I’m giving myself one hour to write this. All I want to do lately is write here and not grade papers or do other work that is more squarely located within my formal work tasks. But I have papers to grade and other work to do, so one hour maximum.
But then, today a friend of mine, sent me a link to a New York Times article about the rise and stumble of the social psychologist Amy Cuddy, which led me to feel rage-y about academia and post about it on my Facebook page. The story goes something like, Cuddy did a study showing something interesting and catchy that got her one of the most popular Ted Talks ever and a book and lots of speaking engagements and such. She became what I think most
middle-schoolers academics wish they could be and are totally terrified of being: popular. Which, like happens with any popular girl, eventually some boys other academics started bullying her and saying her work was shit and she’s a fraud, etc. on their blogs that are determined to correct “bad science.” Because, obvs, they are perfect and everyone else is dumb, or something like that.
I haven’t seen her Ted Talk or read her work or know anything about her aside from this article, and I haven’t seen the critiques or the work of the…
truth fighters… bullies … other academics, but the article piqued my anger which is usually related to my fears. I have deep fears of doing crappy work that later gets shown to be wrong. These fears lead me to take FOREVER to publish research of mine because i want to make sure it’s perfect. When I hit submit on a journal article, it’s usually done with one eye closed hoping that there isn’t some glaring error I was somehow blind too. So the idea of there being some self-appointed vigilante band of good research police that falls outside the standard bounds of peer-review fills me with dread and makes me want to just pack up my stuff and go home.
At the same time, I’m insanely frustrated at one particular article I’ve been trying to get published that has been desk rejected four times! It’s now under review at a FIFTH journal. I can’t help but think that the reason why I haven’t yet received the desk rejection (*please don’t jinx this, please don’t jinx this*) is because the latest version confirms part of the ideological biases out there whereas the previous four only contradicted it. The latest version, however, IS the correct one. The previous versions had tiny mistakes in them or we overlooked one variable.
WE I was blinded by my own ideological biases and my desires to tell a certain story that led me to super small oversights that I only caught after getting four desk rejections because i wanted to make sure that I had done everything perfectly. Maybe there still are errors in the version still under review and not yet desk rejected (*DO NOT BLOW THIS BY JINXING THIS!).
The reason why we have peer review and not just blogs like this one is precisely for this purpose. To correct our errors, to get a second pair of eyes (or four or five), to ensure that we’re doing science right. This is true in all of the natural/hard/social sciences. So I both HATE academia for doing this to me–for filling me with dread and fear and insecurity–and I also fundamentally respect it for its diligence about ensuring that the truth is told… even if there maybe isn’t one truth and even if there were maybe it’s impossible to ever get it right.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if part of the issue with Cuddy, in particular, has to do with her being a woman, and worse a popular, pretty woman. The Times article describes her insecurities and how the whole process was somewhere between draining and devastating to her. I can’t imagine going through it. But it is precisely that fear that has made me not want to share this blog. I don’t want to make my voice heard because I don’t want to be told that I’ve somehow fucked up majorly.
I can’t help but connect a few dots between this story of an academic pushed out of academia and the #metoo movement trending on social media. Women are regularly being told that they fucked up, that they’re wrong, that they need to sit down and shut up. I had a professor in graduate school inexplicably suggest to a room full of other graduate students that the men in the room who were heading to Ft. Lauderdale for a social psychology conference should take me with them to the nude beaches. In the words of Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs “hardy fucking har.” I had a department chair deny me the right to teach summer school when I challenged the idea that we pay hundreds of dollars to register for a course for him to “supervise” our teaching in order to teach a course that would be us under $4,000 before taxes. I had a department chair walk by my office every day for a few weeks asking if I was eating after I had lost 30 pounds. After I started to gain back the weight, he called out down the hall “There goes fatty, Phyllie” as I was walking away. What a hilarious joke! That same department head, yelled at me, pointing his finger at my face, saying “don’t you ever do that again” the day after a department meeting where I had challenged him on admitting a particular young woman to our program who didn’t meet the minimum requirements after he had assured us that her GPA would improve since she would be getting all As in his courses that year. And, then, in my divorce, my ex-husband, who proudly advertises that he’s a feminist on his Twitter page, wrote in court documents that the reason why we moved so much was because I couldn’t get along with my department heads, which was evidence for the personality disorder he was trying to diagnose me with (that no other mental health providers of mine would go along with). In private, he called me a liar and crazy and that I wasn’t to be trusted. When I told him that he was using misogynist tropes against me, he said that it’s not misogynist if it’s true.
I want science to be done well. I don’t want my work to get a free pass just because I did it. I don’t want to publish work that leads people in the wrong direction. But I also know that it’s not a coincidence that I doubt myself and my work. It’s not that I just have low self-esteem or that I just need to believe in myself more. I do this because I have been trained to do it.
When my friend and I were chatting about the Cuddy article she mentioned that she loved her TedTalk and said “who knew she was such a leprechaun?” My immediate thought was “huh, I’ve never heard the expression such a leprechaun. I’m such an idiot, what else do I not know.” but sort of brushed the thought aside as one of a million such thoughts and texted back “I know, weird, huh” pretending like I knew that was an expression. A few minutes later she texted “A LEPER!! No green guy.” I’m still laughing at this, it feels better than crying.