Open rough draft for forming a RC advocacy group.....

Arthur Sowers arthures at
Thu Jan 18 09:20:00 EST 2001

On Wed, 17 Jan 2001, Rich Lemert wrote:

>   Regardless of my views on this endeavour, I recognize that I cannot become
> involved in this if you are for the simple reason that I don't think you or I
> would
> ever be able to work together on anything, and I don't think you are about to
> dispute that claim.

On the contrary. I know of a few situations in my life where I have run
across people, including myself, who have openly said that their personal
feelings say one thing but that they know that what the situation calls
for is really something else. If people can be found who have the
overiding understanding that what a situation needs is not something
derived from their personal preference, then it has a chance to work. How
you work within a serious context is, however, an unknown to me. 

I've also seen people whose mindsets depend and function on incessant
arguing, tweaking, platitudinating, etc. and other people who say "OK, 
lets get this thing moving" and don't argue shit to death. SRC fosters the
incessant arguing; two guys in a room sitting around a table can
"argue" to closure much more easily. I've gotten multi-authored 
manuscripts out with much more complexity than stuff on src and in much
sooner time than almost anything here on src.

Getting any group of people to work, really democratically and really
productively (meaning all members participate roughly equally with
productive ideas and process) is rare, but it does happen. Certainly a
panel of "officers" is needed and a Board of Directors is needed and
some kind of generic documents for proceedures and accountability and
changes. A lot of these model documents are already available in public

To make this work, I think I'd have to try to write an essay and get it
published in something like The Scientist, which goes out into the faces
of, they say, 70,000 readers and "troll" for interested persons. Of the
two essays I've written for them before (they were published), I got
roughly two to three dozen private emails, some letters, and one or two
faxes, all in favor of my viewpoints. Most of these are people who got
steamed up enough to give me some "applause", but I never got anyone who
really said "OK, hey lets do something about this" and in the second essay
I actually asked people to either join me or ask me to join them to do
something and virtually all 25 or so responses came thumping down on the
problem (with one to two page emails) but not a single word on "lets do
something" and so, I think, that psychologically, there is something in
the culture of science-engineering and in the mindset-psychology of
scientists that fosters being passive, obedient, docile within the
matrix of that infrastructure (this is in contrast to the medical science 
culture and the lawyer culture [and even more definitely the corporate
culture] where there is much more agressiveness and ambition to protect
their turf [and wallets]). All, or almost all, universities, colleges, and
research institutes belong to associations and other lobbying entities
that certainly, as a business decision, lobby congress and other agencies
and state and county agencies, and approach potential benefactors, for
favors, benefits, subsidies, money, ...anything... that benefits their
interests. Getting scientists, PhDs, whatever to do this seems like
getting a donkey to do anything. Its part of the old psychology that
faculty can't agree on anything except that they are underpaid and there
isn't enough faculty parking.  

I appreciate your well wishes and acknowledgement, but what I've written
in the above paragraph plus my experience here on src is that the
chances of doing anything really significant on src is infinitesimal. The
assembly of Derek's FAQ was a "kind-of" accomplishment, but when you just
let everyone say their own piece, as a component of a larger mosaic-like
document, it just ends up being not much more than a "letters to the
editor" section of a magazine (i.e. maily the authors get a swelled head
seeing their "work" in print, but how it fits into the greater picture is 
lost). I had lots of other comments but I chose to refrain from
expressing them and for many reasons which would entail voluminous
writing, which would induce further voluminous and never ending
debate. Newsgroup psychology permits this almost no matter what the

As far as you and I are concerned, I view src as a kind of soap opera. I
have not seen any evidence of really serious interest in "doing
anything" serious, here, by anyone but myself. I have had invitations on
my old website and gotten no serious response, except, believe it or not,
several guys from India who just want to come to the USA and they want
a job that pays money not a volunteer position. I made a number
of posts with  this proposal (the advocacy) years ago and gotten zero
responses, too, or responses like "I'll do this if it helps _me_ [my
italics] get a job." I have specifically and selectively approached several 
people who should have been motivated enough to be interested in this, and
gotten zip or nearly zip in response.

