Assumptions, Agenda, and How the Conversation Really Goes Down

I’ll preface this post by saying that the real life Dr. Isis is pretty spectacular. My kids are cute. My research is hilarious. The online Dr. Isis is pretty fucking disenfranchised.  I am over feminism and I am over the online academeratti. Mostly, because I realize that although they seem to have a lot of opinions about how I should do things, we don’t share the same core, fundamental values and I fear that we never will.

As readers of this blog will no doubt be aware, my latest round of disenfranchisement began when Michael Eisen called me a hypocrite for seeking to publish a paper in a high impact factor journal. I wrote about the shenanigans here.  Now, admittedly Michael offered his apologies. I decided to take the low road, reject said apology, and tell the #OpenAccess movement to go fuck itself.

Fuck Open Access

Even though Michael probably truly believes he has been sincere, it’s the emptiest of apologies.  Why the rudeness and incivility from La Dra. Isis?

Because no one learned shit for dick from this interaction and it infuriates me. Let me share with you the inside baseball about how these interactions go down, beginning with the pivotal moment in which Michael Eisen calls your beloved blog hostess a hypocrite. I respond with…

You dont know my life

Because, as you all know, I took great offense at being told what my priorities and moral obligations should be.  The part that you likely didn’t see is the shit that followed.

My response to Michael Eisen came from a particular place. Was influenced by a particular world view and my identification with a particular group. Not long after the initial tweeting between Michael and I, the junior scientists of Twitter (assistant professors and postdocs) joined in. I feel their support, and I am so thankful for it (see Proflike for a particularly good post on the matter), but my core point about how it is particularly problematic to ask minority scientists to be risk takers was dominated by a new narrative  about how important it is for all junior faculty to get tenure. How “we all” gotta keep our jobs. And we got to hear about how Ethan Perlstein is a special little snowflake and how we should all leave the game and join him. This was my reaction to that hot bag of fuck.  Per the usual, the whole conversation quickly got white washed.

What happened next was particularly problematic, but typical and endemic to this culture.

The minority scientists picked up their drinks and moved to the back room to keep talking where they could be heard.

I got phone calls from my hermanos who vented to me about the changing rules of the system and how minorities are always expected to know how to play the game, but never find out the rules until it’s too late. And, they’re excluded from the circles that make the rules in the first place. I got emails from folks with hilarious subject lines like “Preach it, Vato” (which was my personal favorite). I got text messages from people who said things like “I have your back in this, but I don’t feel powerful enough to join you [paraphrased a la Isis].”

There was a whole conversation that happened that most people didn’t see because the mainstream culture we exist in refuses to do one simple, basic thing.

It refuses to ask questions and it refuses to listen before it speaks.

Mainstream culture counters conflict by offering its own seemingly (to them) universal experiences.  It offers these experiences until it is blue in the face and until they feel truthy for all, never noticing that they’ve talked over the original point. Then they get to problem solving. And then comes the most infuriating step in the process…


It tells you that it can empathize.

No you can’t, motherfucker!  The mainstream culture doesn’t understand dick and won’t in the forseeable future because no one at any point in these discussions stops to really ask about the experiences of the others.  They create experiences and solutions that make them feel good – like they’re making strides toward increasing the number of diverse voices – but they never actually listen. If there’s any doubt in your mind, sit in one of these discussions and count the relative number of “I” statements and the relative number of questioning statements.

And Drugmonkey and Miko hit the nail on the head as to why the Open Access movement is the most troubling representative of this culture. Michael Eisen and others in the movement treat junior scientists as the infantry men, sent out to accept the machine gun spray for the greater cultural good. Minority scientists are the ones most likely to take the bullet. The deck is already stacked against them. They’ve got no body armor. In my culture, community is a core value and I can see my brothers and sisters being persuaded to take the bullet because its proposed as the “moral” thing to do. Yet, I was reminded in a conversation yesterday that one of the biggest bits of outreach an underrepresented scientist can do, is to move to the next level. Get a PhD. Get a faculty job. Get tenure. Every time you open a door ahead, you leave five open behind you and that is important to our community.

