"Joy As An Act Of Defiance"

"Rock 'n' roll is a life force.  It's joy as an act of defiance." That's Bono explaining why it is necessary and important for U2 to get back to Paris as soon as possible to do the concerts they had to cancel after the attacks.

Terrorism drains joy from the soul. Replaces it with fear and suspicion. When we give in to that we are doing exactly what the terrorists need us to do.  

As Scott Atran and Nafis Hamid explain so very well in a recent New York Review column, the theorists of radical Islam are driven to destroy the corruption of the modern materialistic world and create "a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner."  Their tactics are not mindless nihilistic violence.  They are "part of a conscious plan designed to instill among believers a sense of meaning that is sacred and sublime, while scaring the hell out of fence-sitters and enemies."  They are intended to provoke a particular reaction that will rip the veil of illusion from the spiritual impoverishment of the West.  As prominent voices throughout the United States proclaim that we must do "things we haven't considered before," that we must all arm ourselves, that all Muslims are a threat, and on and on, it is apparent that the strategy is working fabulously well.

I was raised to believe that "liberty and justice for all" was the truth of America, that the dream really was a dream for everybody.  As I grew older I became more aware of how often we, as a country, and as individuals, fail to live up to that ideal, but I have still always believed in its potential.  When Americans are at our best, we are that shining city on the hill.  We are capable of astonishing acts of kindness and generosity.  In those moments, when we live up to our ideals, we deserve to be known as the country that people all around the world want to be a part of, we deserve to be the example that patriots everywhere want to model their own countries after.  That's when I'm proud of my country and the people who are a part of it.  There is no contradiction in feeling that pride while still wanting us to be better.

The jihadists believe that I am either a fool or a liar.  They believe that this talk of freedom and equality is a charade, that the system is created only to sustain the power of the powerful, to keep the weak in their place, where they will supply what is necessary to sustain the culture.  These horrific acts of violence are very specifically designed to generate a response, to send a message to those who they would call back to the fold.

 Did you think that if you went to the United States they would embrace you? Did you believe their chatter about liberty and justice for all? Did you think you were really going to have a share of the wealth and power that they dangle in front of you? All lies.

See now their true colors. See how quickly their fear turns loose their hatred for you. They have always hated you. When they felt they could control you and keep you down they tolerated you because they needed your labor. But they have no souls.  They are easily frightened and when they are frightened they become vicious. 

Some of their leaders claim to be appalled at the violence turned towards immigrants.   They say 'this is not who we are.' But they are as deluded as you have been. This is exactly who they are. You have no place there. There is nothing for you. See how quickly they shout their readiness to abandon their so-called principles in order to round you up, beat you, chase you from their shores. They have nothing for you.  Come home.

I imagine the leaders of the caliphate watching the bellicose rhetoric unfold, grinning at each other in amazement.  Even better than they'd hoped.  

On my university campus here in the deep South I see young women with headscarves on the sidewalks, walking to class, laughing together like college kids everywhere.  I think they are incredibly brave.  How often do they get jeered at?  When will someone, feeling emboldened by the rhetoric of some congressional leaders and too many presidential candidates, take it a step forward and commit some retaliatory act of violence?  When some young Muslim girl is standing in the dorm room, before the mirror, getting dressed, does she hesitate now before putting on the scarf?  Does she decide, maybe not today?  Maybe she was born in Indianapolis, of immigrant parents so proud to have made it to this country, to raise their children as Americans.  Maybe she spent her life having her mother tell her, when she came home from school crying at the taunts, to ignore them, to stand up for who she is, a real American.  Maybe her father convinced her that the true America would cherish and protect her.  Maybe she believed that.  Is her belief starting to weaken?  Is she beginning to wonder if the hatred and fear that seems more and more to be trained on her is the real America after all?

Yes, it's a war.  When U2 goes on stage tonight in Paris they'll be wielding a potent weapon.  The arena will shake with hope and the belief that the goodness of people will prevail as long as we don't let our own fear subvert that goodness.  They'll use rock 'n' roll as an act of defiance against those who seek to unleash the worst in our selves.