>From a practical viewpoint, most people show up here in proportion to what
free time they have vs. and in proportion to what jollies they get out of
that. The "doing anything" I have in mind really means real
work. Not this "stamp collecting" FAQ that Derek organized. He put out his
outline which invited opinions and he got them. They came easily and
quickly and it was all done in weeks. What I'm talking about is at least a
three year and big project and its going to take lots more time and effort
than what it takes to get on src and blow a little steam, dish out
personal opinions, and criticisms for the sake of criticism rather than 
something productive. I even asked Derek publically and privately and
gotten weak or zero responses. Almost nobody except "nuts" (i.e. the
almost infinitesimal number of crazy altruists that there are in the
world) would work on this without compensation (at least in the beginning
[I would hope a revenue inflow could be developed that would allow some
salary money to be available <Ralph Nader, to name just one, does good
work and manages to pay himself>]). 

I've been threatening to leave src starting a few months ago but I'm still
here. Well, it is going to happen. But, I'm giving this meritable (I
think) idea one final chance and I'm tentatively thinking that, as in my
past postings on this, its going to also end up being unanswered. Wife and
I moved into our retirement home here two weeks ago and there is still a
lot of work to finish, then there is going to be fixup on the old house
and put it on the market. After that, I think I'm going to be looking for
a new set of human beings to "hang out" with (there are lots of public
interest groups with worthy causes and that get things done). and I'm
going to end up agreeing with some comment you made a couple of years ago
when you said something like "What makes you think PhDs are anything
special?" I've tried to defend the PhD, the PhD culture, and the
individual all these years and put in a lot of effort in the process but
its not getting me back very much and I'm thinking of moving on to, shall
we say, better "fishing ponds." It really may be that the PhD, the PhD,
and the academic culture and the mindset really are not sufficiently
capable of the cohesion, sense of common purpose, and brotherhood
(compared to other cultures [including, for example, unionized truck
drivers]) necessary to protect their culture and interests. Then, we have
all those who are in nice, cushy situations and essentially say to
themselves "I've got mine, I'm not going to help anyone else" or "I've got
mine, I don't want anything to change that migh affect 'mine'." People
like Becky and Josh seem to be totally uninterested in the health of the  
PhD culture and I don't recall hearing either of them complain much about
their own situations and hardly if any complaints about the PhD culture,
itself, either. Almost the only ones we hear from are the ones who had
trouble. An obvious, and predictable, situation, isn't it? Instead of PhD,
put in African-American, poor-poverty, Arab-Israeli, etc., etc, etc.,
etc., and you have the same qualitative pictures. The "haves" don't want
to change anything and the "have nots" do want changes. 

And, as far as my website is concerned, I have not decided about its long
term existence but in the absence of a permanent infrastructure or other
help, I'll be having a hard time justifying it much longer. A lot of the
material exists on several other websites (or at least as of the last time
I've looked), however.

  Arthur E. Sowers, PhD
  | Science career information website:   |
  |      |

=== no change to below, included for reference and context ====

 I do, however, offer you my best wishes for whatever you
> are able to develop.
>   There is one comment in your post, though, that you might want to consider
> further (down at the bottom of the excerpt I've quoted).  You state that any
> such organization "can't be dominated by one person." In the sense that you
> mean he or she cannot be allowed to dictate the agenda, and that other views
> must be allowed to be presented and considered, I agree with you completely.
> However, to be successful an endeavour such as this must be lead by someone
> with a passion for the cause. There will be pitfalls and setbacks galore, and
> someone who's in it because they "think it's a good idea" are not likely to
> stay the course through the troubled times. For someone who feels 'called' to
> the cause (as it were), these setbacks are something to be endured "for the
> greater good." In that sense, I think you _do_ need someone to 'dominate'.
> Rich Lemert
> Arthur Sowers wrote:
> > This post is a spontaneous attempt to form a few ideas re the subject of a
> > Research Careers Advocacy organization. I favor the phrase 'research
> > careers' because both applied and basic scientists should feel comfortable
> > with that designator phrase.
> >
> > I have made, over the years, a number of posts regarding a project
> > representing some real work: the formation of an organization that would
> > benefit _individual_ practitioners of the sciences (whether pure or
> > applied) and their careers. This is a repeat attempt to see if there are
> > any people out there that might be interested.
> > Third. Goals. It can't be dominated by one person.

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