Category: Writing

Posts on writing by a writer Jano Klimas, primarily on books, poetry, slams and science writing.

The David and Goliath tour: Gladwell live in Dublin

The unmissable Malcolm Gladwell showcased his book in RDS hall, Dublin, on 1 November 2013. After the show, he signed hundreds of books for his perserverant fans.

David and GoliathI’ve got it. His face was much paler than his photos on the book covers. After 27 minutes of queuing and reading the 1st chapter of his most recent book, I got Malcolm Gladwell’s signature. I waited patiently as hundreds of people in the queue ahead of me got their books signed and photographs taken. When he finished, he said to me: “These two are yours?” and the magical moment passed away.

Cycling back home, I passed by the US embassy where I got my visas for the sabbatical in Portland, Oregon, only 9 months ago. I loved Portland and thought it was a strange coincidence when I met Malcolm personally just next door from a place where my latest life story started. The cycle closed.

Pondering these coincidences, I almost hit a jaywalker. Jaywalking in Ireland is the norm and it illustrates one of the key points of Gladwell’s talk – the principle of legitimacy.

Malcolm lectured about why people obey rules or become radical. Citing from his new book, he argued that people will comply with the system if they believe it’s legitimate. 

“Legitimacy is based on fairness, voice and legitimacy” (p.293) he continues: ”People accept authority when they see that it treats everyone equally, when it is possible to speak up and be heard, and when there are rules in place” that don’t change radically from day to day.


Irish pedestrians must be convinced that the traffic lights system is not legitimate and that one must jaywalk to get where they want to be in time. There must be something seriously wrong with the traffic lights in Dublin if they are disrespected there, but respected in most other countries. In fact, the pedestrian lights have 3 symbols instead of 2 – one more than most countries. There is an orange-coloured light between the red& green lights. The green light is very short an orange flashes for the most of the walking interval. See figure below 

The 2nd principle of legitimacy theory says that people will break the rules if they don’t see the negative consequences of breaking the law as outweighing the benefits of obeying the rules. The enforcement of traffic light law for pedestrians in Dublin is virtually non-existent. Jaywalking will remain legitimate in Dublin until the system becomes more legitimate.

Literature:

Gladwell, M (2013). David and Goliath. Penguin books
Tyler, T (2006). Why people obey the law. Princeton University Press
Kennedy, D (2008). Deference and crime prevention. Routlege

Sherman, L (2006). Evidence-based crime prevention. Routlege

Does enthusiasm improve outcomes?

What drives you at your research work?

What do you want to do when you grow up?

What jobs did you have before your career in research?

These, and other, questions came to me during my recent sabbatical in Portland, Oregon. I had time to reflect and step back from the hectic research life. The frenetic chase for money and articles can disconnect researchers from their internal motivation – their primary drive.

If goals are too distant, and are obstructed by too many obstacles, they can get out of site. Continuous re-connection with personal motivated and awareness of own goals keep us driven. Enthusiasm can improve professional performance.

In his book, Clueless in Academe (2003), Gerald Graff argues that schools should use students’ drive to read sports or music magazines for academic purposes. Their interest, if directed properly, should one day bring them to libraries, he hopes.

Many students are not interested in academic topics. Their motivation is weak and affects results. At my final undergraduate exam from personality psychology, the examining professor disagreed with Graff’s assertion. He was convinced that students should spend more time studying subjects which they disliked than their favourite subjects.

Although I disagreed with him, I fully endorsed his conclusion that the disliked subjects are likely to attract less practice time, followed by academic failure, provided that students’ talents do not compensate for lack of practice. At the same time, I think that students need not to excel in every subject. Each day has only 24 hours and no one can do everything – some things have to be neglected. Students need to prioritize their activities. The decisions about preferences shape their lives and future careers. Natural interests are likely to draw students closer to themselves, leading to better self-understanding. Natural interests should be supported.

Book:
Gerald Graff (2003). Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003, 320 pages

Life in migrant flats

People in my apartment block are mostly immigrants, like me, but they don’t greet me. I live here four years and I don’t have any friends among the expatriates. When I came back from my fellowship, I asked myself why this happens.

There is a lot of diversity in migrant flats. People speak different languages, cook different dishes and have different habits. Coming back from work, night after night, I smell all sorts of exotic foods on our floor. Yes, that’s the thing about emigrants – they like their own food which is missing in the local cuisine. Many have also little money to afford fancy exotic restaurants. The combination of a desire for a familiar dish, combined with low income, results in higher frequency of emigrant cooking compared to host nationals. On the other hand, Irish too cooked their stews during the massive exodus to US in the 19th century. Cabbage smell was a clear sign of the Irish neighbourhood.

I may expect too much from my fellow emigrants. Many of us live in tight conditions. Our living quarters are small, often packed with children and other close or distant relatives who need a temporary shelter in the new country. Our jobs pay low. Despite the job equality, the same level of education and experience don’t guarantee us the position, and locals get these jobs easier. Adjusting to life in a new country is tough. The intercultural differences make it hard to feel good and homesickness is common. Some cultures are open towards strangers while others are guarded. The culture motley obscures navigation in the interpersonal domain and staying quiet is the safest option. Apart from the cultural differences, language may be a barrier for some. These issues create a lot of pressure on the newcomers. Smiling and saying Hi to your neighbours may be just too much to ask. Emigrant’s life is hard and progress is slow.