Each of us needs to be a joyful warrior.  Generosity and kindness are the weapons that we all can wield. Yes, yes, we need to be vigilant.  We need to be cautious.  Defeating the jihadists will require multiple tactics, some military, some political.  But those tactics will not prove the jihadists wrong.  We can only do that if we truly live the American dream, if we make the quest for justice and freedom, the realization of the words on the Statue of Liberty and the principles of the Constitution our daily touchstones; if we protect those ideals with all of the joyful fierceness we can muster.  If we don't, if we allow fear to replace joy with hatred, if we let the quest for security eviscerate personal liberty, if we scapegoat and demonize Muslims and immigrants, then not only do we lose the war, we prove that the jihadists were right about us all along.

 

 

 


I'm On An Anthropological Expedition

"Of the dozen cases of possible research misconduct I've looked into in the last ten years, I was able to retrieve the original data in exactly two." This from a colleague (I won't say with which university) bemoaning the state of current data management practices. When I quote this to some of the Data Wranglers here they're not at all surprised.

On the other hand, when I mentioned it to another colleague, a historian, she was rather shocked. In her field, keeping meticulous records and clear documentation of every statement of fact that goes into an article or book is standard practice.  That there's a research world that has such an apparently casual attitude towards the data is foreign to her.

But in the biomedical research world, as the hapless teddy bear researcher in the brilliant NYU Library video says, all the data you need is in the article.  You do your experiment, you extract the data you need for your article, you move on, leaving your data behind.  ("So many boxes!")  Changing that mindset is just one of the fundamental hurdles.

Each investigator looks at the world through the lens of their own practices, as if all of science and scholarship behaves the same way. I move through it like an anthropologist, trying not to let my own biases about the world color my perceptions of what the natives are doing and why.

When I embarked on this full-time gig fourteen months ago as the mysteriously titled Director of Digital Data Curation Strategies I believed I had a very good high-level understanding of the issues involved. I'd been dabbling in this space for many years, through the Open Access wars, my involvement with the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable and an increasing understanding that open access to data held far more potential for revolutionizing science than open access to journal articles. I knew that addressing the challenges at the institutional level would require bringing people together from all across the institution, that it wasn't a library problem amenable to a library solution. Indeed, it wasn't a problem localized in any unit of the university.  Given the way our research institutions are organized, there isn't a unit within the typical university that obviously has primary responsibility for figuring this out.  Most often, it's librarians who have taken the lead, but they can only touch a portion of the problem.

I still believe that I was correct. I did have a very good high-level understanding. But I did not imagine how delightfully complex it would be once I started to dig in.

I'm starting to get to know some of the #datalibs and a fascinating, brilliant and passionate tribe they certainly are.  I'm learning a lot and enjoying that tremendously.  

My perspective is a little different, though.  I remain the quasi-outsider, observing through my anthropological lens.  Since I'm no longer in the library, I'm not preoccupied with building a library service and marketing it to my research community.  In Charleston, one of the panelists in the "Making Institutional Repositories Work" session was explicit that once you have developed a solid institutional repository service, the next step is to engage with the faculty to see what problems the IR can solve.

At the monthly Data Wranglers sessions, and in the numerous conversations I have with individuals throughout the campus, I'm mostly trying to listen.  I want to understand what the problems are first.  What do investigators need in terms of services & infrastructure to comply with the data management requirements of funders and publishers?  How do we develop institutional policies that assist researchers rather than creating more administrative headaches?  How do the needs of the social scientists and historians differ from the epidemiologists and brain mappers?

If we can map that out, then we can start to identify roles.  What can the Office of Sponsored Programs take on?  How do the libraries contribute?  What do we need in terms of IT infrastructure?  How do we incorporate effective data management practices into the various graduate and post-doc training programs?  We'll probably identify the need for an institutional data repository of some sort at some point.  But we haven't gotten there yet.  I have much more field work to do.

 

 


Epistemology

Mr. Lucky posts to his timeline: If only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge and being turned away.

Nicely done, I think, and indicate approval.  As do a couple of others.

But very soon, not surprisingly, comes the dark side. "Why are they all young men? What about women and children first? Think about it."

Absurd, of course. I'm a librarian, so immediately I go looking for facts.  I quickly find them from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 50.5% women, 38.5% under the age of 12. I post that.

Did I expect the dark side to express gratitude and surprise?  Well, no.

He just says, "Sure they are."

Mr. Lucky bans & blocks him. This is good for Mr. Lucky's page and the friends who hang out there, but the dark side remains.  Unmoved.

How do we know what we know? How do we know that we can trust it?

