Re: Science and debate (a ramble)

From: Katharine Thayer ^lt;[email protected]>
Date: 03/13/05-02:38:54 AM Z
Message-id: <>

I'm taking some time out to put the finishing touches on some work that
has to be delivered this week, but this morning I had a blinding insight
that made me laugh out loud, that seemed worth sharing.

It occurred to me that maybe I'm the only one here who expected this to
be like science, who thought our task here was to refine our collective
thinking about gum printing, and maybe that's why people sometimes get
upset when I proceed on the assumption that this is what we're about.

Some comments come back to me from the past, comments from people
complaining that they can't ever share information on the list without
being contradicted, saying that they found the contradictions so
annoying that they were thinking of leaving the list. To me, this is
nonsensical. To me, the contradictions are how we discover the
limitations, or boundaries, of our inferences. If I ever said something
on the list and someone else had observations that contradicted what I
said, and they didn't say so, I would be very offended, because it would
breach the unspoken contract that I thought we had, that we're here to
figure stuff out together.

For example, when I said that a hot size causes speckles, in my
experience, and Chris said that in her experience it doesn't, to my mind
we're not contradicting each other, at all. Both observations are valid,
and our task, if we really want to discover anything about gum printing,
is to consider under what conditions each observation holds. But what
doesn't make any sense to me is to make some kind of dogfight out of it,
to say that because Chris didn't get speckles with hot size on her
present paper, that means she wins and I lose, with CAPITAL LETTERS.
That makes no sense to me, and if this is going to be that kind of a
foodfight, count me out!

How I see it is we figured out something interesting this week, that
hot size causes speckles on certain papers probably because the hot
liquid interferes with the factory sizing. I think that's important, and
I think we figured it out together, because it was just after I wrote
"maybe hot water would do the same thing" that I remembered Chris's old
picture, and it all came together for me.

So perhaps it's just incompatible ideas about what we're doing here. I'm
willing to accept that and to consider that my expectations are out of
place here. To me, a list that was operating for a different purpose
wouldn't be as interesting a list, but if the majority of people would
prefer a list where no one ever contradicts anyone else's information or
inferences, then I probably don't belong here. I can't think what valid
purpose such a list would serve, other than giving sources for supplies
and workshop announcements and the like, but if that's what people want,
that's what they want, and I won't try to impose my preference for the
list being a forum for an active debate of issues. I have lots of energy
for an open debate of gum printing issues; I have no energy whatever for
fights over how the list operates or who gets to stay and who has to go,
and I have no energy at all for a list that's about factions one-upping
each other for no purpose but winning and driving off their opponents.

Katharine Thayer

Katharine Thayer wrote:
> 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 Sun Mar 13 10:34:36 2005

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