Science and debate (a ramble)

From: Katharine Thayer ^lt;>
Date: 03/12/05-07:00:29 AM Z
Message-id: <>

I've been thinking about this for quite a while, and it seems to fit in
the present context, so maybe this is the time to share it, since all
I'm doing anyway today is sitting on the back steps thinking about how
much I've given to this list and how little thanks and how much grief
I've gotten for my trouble. Not that I expect thanks so much, although I
have greatly appreciated the quiet thanks that many people have sent me
privately, but what I don't expect is the gratuitous animosity and
insinuations that make it difficult to see why it would be worth it to
me to continue contributing here.

What I've been thinking about for a while is that I have been surprised
again and again by people who have taken my disagreement with them on
issues, or my sharing of differing observations, as some kind of
personal attack, which I simply don't understand. It seems a simple
distinction to me: A personal attack is a personal attack (calling
someone a misogynistic old fart would be a personal attack, for
example) and is quite easy to differentiate from a disagreement on
issues, which isn't personal. What's more, sharing differing
observations is what scientific debate is all about.

I've wondered if perhaps it's a difference in background. My background
is in science: chemical, biological and social science, as well as
statistics, where I learned a mode of professional interacting that
seems to be unfamiliar here, perhaps. Where I come from, it would be
considered rude and uncollegial, a breach of faith, if a colleague
suggested an hypothesis he was entertaining or shared some findings and
inferences he was drawing from those findings, and you knew of findings
that didn't support your colleague's hypothesis or inference but didn't
share those contradictory findings with your colleague so that he could
use them to refine his thinking on the issue. Where I come from, the
progress of knowledge is considered a group effort; we always cite those
we have learned from and we progress in our understanding collectively
by sharing our findings and speculations with each other. It's not
considered "inconsistent" to adjust your understanding of an issue with
the addition of new data or further thought; on the contrary it's
considered the normal course of how science proceeds. There's no stigma
attached to learning from observation and from thinking about and
discussing those observations. Here, there apparently is, at least in
one quarter. This, I don't understand.

But there's another source of misunderstanding as well, and that's only
come to me recently, after someone became very angry with me a few
months ago during a discussion about CMYK vs RGB. I couldn't understand
the anger, at all, but (oh dear, here I'll be doing what I said we
shouldn't do, trying to discern what someone else is thinking, but I
don't know how else to understand than to try to put myself in the other
person's place) on reflction I decided that the anger might possibly
stem from a mistaken belief that I was challenging or refuting his
observations, which simply wasn't the case. What I was challenging was
the conclusion he was drawing from his observations, which my own
observations did not support, and so I was providing my observations
simply to suggest that he might consider qualifying his conclusion. I
thought this was obvious, but maybe it wasn't. And perhaps it's not
clear to everyone that the observations and the inference or conclusion
are two different things; one doesn't always follow from the other,
especially when you're dealing with the kind of largely uninterpretable
data that we're stuck with.

At any rate, the goal on my part was simply to contribute to a dialogue
that hopefully might further our collective understanding, and none of
it was meant personally or felt personal to me until an outpouring of
animosity directed very personally at me made it clear that for whatever
reason, it was very personal on the other side. I don't mean to dwell on
this particular example out of many possible examples, it's just that
sometimes an example helps to illustrate what it is I'm talking about.

The point being that if people think I'm out to get them every time I
disagree with them or share contradictory observations, then there's
always going to be these upsetting arguments that make my stomach hurt
and sometimes make me take time out from the list for short or longer
periods because being here doesn't feel good (I'm pretty tough but I'm
not as tough as some of you seem to assume I am) and because I'm afraid
that if I stay I will lose it and start spluttering and sounding
ridiculous. (Sometimes I haven't left fast enough, unfortunately).

But if people would assume, as I try to assume of everyone, that the
purpose for everyone here is to collectively figure out what's going on
with our processes, and if we could all agree as a matter of principle
that all observations are valid and that no one here is stupid, and that
we're all in this together, then maybe we could actually make some
progress toward understanding some things about gum printing. It's just
a thought, and no doubt I'll be shouted down again for my trouble, but
it seemed important to say it anyway.

Katharine Thayer
Received on Sat Mar 12 14:56:06 2005

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