My way of knowing is constructed from a set of principles developed in Europe over several centuries, starting with the Greek invention of symbolic logic and the beginnings of an empirical approach to science, a way of looking at the world that comes to fruition in the so-called Age of Enlightenment.

That way of looking at the world leads me immediately to search for verifiable objective facts, to balance competing narratives using logical principles, leavened by appeals to trusted authority.

But that's just one way of looking at the world. It "works" in the sense that it provides an epistemological underpinning for Western science & engineering that enables us to manipulate the world pretty effectively to improve health and physical comfort -- along with building extremely effective tools of destruction.  Those of us who follow this path believe that it gives us an accurate picture of the world.  It leads to true knowledge. (It is, however, pretty useless for answering questions about morality or the meaning of life.)

So what of someone who rejects all that? What if one's epistemological principle is to rely on intuition and how one feel about the world? Rather than building knowledge empirically, using logic, construct it from emotion, a sense of tribe, an appeal to religion, history and family. Knowledge comes from who one is and the place one occupies in the world.  Perhaps the goal is not to test knowledge, but to keep it safe.   Use information to reinforce a construct of the world that is organic and that rejects western logic altogether. Make judgments about facts in an entirely different way -- accept those that reinforce one's views and reject those that challenge them. Rather than an appeal to some objective reality, to logic or science, measure facts against the reality that one already knows to be true. Proceeding in this way makes my views ever stronger, makes my hold on reality -- my reality -- that much more solid.

I can't argue against this using my tools of logic and empiricism.  My appeal to the UNHCR is useless. Since my antagonist already knows that the refugees are all young men, the facts that I present are evidence that the UNHCR cannot be a trustworthy source.  I think my facts will undermine his beliefs; instead, his beliefs invalidate my facts.

The rationalist says, "You're entitled to your own opinions, you're not entitled to your own facts."  And so the rationalist looks at the comment threads in frustrated bewilderment, throwing more and more facts, never wavering in the belief that eventually facts and logic must win.  They must. Otherwise, how is knowledge even possible?

And yet, it is apparent that for many people, belief comes first.  Then one chooses one's facts.  The rationalist has no way to counter this.  I can say this is illogical.  My antagonist counters, That's your problem.

 


The Despicable Senator Cruz

Throughout our re-watching of The Day of the Doctor last night I kept thinking of the bellicose Senator Cruz arguing that we needed to accept civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq in order to defeat ISIS. Most disgusting is his claim that by trying to adhere to international law on the avoidance of civilian casualties, Obama "does not wish to defend this country."

This will be very popular with Cruz's fans, many of whom would be happy to make no distinctions among the people of Syria and Iraq in any case.

The plot of The Day of the Doctor centers on the Doctor's guilt at having wiped out Gallifrey in order to end the Time War. He made the utilitarian calculation that killing those billions of innocents was justified in order to spare the many more billions who might die in the wider war if it could not be contained. Then he spent four hundred guilt-filled years regretting it.  He has the chance to undo that decision, and he takes it.

The dilemma is a classic one. What lives are you willing to take in order to prevent greater harm?  We see it play throughout the history of war. The U.S. chose the destruction of innocents in Dresden and again in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We still argue about it.  Was it better that we kill all of those innocent, suffering men, women and children in order to end the war?  

At the Nuremberg trials we began to understand what happens to a culture, and to the people who are a part of it, when you choose the path that leads to dehumanizing the "other."  There's no easy solution, and in war, innocent people die, But we try to recognize that the easy acceptance of "collateral damage" (that soul destroying phrase) places us on the same plane of barbarism of those we are trying to subdue.

Cruz appeals to the barbarism that is still within us, to the fear and the tribalism that will make it easy to accept those civilian deaths in order to save ourselves from this "threat to Western Civilization."   But our response, when it leads to torture, loss of civil liberties, dehumanization of those we see as not like us, and a willingness to easily accept the destruction of innocent life, profoundly threatens the values on which that civilization has been built.

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not a tactician.  Clearly ISIS is not amenable to a diplomatic solution. They need to be fought militarily and more aggressively than we have figured out how to do so far.  But I have no patience for the internet armchair generals who will rage in comment threads and on twitter about what we "obviously" have to do, and who will boast about their willingness to be tough enough to kill as many children as it takes.  Idiots, who will never have to stand for the consequences of their choices.  

