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livredor
I could do without
Monday, 27 October 2008 at 06:26 pm
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Graah.

I'm really unsettled by hearing of some nasty racist bullying in a primary school, which is so far at secondhand that it's totally outside any sphere where I can do anything about it.

Then I spent most of today finishing an experiment which also took most of yesterday, only to discover that my colleague had given me such unclear instructions I'd tested completely the wrong thing. This is somewhat of an ongoing problem, mind you.

Anyway, this left me at a loose end for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to attend a lecture I'd thought I wouldn't have time for. It was on the topic of the effects of diet on energy metabolism in adipose tissue, which is interesting but not directly related to my work. I was a little nervous about the topic, because sometimes people working in that area tend to have a big thing about how they are going to Cure Obesity! and that annoys me. In fact, it was worse than that: not only is the speaker going to cure obesity, he felt the need to show several slides with ridiculous caricatures and deliberately unflattering photos of fat people. I understand that you need something light-hearted to engage your audience, and I would probably have let it slide if he'd just grabbed the first fat cartoon off google image search, but he really made a significant point about making offensive fat jokes at every opportunity. He even mocked the mice in his experiment for how much weight they gained when he force-fed them an unnatural diet, puffing out his cheeks and sticking his arms out like a playground imitation of a fatso and making jokes about how the mice were so fat their legs didn't even reach the ground, hahaha.

I considered walking out, but concluded I was too much of a coward; I could just imagine him mocking me for being an over-sensitive fat cow. (I think I was the fattest person in the audience, but not by a significant margin.) I think the worst of it is that as a scientist working on obesity research, he carries the voice of authority. It's easy for people to form the impression that it's an objective scientific fact that fat people are all lazy and stupid and ludicrous, when that is juxtaposed with a message about how mice fed certain foods in a carefully controlled experiment express more of a particular protein. The body of the lecture was quite interesting, and once he got on to the serious bit he was very careful not to over-interpret his results. He clearly said that once you go into any more depth than the simplest, single parameter experiment, things get unpredictably complicated, with hormone, inflammatory and genetic effects clouding the outcomes.

So I was in a pretty bad mood when I had to go back to the lab for our monthly cleaning session. The two finishing PhD students claimed they were far too stressed to take an hour to help clean, and another said she's been doing statistical rather than bench work for a month so the mess wasn't hers. That left only three of us to tackle the job, which is sort of fair but also sort of not.

This is exactly the situation for my luxury hot chocolate mix that deborah_c gave me for my birthday, I feel.


Whereaboooots: SH, Flemingsberg, Sweden
Moooood: aggravatedaggravated
Tuuuuune: Iron Maiden: Fear of the dark
Discussion: 12 contributions | Contribute something
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rysmiel: can't rain all the time
From:rysmiel
Date:October 27th, 2008 06:00 pm (UTC)
9 minutes after journal entry, 02:00 pm (rysmiel's time)
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I am thinking supportive thoughts, for what it may be worth; that lecture is just disgustingly unprofessional.

(Didn't ping you on gmail chat over the weekend because I saw you were there mere moments before I had to head out for Z's high-school graduation; if you saw me flicker by briefly, I hope it did not look unfriendly. *hug*)
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:October 27th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 08:46 pm (livredor's time)
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Supportive thoughts are much appreciated. I think the convergence of all the minor annoyances today has tended towards making me feel that I'm worthless, so just being reminded that people support me is really helpful just now.

I'm interested that you characterize the lecturer as disgustingly unprofessional; I would have said it's professionally acceptable to spice up a presentation with slightly off-colour jokes, and was charitably assuming that he hadn't really thought through the classist and sexist implications of the whole 'haha look at all these dumb fat people' schtick. But your strong condemnation makes me less inclined to think I'm over-reacting to something trivial.

As for not chatting on IM, that's not a problem at all, I certainly don't expect you to be available to chat every time we happen to overlap online.
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feanelwa: default
From:feanelwa
Date:October 27th, 2008 06:11 pm (UTC)
21 minutes after journal entry, 06:11 pm (feanelwa's time)
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Your PhD students do not know how to procrastinate properly, they fail.

And, what a prat that guy was. But at least he's not out there treating actual human patients. His arseholeness is at least slightly contained.

I have a colleague like the unclear instructions one. It winds me up a lot.
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livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:October 27th, 2008 08:54 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 08:54 pm (livredor's time)
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To be fair, the PhD students are well past the procrastination stage and into the panic stage. If I hadn't been grumpy already, I probably would have cheerfully accepted that actually, they really don't have an hour spare to clean the lab, they're both working through weekends and nights and living on takeaways. I was cross at the whole I can't be bothered because I only do computer work thing; the monthly cleaning has always been a team effort, it's not about who made which mess. And the problem is that if you start with a group of eight, and subtract the boss cos he's too important, and the two computer people and the two panicking finalists, you end up with too few to cover what needs doing, which is a pain.