I saw nothing of this until I returned from Portland, OR. The time and distance created a bird’s perspective from which I’m able to see life back in our flats differently. Before, this was the norm – now, I see that life can be different. People can interact differently. Talking to strangers is not a sin. The fellowship in U.S. taught me a lesson about openness and talking to strangers, getting to know them and making friends. It makes life nicer.

Saying bye slowly makes parting easier

Last days of my INVEST fellowship

Visiting research scholars make new friends quickly and parting is not always easy for them. I said bye in Portland (OR) five times:

First, I said bye to my writing group. This was my second group in the last 15 weeks. The first, 10-week course of prompt-based writing was a birthday gift from my wife. I enjoyed the first course so much that I decided to go for a second round. The new beginnings were difficult, because we had a new group and group dynamics; dynamics matters most in writing groups. By the 3rd-4thmeeting, the group juice started to flow and we shared more and more feedback on our writings. Parting with the second group wasn’t easy, but much smoother thanks to my experience with the first group; I felt I belong there.

Second, I said bye to the members of the Western States Node from the Clinical Trials Network. The network has 13 nodes funded by the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) to conduct clinical trials in addiction science. From the very beginning of my fellowship, I have attended weekly meetings of the team – around 20 in total. Marie made delicious cookies and Lynn gave me clock made of bike parts by a Portland artist. This was a well-chosen gift, because I cycled around Portland every day and really enjoyed it.

Third, I said bye to my colleagues from the Department of Public Health at the Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU). The lunch invite went to all faculty and staff, but I was worried that no one would come. I was worried that if I left, nobody will care about it. When I came there, I saw many familiar faces. It felt good because it made me feel like I have an impact on people that I managed to make a connection in a short time. We had a BYO lunch on the lawn. The sky didn’t look like 88 Fahrenheit but the sun shone on us eventually. Some of us sat on a white blanket from the ED which used to warm up patients as they came to ED. Many people showed up, including my mentor Dr Dennis McCartywith his wife; Dennis commissioned cookies and Sarah baked them.

In the evening, I said bye to the three of my best friends and neighbours plus their dog – Sonic. We stayed up late, talked, ate and listened to great music. Sonic honoured us with two carpet pees which destined him into his kennel for the rest of the night.

Fourth, I said bye to my dentist. Seth was a 3rd year dentistry student at OHSU School of Dentistry and helped me through many long visits. He reminded me about my appointments every Sunday night. Seth called me on Friday evenings and when he didn’t get an answer, he called back on Sunday night. He even called me when he had a cancellation to check if I had time to get some work done. When we parted, he pushed a bag full of toothbrushes and toothpastes into my hand; so that I take care of myself and my teeth. We had a lot in common, especially the taste for adventure. I surprised my wife with a hot balloon ride for her birthday last Thursday and he treated his wife with the same ride for their 3rd anniversary.

Fifth, I said bye to my mentor, Dr Dennis McCarty. When I arrived to the department that morning, it was pretty empty and my heart sank because I haven’t had a chance to say bye to Dennis. But he came later. Dennis helped me to improve and expand my writing. I’ve read four books on writing, borrowed from him, during the my fellowship. I’ve never read so much about writing in my life. Dennis introduced me to science writers, e.g. Atul Gawandeor Carol Cruzan Morton, science writing, e.g. JRF publications, and science writing competition – the Wellcome trust prize. We met at the career crossroads – an emerging science apprentice and a seasoned mentor. He taught me that research project management is unlike any other research skills: you don’t learn these things by reading books or in the classroom, but through the apprenticeship. He was not only my mentor, but at times, acted like my guide, counsellor, teacher, proof reader, father and friend.


My point here – that saying bye slowly makes parting easier – should interest most visiting research scholars. Beyond this limited audience, however, my point should speak to anyone who faces parting with many good friends.

Honor pot: testing doctors’ drug counselling skills in a new pilot study in Ireland

In our new new paper, we outline plans for doing a study which should tell us whether doctors and agonist patients accept psychological interventions as means of curbing alcohol in primary care; it should also tell us whether we can do more research on this topic in Ireland. Access the full protocol here  http://www.researchprotocols.org/2013/2/e26/

For some people, publishing research protocols is not fun because of two reasons:

  1. everybody knows what you’re doing
  2. you have to do what you said – everybody knows now.

However tough for researchers, these two reasons make publicly available research protocols the best way to achieve transparency in research. Transparent research is in line with ethical principles of research conduct and makes an honorable contribution to the scientific knowledge – to the honor pot. Together with accountability, it should be the core pillar of scientific discovery.

If these safeguards fail, we may see more instances of academic fraud and data falsification, such as Diederik Stapels’. The social psychology community has been embarassed by the revelation that Diederik Stapels made up the data for his papers.  The NY Times link provides a detailed analysis of the Stapels and his academic fraud.