I am not willing that we should descend to their level of barbarity and ignore the humanity of those who are caught on the ground. I want to see leadership that will find a solution, difficult as it is, that doesn't destroy our values on the pretext of defending them.  Unlike the Doctor, we don't get a second chance.

 


What We Share

I was in Frankfurt in 2006, having been invited to speak at the annual meeting of the STM association. It was a heady experience. I don't remember what I talked about (I hope it was useful) but I certainly learned a lot. I came away with the understanding that the commercial publishers were already knee-deep into the reinvention of scholarly publishing and they were eager to partner with librarians in that great adventure. But they weren't going to wait for the librarians to show up.

Sadly, the librarians never did. It was still the early days of Open Access publishing. But Mabe was at great pains to point out that STM was officially agnostic on the subject. I met Hindawi, who had recently joined. I had a long conversation with Velterop, full as always with his enthusiasm for what might be achieved with some goodwill and creativity and daring. Even Erik Engstrom, then CEO of Elsevier, told me in conversation that he was not at all opposed to Open Access. He just needed to figure out how to make it work as a business.

But in the years that followed, the librarians didn't show up. Led by ARL/SPARC they manned the barricades, determined to make this a holy war between good and evil. Fueled by anger over the affordability problem, stoked with rhetoric that characterized Elsevier's profit margins as typical of the entire industry, and willfully oblivious to the economic realities of publishing, the librarians found emotional satisfaction in castigating the evil publishers, writing letters to congress and investing portions of their scant resources in institutional repositories that their faculties have little interest in supporting.

Where are we now, nearly ten years later? The commercial publishers have turned OA into the business model they were beginning to envision back in Frankfurt. Springer claims to be the largest source of OA articles in the world. Elsevier launches a new OA journal practically every week. Every major STM publisher has a PLoS One clone.  The OA partisans conspicuously have nothing to say about PLoS's revenues.   It's become a huge publisher by adopting the strategies and utilizing the talents of some of the best in the publishing industry. It's now running a surplus that bests that of most of the commercial small fry and the OA partisans can't figure out if PLoS is still one of the good guys.

The partisans retrench into the incoherence of green OA. Since they can't stomach making payments of any kind to the commercial publishers (Harnad's painful pun of "Fool's Gold") they fly the flag for green, continuing to manage a splendid feat of cognitive dissonance by ignoring the fact that green is entirely dependent on the existence of a vibrant, healthy, subscription-based publishing infrastructure -- the very system they want to eradicate.

The partisans lob their attacks on liblicense-l. The latest comes after Robert Glushko posts a message asking if we can't all recognize that despite our differences we are all still in this together. "I'm hopeful that we can work to find common areas of interest, and that we can all work together to promote those areas. At our best, we do so much good."

The critics are quick to disparage such foolish idealism.  Prosser says,  "Gosh, I wish this was true. I wish that we were all just one big happy family striving to promote scholarship. But I don’t think we are. We all have different priorities and drivers and sometimes those drivers and priorities clash."  Guédon quickly chimes in:  "Hear, hear, David! The notion that publishers/libraries/scholarly are close relatives is completely fanciful."  Later, in his long post, he seems to temper this somewhat, "Let us concentrate our fire on the few, multinational, baddies and the rogue scientific associations, and let us see how we can repatriate publishing capacity within academe."  So not all publishers are evil -- it is the multinational baddies that we must go to war with.  I'm sure this is comforting to the struggling commercial and society publishers trying to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

At UKSG 2013 I gave the closing plenary, arguing that publishers and librarians share the same overarching  commitment to advancing scholarship through the distribution of new knowledge.  It's our view of the role of the market that puts us at odds.  Librarians see market forces as the impediment to distributing knowledge.  Commercial publishers see market forces as the mechanism for distributing knowledge.  This fundamental disconnect will continue to make our business relationships more difficult than they need be. And librarians are at a particular disadvantage because of our unwillingness to learn to deal realistically with the economics of publishing. 

But surely there can be more to the relationship than that.  The publishers themselves are fiercely competitive with each other, but still managed to get together to create CrossRef, which has done more to facilitate efficient movement through the scholarly literature than anything that librarians have put together.

I still believe that the best way forward is for librarians, publishers of all stripes, researchers, academics and members of the public to engage and argue and work together to build a scholarly ecosystem that works for the public good. Something that I believe we all want. The people who work in those companies that the partisans castigate as "the baddies" (and worse) are, by and large, good people who are committed to doing a good job and advancing scholarship.  They also want their organizations to be successful.  A sentiment that I believe is shared by every librarian I know.