You're right that it's better the prat-face lecturer is a researcher and not a medical doctor. I just can't help feeling that this sort of attitude is not only offensive, but undermines the credibility of the work he's doing. It's bad enough that serious research into diet and obesity is published in the popular media as diet advice with a side of tormenting the lazy dumb fatsos, but if the actual scientific establishment starts buying into that, why should anyone believe that our research is meaningful and not just an expression of prejudice? Bah.
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friend_of_tofu: default
From:friend_of_tofu
Date:October 27th, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
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Then I spent most of today finishing an experiment which also took most of yesterday, only to discover that my colleague had given me such unclear instructions I'd tested completely the wrong thing. This is somewhat of an ongoing problem, mind you.

Argh. Argh. ARGH!! Is there any way you can quietly approach your mutual supervisor about this? I'm sure your institution don't want to be wasting their money by paying you to test unnecessaries.

As to that fattist lecture, why not write a comment to the provider, and the guy whose lecture it was, expressing what you felt was wrong with the lecture? As a fellow scientist, at least they can't dismiss you as being Disgusted (Fat Chick) of Tunbridge Wells. I'm most revolted by the jokes about the mice, actually - so, you're going to make a helpless animal painfully obese and then laugh at what you've done to it? FAIL.
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livredor: p53
From:livredor
Date:October 27th, 2008 09:08 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 09:08 pm (livredor's time)
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Thanks for the sympathetic outrage, that makes me feel a lot better! The thing about the colleague is that he suffers from two problems: he doesn't speak English well, and he doesn't fully grasp the concept that other people are not inside his head. Our boss has been gently guiding him to improve his communication for a while now; it used to be that he wouldn't even bother trying to communicate because he just wanted to do everything himself and not make the effort needed to establish teamwork.

I think writing a letter to the speaker is a really good idea. It would mean I was speaking up, but without the humiliation of walking out in public. I think I can draft it so that my objections sound scientific as much as political; if you're assuming that everybody knows obesity is caused by people being lazy and dumb, you are not going to be able to do sensible research into the causes of obesity.

I know what you mean about mocking the mice; the (thankfully unusual) scientists who laugh about the suffering they inflict on experimental subjects rather than expressing regret really bother me too. I think it's partly that if you spend your professional life doing unpleasant things to cute animals, you may retreat into macabre humour as a defence mechanism. But I can't wholly approve. The other thing that bothered me was the implication of this totally ingrained assumption that being fat is caused by sitting around in front of the TV stuffing your face with burgers; the whole point of the experiment was that these mice ate the same number of calories as the controls, and the same proportion of dietary fats, and in the serious bit he even pointed out that their exercise levels were indistinguishable. But even when he's directly in the process of discussing the evidence for this, he just knows that they must be stupid and lazy.
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blue_mai: birds
From:blue_mai
Date:October 27th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 07:22 pm (blue_mai's time)
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i second writing to the lecturer. especially as it sounds like the science- actual content bit was ok, it needs pointing out that the 'fluff' was offensive and out of line. people sometimes add that stuff to pander to their audiences, but really, most lecturers stand-up comics they aren't, and they can have little clue where to draw the line...
boo to playground bullying.
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:October 27th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 09:10 pm (livredor's time)
(Link)
Yeah, all good points, thanks for commenting. He got a laugh, but that's partly just audience politeness. Seems good to write to him and point out as clearly and dispassionately as I am able that he is making his scientific case weaker by framing it with ignorant and offensive jokes.
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:October 27th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry
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Agreed.
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syllopsium: default
From:syllopsium
Date:October 27th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry

mmm choccy..

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chocolate is good. praise the chocolate.

Definitely have a word with the lecturer. It's not exactly on that his own lecture points out that things are more complex than just eating 'the right foods' (or perhaps, shock horror, people like to eat a diet which is sometimes not perfectly nutritionally balanced) and still make fat jokes.

You are not fat; you have the Curves of Delightfulness..
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hatam_soferet: default
From:hatam_soferet
Date:October 27th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry
(Link)
Then I spent most of today finishing an experiment which also took most of yesterday, only to discover that my colleague had given me such unclear instructions I'd tested completely the wrong thing. This is somewhat of an ongoing problem, mind you.

I am outraged on your behalf. My poor badger, you get buggered around far. too. much. I wish you had a good excuse for coming over here, I could feed you hot chocolate and Torah and take you for a nice walk.
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From:rav_hadassah
Date:October 28th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry
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Quick hugs in passing! :-)
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