commenting on someone else’s closely related work

A graduate student I know asked for advice and I don’t know the answer, so let’s see if any scatterplot readers do. How do you build good relations with someone whose work is closely related to yours without inadvertently over-influencing each other or encroaching on each others’ turf? The research involves reading archival sources and interpreting historical events, and the student has learned that a student at another university is working with overlapping archival materials and is addressing similar research questions employing similar frames for what was going on. The two projects are not identical in their full scope, but there is a point of definite overlap between them, on the order of, say, one chapter in a three chapter dissertation. Can they read and comment on each other’s work without risking loss of independence of discovery?  What boundaries should they set? I don’t do this kind of research, so I don’t have a lot of experience to work from. The student prefers to have a friendly “yay we are working on the same topic” relationship, not a competitive relationship, with the colleague. This is a pretty small research area where everybody knows everybody else in the area.

My own ideas: (1) full disclosure at the outset: each informing the other that there is some overlap; (2) cite each other’s draft papers in your own drafts as someone who is working on similar ideas. (3) in making comments on the other person’s paper, stay within the frame of what they have written, don’t “give away” your own paper ideas by way of comments. Instead, you can share your own working papers with them and have them cite them.

Question: is the person whose work is less far along at a disadvantage in this process? Should the person who has not written up a draft yet avoid reading the other person’s work until they have their own draft?

Are there other pitfalls I have not thought of?

should we ban cognitive group differences research?

Having been raised a good child of modernity, Science(!), and the Enlightenment, my instinctive reaction to the question “should we ban research on X?” is “of course not!” Much as we know (hope, believe) that more speech is the right response to harmful speech, we know that the solution to bad, racist, sexist research is better, emancipatory research. But just as critical scholars of race and law have recognized that free speech and equality offer “conflicting promises“, philosopher Janet Kourany argues in a forthcoming Philosophy of Science piece that freedom of research may also conflict with the principle of equality.

Continue reading “should we ban cognitive group differences research?”

significant firsts

In 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were competing for the Democratic nomination, my then-eight-year-old son and I had a conversation about this being a year of potential firsts and the significance either nomination would hold for all kinds of people who would finally see a bit of themselves in the election, and hopefully the White House.

I asked him who he thought needed the significant first more.

He thought about it for a minute or two and then said, “I think that Hillary Clinton should be the nominee, that girls and women need it more.” When I asked him why, he told me, “It’s like this, Mom. At recess, no matter what color you are, you’re invited to play in the football game – but only if you’re a boy. No girls are ever allowed to play.”*

I was thrilled to see Obama run for and win the presidency, as was my son. I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m glad that today we are one step closer to having a woman hold our country’s highest office. Hopefully the policies have changed on the playground, too.



*Of course, with concerns far beyond recess football, this year – like many other left-leaning high school sophomores – he rooted for Bernie Sanders.


participating while privileged

I’ve been asked to participate in a session at a conference for academics and activists that is supposed to help set the tone for how academics ought to behave when interacting with community people. It turns out that I am considered to be good at this. This is the kind of accolade that is very dangerous. The minute you think you know what you are doing and are confident of your ability to mix well across lines of culture and privilege, you will mess it up. It is like bragging about how humble you are.

Since I seem to have been anointed, at least temporarily, as having some expertise in this area, I thought I’d write down some of my thoughts, partly in preparation for the session. Continue reading “participating while privileged”

lessons learned.

I just sent my final email* as my department’s Director of Graduate Studies. If I had the energy, I’d throw a party to celebrate the end of my term, but I don’t think I have it in me. Instead, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what I learned, in hopes that others who want to be an advocate for graduate students (whether in an official position or not) might find some use for what worked and what didn’t over the last three years:

Continue reading “lessons learned.”

revolting reviewers

My essay “The Revolt of the Reviewers” [I think the link may be paywalled] has just been posted online at the American Sociologist. It is an invited followup to my scatterplot rant from 2013. I am surprised to see my article posted before the others in this special issue that is focused on journal publication issues and look forward to reading what others in the issue have to say. In my essay I gripe about sending papers to too many reviewers and a broken R&R process and then segue into thoughts on why we have more than one reviewer per article anyway (don’t we trust each other’s competence?) and discussions of the structure of publishing and its relation to the scholarly need to accumulate knowledge. A rather self-indulgent and cranky piece that rather befits an older scholar who has little to lose. But hopefully it contributes to useful discussions.

Update: here is a link to a preprint of the article.