There are some positive signs. While I'm still not seeing as much positive energy from the library community as I would like, the Library Publishing Coalition is doing very good work.   I'm still optimistic that SHARE can achieve some useful things, particularly as it works more closely with CHORUS. The deal that CHORUS just signed with ORCID is very positive and should give librarians something to get behind.

Most promising of all perhaps, is the energy I saw at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting in Arlington in May. SSP, more than any other association, has made a major commitment to bringing publishers and librarians together. They have just elected a librarian as president. Rick Anderson generates a lot of skepticism among librarians but he is librarian through and through.

The way forward will continue to be difficult.  But if librarians are going to influence that future they're going to have to show up and find ways to work with the people in publishing.  Writing them off with the kind of demeaning and insulting rhetoric that characterizes so much of what the partisans write doesn't advance anything but the would-be revolutionaries' sense of self-satisfaction.  A dose of humility and a willingness to listen would serve the cause much better.

 


Must Do More Cooking

Among the indignities I suffer following my bout with the peculiarly aggressive case of transverse myelitis is the gradual atrophy of my cooking skills. This might be slightly more tolerable if it were not for the fact that Tambourine Grrl's abilities have advanced substantially.

Three years ago, and for most of our life together up to then, we split the cooking duties. During the week, I handled suppers, working on the stove top. We ate pastas with a variety of fresh vegetables, stir-frys of endless variety, the occasional risotto, simple meals based on rice or potatoes or roasted vegetables. After a long day at the library, where I rarely had the satisfaction of simple completion, I loved the act of chopping and swirling and turning out a wonderful meal of fresh ingredients and big flavors in 30 to 45 minutes.

On weekends, Lynn took over the kitchen. Soups and stews and roasts and fresh breads and homemade ice creams. She filled the freezer with leftovers so whenever neither of us was in the mood to cook it was simple to pull out something lovely. When we renovated our kitchen ten years ago, stripping it back to the rafters and starting from scratch, she designed it around our two styles, with a 5-burner stove top, work area and dual sink on one side, and on the other a lower work surface and sink (she is short) next to the ovens. And we continued to grow as cooks and share ideas and learn from each other and from Jack Bishop and Serious Eats and I think we were pretty evenly matched and life was good. And meals were delicious.

Then came my collapse and Lynn had to take over all the cooking. Her skills continue to grow. Old favorites are even better now, as she subtly adjusts the seasonings. Every week there is at least one meal that is wholly new, based on some recipe idea she's seen somewhere. She was always better at presentation than me, and the plates are lovingly arranged. She thinks of colors and shapes in ways that I never bothered to.

I am so jealous.

Physically, I'm improving. I'm gradually doing a bit more cooking. I'll make a plate of linguine with clams for my lunch on a Saturday. For Mother's Day I did the grilled steak dinner. I've still managed the meatballs sauce for Christmas. With Josie's help I make potato pancakes for special occasions.  I'm teaching her to make her favorite Cacio e Pepe. But these are all long-time standards. I'm not learning anything! Lynn is so far ahead of me now!  

Case in point. Earlier in the week she made a dish with fresh tomatoes, herbs and linguine, the pasta cooked into the tomatoes. It was good (although not worth the amount of work the peeling and seeding of all those plum tomatoes required. She won't make it again). We had a lot left over. I offered to make a frittata with the noodles if she'd take the tomato drippings and make some kind of sauce. When I got ready for the frittata I drained the pasta and what was left was a little less than a cup of tomato drippings with a quarter inch of olive oil on top. I didn't have any ideas for turning it into a sauce.

I concentrated on the frittata. Simple. Eggs, grated parmesan, a little oil to coat the pan. The frittata was very good. And when we sat down, she brought a little gravy boat of smooth, thick delicious tangy sauce to spread over the top. How did she do that? She described what all she put into it and, frankly, I was simply so impressed I didn't process the details. But that's the kind of thing she can do now.

I am so jealous.

