This is the story of my blog, and why blogging became a strategy to make sense of my career and my life as an Other – a woman of colour, the “non-academic” sociologist.
I started my blog in September 2011. This inauspicious date is not coincidentally aligned with the 10 year anniversary of the September 2001 attacks in the USA. Back in 2001, I was just beginning my PhD and had been trying to recruit Turkish-Australian women for my dissertation, with little success. I wanted to extend my Honours thesis, which focused on heterosexual Latin American women in Australia. A small aspect of that study had lingered, with respect to otherness: the Latin women, who had experienced much racism, expressed high support for multiculturalism. They had many friends from various backgrounds, and some had boyfriends of diverse origins (though Latin American men were a preference). One group they would not date was Muslim men, and many referenced Turkish men specifically due to negative gender stereotypes surrounding Turkish men in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, where most of the women lived.
Given the Latin women’s experiences of racism by Anglo-Australians, this intrigued me, as it suggested what I came to term as hierarchies of otherness.
Democracy is not about saying whatever you want whenever you want, without facing consequences:
‘this notion we have about radical free speech — this distinctly American framework, that anyone can say anything, more or less, short of screaming “fire” in a theater or making a “true threat” — does not have to apply to online spaces. Instead, companies like Twitter can make new standards, new frameworks, according to their corporate values and the needs of their users. (Twitter, a longtime holdout here, has recently escalated its attempts to make sure that “differences of opinion do not cross the line into harassment.”)’
In September 2013, Popular Science announced that they were closing down their comments section. This has lead to many public debates, including discussions on Science on Google+, a large community that I help manage. I wrote the following post in response to our community discussions at the time. I discuss the role of public science moderation in context of one scientific study that Popular Science used to support its decision to close their comments section. The research shows that people who think they know about science are easily swayed by negative internet discussions, but these people more likely to be poorly informed about science in the first place. For this reason, popular science publications and scientists need to step up their public engagement, not shy away from it due to the so-called “nasty effect” of negative comments made through social media. I also reflect on my own moderation experiences with the hopes of encouraging sociologists and other scientists to contribute to public science education and engagement.
In 15 minutes, Buddhini Samarasinghe and I will be speaking with Dr Inger Mewburn. Inger is the Director of Research Training at the Australian National University. Her background was in architecture, but she’s specialised in education research since 2006. We will discuss Inger’s research on the gender experiences of PhD students as they negotiate their relationships with their supervisors and administration. She will also discuss her popular blog, The Thesis Whisperer, which provides practical advice for students across STEM fields. Inger will share insights for women research students and also tell us about her career, and provide tips for navigating a successful path in academia.
In a study published earlier this year, Inger and colleagues find gendered patterns in the way postgraduates negotiate their supervisor and administration relationships. Women are more likely than men to struggle with university bureaucracy. Even filling in progress reports can be fraught with anxiety about how they may be negatively judged. Women are also less likely to report problems with their supervisors, while men find it relatively easy to approach their supervisors for help and support.
Inger will discuss how these gender differences are linked to institutional processes that prevent women from realising their full potential in STEM. We’ll discuss how we can better support women PhD students navigate the academic system and prevent the so-called leaky pipeline.
So one of the questions we need to reflect on as anthropologists interested in engaging the public is: Who is our audience, and how can we best reach them? Is blogging the key? If so, what platform, what format, what language do we use? …de Koning notes that it’s somewhat ironic that anthropology blogs largely focus on a Western audience and topics related to Western ideologies, when we’re the primary field that prides itself on a cross-cultural and often non-Western focus. I endorse his call to create “a more global and plural anthropological community” (2013:397). We need more anthropologists writing in a variety of languages about a variety of cultures and topics, specifically engaging the public in our attempts to explain the fascinating biocultural nature of humans around the world.
By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD
The internet is filled with many science blogs and websites holding themselves up as experts on all sorts of research topics. It’s frustrating to see the high volume of articles where non-experts feel qualified to dismiss social science research. The damage is worse when it’s journalists and scientists without social science training, because the public doesn’t always know that these people aren’t qualified to write about social science. I will demonstrate this through a case study of the sociology of diabetes.
With increased media attention on diabetes, the public has come to expect certain behaviours from people who have this condition. While some people understand that there are some differences between the two broad types of Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2), there are many misconceptions about what causes diabetes and how this condition should be treated. With these misconceptions comes judgements about the people who get diabetes, and why this may be the case.
I am not an expert on the biology of diabetes. I can however speak to the sociological aspects of this disease. As an applied researcher, I have worked on projects in the sociology of health, such as examining the influence of organisational practices on health outcomes. I’ve also researched socio-economic disadvantage amongst minority and vulnerable groups and the impact this has on social integration, help-seeking behaviour and wellbeing. Social disadvantage will be the focus of my analysis here. I use my discussion on the socio-economics of diabetes to explore the problems that arise when non-experts wade into social science issues using individual explanations (such as personal experience and opinion) rather than scientific evidence about societal processes. I call this “arm chair” social science because it does not adhere to the social theories and methods for analysing social issues.
My post begins with the social science research on diabetes, centred on the research of Hilary Seligman. Her team’s work was refuted by a science blogger who is not a social scientist, and who subsequently posted this critique to Science on Google+, a large multidisciplinary Community that I help moderate. Below I discuss Seligman’s longitudinal research on how poverty affects the experience and management of diabetes. Seligman uses the concept of “food insecurity” to situate her research. I draw on other studies that lend further support to this concept. I discuss the influence of social location on the management of diabetes. That is, I will examine the socio-economics of where people live as a key factor in diabetes care. I end with a discussion of the exchange on the Science on Google+ Community and the problems of viewing diabetes from an individual perspective.
Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove and her colleague, Ancient Historian Sarah E. Bond, have embarked on a wonderful initiative to bring peer-reviewed science to the public. The Ancient Studies Articles Podcast was recently launched. It features Kristina and Sarah reading aloud interdisciplinary ancient studies, in order to make the field more accessible to visually impaired people. This is an innovative and exciting project that I hope will bring ancient studies to new audiences, and perhaps inspire other fields. This post gives an overview of the project and a summary of the first podcast on the scientific development of contraception in 6th Century Byzantine. Continue reading Ancient Reproduction Practices
I wrote a couple of guides for improving science posts to our Science on Google+ community that might be useful for other bloggers writing about academic articles. It’s useful to understand how to become more scientifically literate. Jennifer Raff notes that science takes training that is gained by years of study… but that doesn’t mean that lay audiences improve their understanding of how science works! As Jennifer points out, this too takes practice.
Reading news articles or blog posts by non-experts are not going to give you an in-depth knowledge of science. These tend to sensationalise or misrepresent findings. Learn how to critically read about science by going straight to the source (the scientific journal or book). Continue reading How to Blog About Academic Articles for the Public