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Chapter 2: Virtue and values of Open Science... the ground floor

Published onDec 22, 2023
Chapter 2: Virtue and values of Open Science... the ground floor
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Virtue and values of Open Science

10 things every open-science culture-change agent needs to know about.

Here are the 10 things you need to know about to be an open-science culture-change agent. Pick the ones you want to challenge yourself to master.

1. Open science culture starts with the logic of demand sharing:

This is the same logic used to teach science in classrooms: knowledge gains value when it is shared. The more it is shared the more it is worth; the faster it is shared the greater its impact; the wider it is shared the better the chance that someone else will improve upon it, and share this improvement back with you.

2. Intellectual humility is integral to open science:

“The humility of scientific genius is not simply culturally appropriate but results from the realization that scientific advance involves the collaboration of past and present generations” (Merton 1973).

Here are some aspects of humility and reasons why this is a great fit with open science, and a powerful agent against bullshit prestige (Moore, et al. 2017) and narcissism (Lemaitre 2015) in the academy. Tangney (2000) constructed a working definition of humility, one that is not simply philosophical, but also informed by social and interpersonal circumstances. This definition rejects humility as a psychological weakness, instead, humility demonstrates a range of abilities highly valuable in the conduct of science. According to Tangney, humility has five elements:

A. the ability to acknowledge mistakes and shortcomings;

B. openness to perspective and change;

C. an accurate view of the self’s strengths;

D. ability to acknowledge and experience life outside the direct consciousness of the self; and,

E. the ability to appreciate the worth of all things.

As an open scientist (or just someone who wants to do science really well), you might consider how to develop all of these capabilities. You acknowledge your mistakes in order to learn new facts; you broaden your perspectives on your topic to achieve a wider level of understanding; you evaluate your own skills to discover where you must improve your methods; you journey into the unknowns in your field to stretch the envelope of our knowledge; and you reserve judgement on the work of others long enough to fully grasp their meanings. Carl Sagan notes:

“In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion” (Sagan 1987).

You also give others more attention and respect. This does not mean you respect yourself any less. You just learn to step around your ego to see others and their work as more valuable. Recent research has found that intellectually humble individuals may acquire new knowledge better than others (Krumrei-Mancuso, et al. 2019). Also note: “only humility can navigate complexity” (Fred Kofman <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80vYx7ufzZI&feature=relmfu> Accessed September 14, 2019).

Humility helps you learn. Humility enables your research. You are a scientist: you have the freedom to be humble about it. It’s not modesty. Nobody is asking you to be modest. Think of it more as “hum-ability”.

In Aikido, humility becomes hum-ability. Open science is the same.

3. Intentional kindness is the platform for open science culture:

“The power of happiness, kindness and humility in the competitive academic environment is underrated, but I firmly believe that they are a force for change for the good of scientific practice. In my opinion, widespread application of these principles could vastly improve the quality of life of scientists and university professors worldwide” (Maestre 2018).

Kindness in open science (end elsewhere) begins with intention. Intentions are themselves colored by culture. Culture provides a layer of shared meaning/learning that helps us discover and interpret and map shared meaning as intended. The same conversation with different intentions can be a kind, caring dialogue, or it can be a cruel interrogation. The cultural values you bring to your open science organization can assemble the meanings that add clear intentions to acts of kindness, and to the generosity that all science requires. Just as some institutional cultures today — and inside the academy — support bullying and demeaning actions (NAS et al. 2018). Note: kindness does not mean weakness.

Shared kindness is a platform that lifts open science up to new potentials for sharing knowledge. In the academy, kindness is a radical form of courage. “Everyone here is smart. If you want to truly distinguish yourself: be kind” (From Anne Galloway: <https://twitter.com/annegalloway/status/438412389319319552>).

Kindness flows from a concern for the whole science community and the planet, not just your own lab or students. The best teachers are already kind in their classrooms. Bring that kindness to your research too. Don’t be that one asshole who makes others stop sharing. Kindness is not optional.

4. Open science means really open:

Open science may have started by opening up paywalled publication workflows, but it only succeeds when open extends back through the whole research process. Open is a manner of doing research that seeks to reveal as much of itself as it can or might, to promote shared knowing and reproducibility. Open is a transparently governed and democratic workplace in your organization. Open is open across the planet.

5. Open-science culture change starts with you:

Now is the time for you to lead your own open-science cultural change project. When you look around, you might be dismayed by the (dead) weight of organizational culture in your workplace. You can start small, and you can recruit others. The goal is to get back to the way science is meant to be pursued: infinite play against intractable unknowns, to squeeze new knowledge from observations and information.

Remember first that leadership means humble conversations (Schein 2013), fear-free interactions (Edmonson 2019), and democratic participation. You provide the compass—an informed open-science perspective—not a map. You and your colleagues are on a new learning curve toward a workplace where the only fear you find is the joyful thrill of playing with nature and data to unlock new insights. Open science needs you to find this kind of leadership inside and bring it to the academy.