This weekend she's off to visit her Dad, so I'm on my own. Last night I made a big batch of the lemon chicken pasta so we can have that for supper when she gets home. It was good, but again, it was a dish I've been making for 20 years without variation. Today, though, for lunch, I had some leftover spaghetti aglio, olio and pepperoncino from Joe's and I was trying to figure out how to turn it into lunch. There were a few wilted scallions in the bottom of the vegetable drawer, so I trimmed those and cut them into half inch pieces. I put a little peanut oil in the wok, cooked the scallions for a minute, added the spaghetti to heat, and then put in a splash of sesame oil. It was simple.  It was delicious. It was fun.

My energy level isn't to the point where I'm ready to resume the weekday cooking, but I could step up for weekend meals more often.  I have so much catching up to do!

 

 


Confusing Criticism With Bullying

Jeffrey Beall is feeling bullied. This is unfortunate on several levels.

I was delighted when I read Berger & Cirasella's Beyond Beall's List: Better understanding predatory publishers in the March issue of College & Research Libraries News. Here was a well-balanced critique, lauding Beall for bringing attention to a serious problem, while also pointing to some of the justified criticisms he's received for the lack of rigor in his methodology and his clear antipathy to open access in general. As the title of the piece indicates, the authors recommend going "beyond Beall" to consider additional factors when making a determination about the quality of a particular journal.

I was happy to see it because I worry that some librarians and authors use Beall's list uncritically as definitive.   This article did a very good job of acknowledging the important contribution that Beall has made while putting it into the larger context of issues to be considered.

Beall didn't see it that way. In his petulant letter to the editor in the June issue, he complains about those who seek to discredit him.  He makes a number of interesting assertions, the most peculiar of which might be his claim that pretending that predatory journals don't exist is a "common strategy among academic librarians."  I do wish he'd provided some sourcing for this.  I try to follow this topic fairly closely and I've never seen any academic librarian anywhere make such a claim.

But it was his reference to "feeling bullied" by Walt Crawford (who he doesn't mention by name, but attempts to discredit by referring to him as "an author who writes and self-publishes his own non-peer-reviewed journal") that particularly caught my eye and raises issues about how critical discourse is conducted in our highly emotional and discordant times.

By using the highly charged word "bullied," Beall seeks to pull attention away from the content of Crawford's critiques to his own subjective sensitivities. If Crawford is being a bully, then right-thinking people need to come to Beall's defense, not because he's right on the merits of the critique, but because bullying is bad. By treating the critiques as if they were an ad hominem attack, Beall attempts to deflect attention from the substantive issues.  Make no mistake -- Crawford's criticism was strong and in-depth and surely must have stung.  But it was also rigorous and well-sourced.  Harsh, perhaps, but scarcely "bullying."

In the highly charged contentious playing fields of the internet we see this played out in many guises. In a discussion thread on the Facebook group ALAThinkTank about whether any white male would be acceptable as the next librarian of Congress, one of the disputants (female) castigated another (white male) saying, in essence, that he had no business even participating in the discussion because his privilege rendered anything he might say irrelevant. Certainly white male privilege affects one's views and needs to be taken into account, but even white males may have useful things to contribute to discussions treating of issues involving race and gender.

Similarly, I was struck by a comment in another thread from someone who, responding to some pushback on the point she was putting forward, said, in a tone of high dudgeon "So I'm not allowed to make the case for this?" Since the moderator hadn't deleted the comment it clearly was allowed. What wasn't "allowed" was that she be able to make the comment without encountering strong disagreement.

Alas, there is no clear line between criticism, even strong criticism, and personal attacks. The vicious mysogyny that infects so many online discussions, worse in some sectors, but rarely absent altogether, creates a hostile environment in which any woman might, quite rightly, flinch at even mild criticism, anticipating the vileness that may be in its wake. One can become inclined to treat all pushback as personally hostile, just to be on the safe side. 

The ease and immediacy of online communication seem to encourage this unhealthy conflation of emotion and argument.  When one's statements are questioned or one's opinions disagreed with, it's too easy to respond to the emotion, to feel personally attacked and to fight back, not against the issue or opinion expressed, but against the person.

In those quaint days of yore, when email was considered to be "instantaneous" communication, we sometimes cautioned each other to "write that angry email that you want to send, but then hold it overnight..."  That kind of caution, that sense that my first reaction might not be my best reaction, is eroding in the world of twitter and comment threads and Facebook discussion groups.  Beall's record of responding to his critics makes clear that reflection wouldn't have tempered his response much (although one can imagine that the first draft of his letter displayed an even greater sense of unjustified persecution), but his easy resort to the claim of bullying is very much in keeping with the tenor of discourse of the times.