So, I leave the conversation today with a newly found peace of mind. A sense of what feels right to me. I can get behind the idea of open access as an abstract concept. But as far as the general “community?”


If only I could give fewer than zero fucks.

(My sincerest thanks to the incomparable Dr. Rubidium for the amazing GIFs. She is truly a genius of indignant hilarity and role model to us all. I aspire to be more like her.)

22 responses to “Assumptions, Agenda, and How the Conversation Really Goes Down

  1. It is very very difficult for TrueBelievers of any religion to understand that they are pathologically uninterested in the eggs they must break in service of their tasty omelette.

    I am no different in this.

    Blog wise I rely on a vigorous set of opposing commenters to check my shit but as you point out, I cannot hear the back room discussion. If the back room never feels comfortable saying the shit, how am I to know. But if I don’t know, how am I to change the comfort level?

    Catch22 is a muppethugger.

    Consequently I am eternally grateful to those of you willing to check my privilege, despite exhaustion at having to do so repeatedly on the same issues.

  2. High IF is so entrenched in the culture. We know that glam J’s have better appeal, so we conveniently find papers to ref from them and thus raising their IF even higher. The rich get richer rule applies, glammy is gonna glam.

  3. Possible solution:publish in high IF journal, but don’t cite high IF journal papers ?

  4. Or: pusblish in high IF journals, but cite lots of open access journal-articles in your article ?

  5. Jeez, somehow this conversation keeps insidiously mutating into the high IF-OA debate. I didn’t take as the important message of Isis’s post whatsoever.

  6. The IF/OA debate is for full profs like me who need nothing to buff their CVs anymore. I am pleased to have an OA pub now, but that was not the only reason we chose PLoSONE: my student needed a first author pub to graduate, and we were looking for rapid turnaround. Also, PLoSONE has a good IF that will not harm us in any way.

    BTW, I would have submitted it to a glam-J if I thought it stood a snowball’s chance in hell.

  7. We each consist of multiple identities that combine into an individual. There is no single part of me that would determine my actions for almost anything. We each must balance these identities to make decisions. Some days one aspect trumps another; the next week, the opposite may occur.
    That’s why we humans are such cussedly unpredictable critters.
    Now I have to go buy booze for a tailgate party.

  8. The IF/OA debate is important, and not just for full profs (made abundantly clear the presence of your student in the decision-students and post-doc authors clearly need their voices heard there). But the original issue between Isis and Eisen could have dealt with the appropriate number of exclamation points preceding and following “eleventy”, and it would still have been instructive.
    Now, I have to go back to making dinner for the kids.

  9. LurkyMcLurkistan


  10. If everyone keeps playing by the “rules” they will never change. We can only hope that people will remember to not only leave the doors open as they progress through them, but also to leave a trail of breadcrumbs and to widen the door.

  11. Wow Dr. Isis. I was watching as the twitter conversation was unfolding, and…wow. Thanks for an eye-opening discussion. For me it’s way too complicated an issue to simply agree/disagree or take a side. But I’m a big believer in practicality, and I hope your paper gets published in SuperGlam and flies high and gets covered in the press, and your career gets a huge boost, and you enjoy the whole ride wholeheartedly.

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  16. It is completely beyond me how anyone with tenure can try to tell anyone without tenure where to publish, given the current obsession with GlamMagz. In our lab, it’s ALWAYS the non-tenured authors who make the decision about this. And the tenured (me) try to get rid of Glam first and have everything else happen later. We, the tenured, need to drive the reform!

    Isn’t that completely and entirely rational and obvious?

    Before I got tenure, my submission rule was: “if you’ve exhausted the venues that people who look at your CV will notice, then you publish it in a place that publishes fast and where everyone can read it”. I think that’s a career-safe strategy which takes OA into account – but only in a self-serving way: OA means more people read my research. If everyone followed this rule, all the gazillions of toll-access run-of-the-mills journals whose names reviewers read and forget, will struggle and 90% of all science would automatically be accessible – except the GlamPaperz, many of which end up being retracted anyway, so what’s the harm?

  17. I am glad that all my research is NIH funded, and thus open access no matter which journal I publish in – through PubMedCentral.

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