6. Open science culture is learned:

You learn culture just like you do science, only you started early on, and without knowing this. That’s what this handbook is for. Disney and the Boy Scouts have been conscious, intentional, culture-learning organizations for decades. So too has the US Navy (for example), and your elementary school. This Handbook and hundreds of web resources are available help you discover more about open science and how to be an open scientist.

Culture is not just some subliminal vibe that you soaked up somehow (although you did a lot of culture learning really early on, and it seems like it was just soaked up). You are an adult. You are now responsible for your cultural behaviors. You can bring your focused intention and behavioral skilling to the goal of becoming more open each day. You succeed as an open scientist (and, in some fashion, as a person) by being more open today than you were yesterday.

7. Open science culture is an on-going conversation:

Make it a point to talk and question others about open science culture. The more people who talk the talk, walk the walk, and share what they value most, the better science will become. As John Wilbanks once said: “the opposite of ‘open’ is not shut. The opposite to open is broken.” Share your open science practices and stories. Keep talking with one another as you build common agreements.

8. Open science culture must be transmitted:

Teach your students to be open scientists. Talk to you children about how science really works in the open. Talk to their science teachers about the benefits of open science. Be an open-science mom or dad. Don’t have kids? Make sure the freshmen in your class know the difference between old-science and open science. The next generation of open scientists will need to assemble their own cultures. You can give them a head start.

9. Open science means open to all:

Not just to the “Republic of Science,” to the long-tail and beyond. Publication works when anyone on the planet can find your knowledge and share theirs with you. Do not worry; technology will help provide filters to keep you from drowning in information you do not need. Technology is one side of being open. Culture is the other side. The entire planet gets into the act at some point.

10. Open science culture will become your culture too:

You get to grow your own personal virtues aligned with the shared virtues you use in your work. You get to add passion (and nuance too) to how you realize your own cultural flavors within your various social/workplace groups. Open science wants as much of you as you care to bring to it. You can take and carry away as much open science culture as works for you. You can own your unique style of open science. Grow it. Show it off. Add new thoughts to the mix. Make a ruckus with it.

Fitting into the norms of your open science workplace

Organizations that grow their own cultural intentions and shared purpose demand more cultural/personal alignment of their members than those that do not. This is a cultural “bargain” the organization makes with its members/employees. This does not mean that the organization is oppressive, but it can feel that way if the member does not also benefit from this bargain.

As a student or faculty/staff, when you join a team that holds shared cultural norms, you are forced to reexamine your own cultural norms:

1. You can fit the organization’s norms into your own: learn new intentions and meaning that are in alignment with those of the organization—grow into the organization’s shared values and begin to care about these as you do your own values; or,

2. You can argue for different shared norms that are more aligned with the ones you hold as an individual. Try to convince others that different values are better. Should your arguments fail, you may need to either quit or be ready to get fired—or admit you were wrong and fit these norms into your life, or;

3. You can pretend to celebrate the organization’s norms and continue in silence to operate through your own orthogonal “principles” (until you get found out). The last choice is corrosive to the organization’s purpose and culture. You are better off working somewhere else. They are better off if you leave.

Basically, when it comes to organizational culture, you can either fit in, add your own ideas to the mix, or pretend to fit in. Pretending to fit in works against the organization. Fitting in without reflection limits your ability to own the culture. So, step up and challenge any norm that doesn’t seem optimal for you. If your organizational culture doesn’t let you add your voice, it doesn’t deserve your respect. However, if you learn you cannot fully participate in the practices expected of team members, you might want to work elsewhere. Norms and principles are open to interpretation in their practice, and enable skilling and virtuosity, like any cultural practice. The idea that you need to “be more like us” to express your own individual principles may seem counterintuitive. When you are reflexively engaged in the ongoing conversation about your organizational culture, you are creating the meaning for “like us”. You own your own part of this. You can belong, and not just “fit in.”


Virtue and values of Open Science

How to forge statements about your organization’s open science culture

“…when we institute prosocial or cooperative norms, they become self-reinforcing over time. The systems become dynamic: The more we practice cooperation, the more we believe in the virtue of being cooperative. These changes, of course, make the problem of sustaining cooperation easier” (Benkler 2011).

Find ways to talk about open science at your meetings

Strategies, norms, and rules

The open scientist carries a tool-belt of cultural practices that can help change the cultural habits for her organizations. Many of these tools are discursive: they happen when open scientists converse and discuss open science with their peers. Eventually, some of these conversations end up with decisions around statements that are meant to guide organizational actions.

Above, you were introduced to values, virtues, principles, and freedoms. What kinds of shared statements can you build in your organization to articulate these? This bit of the Handbook gives you a “grammar” for statements that should help you in your endeavor as an open science culture change agent. Statements are important, but always remember that changing behaviors is what changes attitudes. You will also need to “walk the walk” for culture change in your organization.