 


Southern Heritage and the Confederate Flag

Suppose, for the sake of argument, I grant that the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery and that the Confederate flag is a proud symbol of Southern Heritage.

I've heard it said that the flag honors those who fought for freedom. We celebrate the soldiers of World War II, they say, those of the greatest generation who fought for freedom and democracy and against tyranny. Those that the flag represents did no less.

To make this argument requires that we stop right here, and not probe the question any further. That we not ask, what was this freedom for which the brave sons of the Confederacy fought and died? Because it wasn't some vague, nebulous, feel-good, peach pie freedom to live the good life. It was the freedom to destroy the United States of America. The tyranny against which they fought was the democratically elected government of these United States.

I've lived in the South for twenty years and I love it. I hope never to leave. There is so much to be proud of. The myriad contributions to music and literature and great food. The Tuskegee Airmen, the great Universities, and the incredible bravery of the heroes of the Civil Rights movement, sung and unsung. So many men and women of the South have done so much to make this country a better place. But this is not the heritage for which the Confederate flag flies.

A good friend of mine, a decade older than me, once said, "I don't remember World War II, but I sure remember the War Between the States." She meant that growing up as a barefoot red dirt girl in rural Georgia in the late forties & early fifties, World War II was something distant that the men had gone off to. It wasn't talked about much. But the Civil War -- or, rather, the War of Northern Aggression -- was a daily presence. For many in the South, it is still that way.

The virulent hatred of the federal government remains strong. The siren call of "states rights" still sings. When the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court proclaimed earlier this year that federal court rulings regarding same sex marriage should not be obeyed, he was hailed as a hero by his supporters. This is the heritage that the Confederate flag celebrates. It is anti-American in principle and as long as it flies as an official statement in state capitals it gives solace and support and encouragement to those who refuse to accept that we are one nation and who will, on horrific occasions, feel that they are entitled to use violence to "take our country back."

The Southern heritage that I want to celebrate will take that flag, fold it carefully and put it away gently as a reminder of the mistakes that men and women make on our march toward true democracy and the great promise of America. In putting it away, we will honor the best of those who died wearing the Confederate grey, thank them, and forgive them for the mistaken cause for which they fought.

The Southern heritage that I want to celebrate was shining in those stunning scenes on Friday, as family member after family member spoke to Dylann Roof of forgiveness. Felicia Sanders' son was killed.  She said, “You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders is my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we say in Bible study, we enjoyed you. But may God have mercy on you.” "You took something very precious away from me," said Nadine Collier, whose 70 year old mother was among the murdered. "I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you."

This is the heritage of the South. It sings of the best that human beings can be. It proclaims that hatred never wins and that love is the most powerful force in creation. Can you live up to it? Can I?

 


Data Wranglers in the Edge of Chaos

I love these lines from Rex Sanders:

If the data you need still exists;

If you found the data you need;

If you understand the data you found;

If you trust the data you understand;

If you can use the data you trust;

Someone did a good job of data management.

It encapsulates the goal as well as anything I've seen.

I used it to lead into the first of what I intend to be more or less monthly informal discussion sessions with the folks I'm somewhat tongue-in-cheek referring to as Data Wranglers.  We gathered in the Café at the Edge of Chaos (conveniently just a few steps from my office).   I scheduled it for 4:00 with beer in the fridge and wine on the counter, gave a five minute intro to some of the issues (essentially, what does the institution need to do to facilitate good data management) and opened it up for discussion.  These folks are not shy.

Included among the dozen who came were an Institute of Medicine member who is a staunch OA advocate and leads several biostatistics groups, the PI of a very large multi-institutional longitudinal study of stroke risk factors, a computer scientist who runs a multidisciplinary team engaged in brain mapping, the director of the clinical data warehouse, an expert in decision support systems, and a woman working with NASA to link satellite, EPA and public health data.  The others were equally diverse and distinguished.  A fascinating group, all of whom have a keen interest in how we manage research data.

