and important.

Give your stuff away, sometimes.  Let people try it for themselves and make their own opinions.  Value those opinions.  Don’t tell people how they should feel; even if it’s good work, maybe it’s just not for them.  Be flattered if someone did like it.

 Make your own line in the sand, be honest and open about it, and let people know if it changes.  Maybe that’s paying for an ad on someone’s blog and a giveaway, but not an interview.  Or a giveaway but you’re very clear it was paid for.  (It took me the longest time to realize that bloggers were paid for hosting giveaways).  It could be only taking advertisers whose products you already use, or ones that your friends and family like, or even just ones that you don’t necessarily like but don’t hate either.   Just make a decision and own it.  You don’t have to come out and say I hate product X but they’re paying me and I need to eat, but don’t pretend you’re doing it because you wuv them so very very much.  If you have the opportunity to be even more honest about your sponsors or clients while continuing to pay your bills, do so.  That ends up helping everyone.

I know these aren’t easy things to do.  I’ve done a lot of crappy embarrassing work with other people, usually with people I didn’t respect.  I’ve certainly had epic happy hour bitch sessions, and we all know that I’m bad at being confrontational.  Sometimes you need that job, that client, that contact.  Most of us don’t have the luxury of completely getting out of the self-branding and promoting, performative-friending, fake it ‘til you make it environment.   Just start by owning your shit, at least to yourself if no one else.  You’re definitely never going to get anywhere near authenticity by lying to yourself.

dino is proud of who he is

dino is proud of who he is

Smart Words from my Therapist

Water is water even if it’s in Lake Michigan or a glass on your desk.  There’s a crap load of it in Lake Michigan and only a small amount in the cup, but it’s still all water and a sip of it is still going to taste the same in your mouth.

Conditioned to Mansplaining

Mansplaining where men explain things to women without acknowledging their intelligence, knowledge, or familiarity with subject matter with the implied certainty that they must know better than she does.

A lot of modern sexism is difficult and slippery.  So much of it seems innocuous enough in the singular, and is often explained away as something you shouldn’t care that much about.

Oh some guy honked at you?  He was just trying to show that he thought you were attractive and didn’t know any better.  Really you should be flattered.

Oh some guy groped you on a busy bus?  Are you sure?  Well that’s awful and completely inappropriate, but it’s over right?  You need to stop being upset about it.

Oh there aren’t any women in this movie?  Well there is the love interest and hey, there’s that other movie with two female characters in it.

 Oh some guy explained something to you like you were a slow three-year-old or a relatively smart dog?  Don’t take it personally, that guy is a jerk to everyone.  Why are you always so sensitive?

Mansplaining is one of those difficult slippery sexist things. At best everyone thinks it’s a funny story and leaves it at that.  At worst, you’re over-reacting.

The problem is that it’s not.  Being treated like you’re dumb and then told that you care too much about being treated like you’re dumb is infuriating.  Infuriating.  It’s also an example of a couple of different sexist themes:  denying women’s experiences, the expectation that women should remain quiet, and that women are too sensitive.

First your experience is denied when you are mansplained to, and you’re expected to be quiet while you’re mansplained to.

Then your experience is denied when you’re told it’s not a big deal and/or you shouldn’t be upset, and you’re told to shut up about it.  (You could almost argue that you’re almost being mansplained to again).

So women don’t talk about it and then people don’t talk about it and it keeps happening, an insidious little bit of sexist putting women “in their place” that can happen anytime and anywhere about anything.

That’s the brilliance of this tumbler.  Seeing an almost never-ending list clearly shows how this isn’t simply a woman/you being too sensitive.  It shows that it is a systematic sexist trend that does matter and that we should talk about.

Let me tell you where you went wrong

I’ve been mansplained to often, but one of my “favorite” occurrences happened about six months ago.  I wanted to write about it then but then I worried about being petty, and I could never get the tone right so it was just funny and not hurtful.

Because, you know, it was hurtful.  It wasn’t just some random thing that happened to me, some guy who thought he was better than everyone else, but something worth talking about.

I have worked freelance for one company for a very long time.  So I wasn’t all that surprised when I got asked for an informational interview by this guy who found me on LinkedIn.  I know the ins and outs of how they work, I worked with a few of the VPs before they got promoted, I’ve even gotten someone hired there before.

So we meet for coffee.  He mentions that he’s now been hired by the company but is still looking for advice and that he named dropped me in his introduction call.

After asking him a little bit about his background and learning many times that he had advanced schooling, I mention that the most useful thing that I’ve learned is how to take advantage of my smart phone, specifically photos.  Sending a picture of a problem or observation is so much easier than trying to explain it verbally, especially if the fielding manager needs to talk to someone else about it.  A phone makes it a lot easier to take a sly picture if you’re someplace without permission, or are dealing with a respondent who is shy about being photographed.  Instead of making notes for shelf maps, I just take extensive pictures of the section to type out later.

He informs me that not only does he not have a smart phone; he doesn’t even have a normal cell.  You see, you can get conditioned to it, always paying attention to any buzz or beep.  He took expression of shock and confusion as a signal that I didn’t know what conditioning was.

Conditioning, you see, is when you become trained to have a certain reaction to a particular stimulus.  There are very many interesting studies such as teaching rats how to –

I take that opportunity to explain that I did, in fact know what conditioning was and had even done one of those rat studies myself (as has anyone who ever took intro to psych).

…how to press a lever to get food.  It’s really interesting, you should look into it, it would really help you understand consumer behavior.

I explain yet again that I do know about conditioning and, in fact, consumer behavior being that I worked in market research.  And that I was confused how he was going to field without a cell phone.

See if you knew about conditioning and consumer behavior like I do – I learned about it in when I was in grad school, have you thought about going to school – well you’d know what a bad idea a cell phone is.  I bet you always look at it when it makes a noise, which is bad.  That’s conditioning, you’re like a rat….

Sadly I did not walk right out at that point.

I should have walked out at that point.

I should have told him how rude he was at that point.

At that point I should have clearly stated that I had gone to graduate school in social science at a place that had not one but TWO types of social science named after it.

At that point I should have told him that not only did I understand conditioning but probably every single person in America who had gone to college and/or seen a forensic TV show understood the basic concept of conditioning.

At that point I should have emailed my contacts and told them that this guy was an asshole and would therefore suck.

Instead I sat there until he changed the subject.  I sat there while he said: “just between you and me, if people there looked like us, I would still be working there.”  I sat there while he told me that he really understood people because he had nearly gotten a degree in therapy.  I sat there while he told me that he understood business and had suggestions for the company because he had a MBA and everyone at the company were just “academics.”  I sat there when I checked a text message from my husband and got a knowing look and a headshake from him, while he explained that I should try to learn how to ignore my phone.

I sat there, I sat there quietly, I sat there being polite, and I sat there without telling him that he was being an asshole.

And that’s not the only time I’ve sat being quiet, gritting my teeth, because that’s what I’m supposed to do.   I’m supposed to be polite.  I’m not supposed to take it personally.  I’m not supposed to make a fuss.  I’m supposed to laugh it off.  I’m conditioned to be mansplained to.

Much more problematic than a cell phone, don’t you think?