We touched on a number of key themes:

  • Concerns about data sharing contrasted with the value of data sharing
  • The limitations of metadata in supplying sufficient context for data re-use
  • The dangers of one-size-fits all policies
  • The need to provide good information support to investigators in response to imminent federal funder requirements for open data
  • Information sharing vs data sharing
  • Role of commercial interests

I have an ever expanding list of (currently about 40) people from across the campus that I'm inviting to these sessions.  My overarching goal is to build a community of interest, make connections among people who have similar concerns but may not know each other, and use these discussions to drive priorities and strategy.  It's a Wicked Problem, which is what the Edge of Chaos is all about.

After 15 years of working on these issues around the demands of my day job as LHL director, for the past nine months or so I've been able to dig in full time.  It's become clearer than ever that it requires strong collaborative efforts that cross institutional boundaries.  That is very tough to do, given the way that research institutions are organized and the siloed culture of those institutions.

In most places, it's the librarians that have taken the lead, usually in developing services around DMP requirements and, increasingly, tracking the new federal funder requirements for public access to publications and data.  But this is much more than a library problem.

I have been quite struck by how much my perspective has been shifted by the fact that I am doing this out of the Provost's Office rather than out of the library.  My focus is on engaging intensively with researchers across disciplines, the folks in IT and OSP and compliance, and using a very organic approach to surface issues and needs.  Out of that, we'll try to identify the things that the various components of the university can do to help us all do a better job managing research data.  My monthly Data Wranglers discussions are a key component of that approach.

I've come to appreciate that the challenges in achieving Rex Sanders' vision across the entire institution are practically insurmountable.  I've always had a deep empathy for Don Quixote's battle with the windmills.  That must be why I'm having such a good time.

 

 


The spinal cord in springtime

Email alert Wednesday morning that there was a message waiting for me in the patient portal.  Nervous as I logged in, anticipating the results of the previous afternoon's scan.

"Your cervical spine MRI looks good. There is some signal change consistent with old scar tissue. The lesion is slightly smaller in size and does not show any enhancement (active inflammation)."

Flooded with relief.  It's not a surprise.  It's what we expected.  I'd done a good job of not dwelling on the slender possibility that the inflammation would return, but there's no denying the fear.  Generally, transverse myelitis doesn't recur, but there's been nothing typical about my case, so that factoid hasn't given me a lot of comfort.  But now that I'm seven months from the last cyclophosphamide treatment with no recurrence of inflammation I can feel a little more secure.

Improvements continue, although they're slight and not very apparent to the observer.  For short distances (getting around the house, navigating a restaurant, making my way around a classroom building on campus) I can make do leaning heavily on a cane (I alternate between Mr. Whiskers and Roadrunner).  If I've got to do a bit more than that (for example, making my way around a conference) I use a walker, and if there are longer distances to negotiate, Lynn can push me in the wheelchair (Lightnin' McQueen).  It's not great, and I long for the days when I could stroll around interesting cities by myself for hours.  But I can still drive and throughout all of this I've kept up my normal work and travel schedule and gotten to much of what I would have done previously.  I'm grateful for that.

My hands remain too stiff to play guitar, but I still write in my journal with a fountain pen for an hour nearly every morning, and I can type.  I can cook, although I don't do it as much as Lynn or I would like. My overall stamina is the limiting factor there (but when I made the bolognese a couple of weeks ago I was on my feet in the kitchen for two hours straight).

I take baclofen daily, which minimizes the tremors & twitches & spasms that were so prevalent 20 months ago.  The arm, leg and back muscles are all in a constant state of tension, as if I'm flexing them all at once. They never quite relax. (As Hooks put it, I'm perpetually in neutral, never settling into park).  Instead of working smoothly in pairs, the muscles fight each other.  So all motion is difficult and tiring.  I started with a new muscle relaxant yesterday.  As always, we're in uncharted waters.

Strange to think that this has been going on for years.  Looking back, I now realize I was having symptoms three years ago, although it took another six months to get to the paralytic attack that sent me to the hospital the first time.  I don't expect ever to be "fully recovered" although it is still not unreasonable to think that I'll play guitar again and be able to walk more easily.  Exercise and neuroplasticity can achieve amazing things.

Here in the deep south we are fully into early summer.  When I drive home from work the trees on either side of the freeway are thickly lush in a calico of a dozen shades of green.  The good news from the scan of my poor chewed up spinal cord reminds me to pay attention and enjoy the gorgeousness of the sun splattered leaves even while I'm maneuvering through rush hour traffic.  I could be annoyed at the lousy drivers ahead of and next to me or I could grin with pleasure at the personalities of the trees.

Easy choice.