You’ve often heard about strategies, norms, and rules, but you might not know which to apply in your situation. What are the differences and similarities between these? These discursive tools are all are forged as mutually agreed-upon statements. To ratify the “agreed-upon” part, it helps to have a way to register agreement, some platform for governance, or a simple way to register a vote. The statements can then be delivered as shared agreements in conversations, offered in speeches, tweeted and retweeted, and discussed and reformed through further deliberations.

Shared strategies, norms, and rules announce and define how the organization’s actions match its shared values and common interests. Culture change agents can nudge their organizations to consider new strategies, norms, and rules that can promote open science by supporting new behaviors that spawn new attitudes.

A grammar for organizational norms

One helpful system you can use to know how to craft statements that become strategies, norms, or rules was devised by Elinor Ostrom (of commons governance Nobel fame) and Sue Crawford (Crawford and Ostrom 1995). This has since been expanded by other economists and social scientists. Crawford and Ostrom proposed a grammar for organizations (in analogy with a Chomskyan syntax for language) based on five descriptors. Statements about organizational strategies, norms, and rules will contain a certain selection of the following grammar:

A = Attributes of the actors to whom this institutional statement applies.
 D = Deontic content of the statement, specifying which actions may, must, or must not be undertaken by the relevant actor.
I = Aim or Target denotes the action or outcome to which the action in question in to be applied.
C = Conditions under which this particular statement is deemed appropriate or relevant for application.
 O = Or Else specifies the actor or actors to whom is given the responsibility of imposing sanctions on those who fail to implement the statement as intended.
 (From: McGinnis 2011)

Let’s unpack these five parts of statements to show to they can be useful for most of the circumstances an open scientist might face:

A= Members of the group, or some sub-set. For example: all tenured professors in your college, all members of your professional association, all post-docs in your laboratory. Attributes are used in every strategy, norm, or rule statement, unless there is an implied “everyone.”

D= A dutiful attention to either performing a task or avoiding a task; or a permission or prohibition about the task. For example: “you must make your research data public whenever possible”; “everyone should put their published work into an open repository as soon as they can”; or, “we should boycott for-profit publishers that don’t allow open data mining of their corpus.” This is what separates rules and norms from strategies.

I= The aim or goal of the action of the statement. For example: “In order to build transparency and reproducibility, you must make your data public”; “To increase discoverability…”; or, “With a goal of pressuring them to open up their corpus…; ”

C= Conditions. Some statements apply to specific circumstances. When no condition is listed, the circumstances are, by default, universal to the group’s activities. For example, a group may create a statement (code) about proper conduct. They may have rules for on-line conduct, and different/additional rules for conduct at conferences. In terms of open science, open data statements might include privacy conditions when the data were donated by individuals. Conditions pin the statements to real-world circumstances.

O= Or else. The punishment/sanction for not following the statement. As you’ll see below, this part is what separates a rule from a norm or a strategy.

Some Statements of Open-Science Strategies

Strategies use AIC grammatical parts

What is good to remember here is that information about open science is strategic, as it informs the choices of others. A strategy means a statement about a practice. The statement may be experimental, say, a suggestion about a new technology. It may offer a good practice to follow. Such statements add to the inventory of useful information in support of open-science practices and virtues, or they refute statements made that may mischaracterize open science.

Here are some examples:

“As an open scientist, when you are asked to review an article, check to see that the article will be openly available.”

“Members of (insert name of a professional academic association) can add their publications to our open repository.”

“Tenure decisions should not use journal impact factors.”

“Take the trouble to see if there is an open alternative text book for your class subject.” 

“Maintain the provenance of data, so that others can reuse this more effectively.”

Some Statements of Open-Science Norms

Note here: your organization will be crafting and modeling its own norms, and statements about these. Norm statements become real norms when they describe default behaviors (people like us open scientists do things like this), not aspirational behaviors, within a community. Of course, that requires work and time and governance to accomplish. Without real democratic governance processes to grow these, norms resemble rules laid down by those in power. Norms add the element of dutiful attention [AIC+D]. So they are strategies that are actually practiced. When spoken, they take strategy statements and add a “we….” Norms are strategies that all of us do all the time here, in this community/organization.

You can help uncover and then recode norms by opening up conversations about “the way we do things here.” Remember that the impact of these norms will rely on changing/inventing practices and processes that align with them.

Here are some examples:

“At our university, we only publish in green open-access journals.”

“Scholars in our discipline always preregister our research to improve transparency.”

“Our lab never uses journal impact factors at all, ever.”

“Every panel in our society’s conference has at least two under-represented scholars.”

“Everyone hired to teach at our college, from senior professor to new adjunct, gets a vote on every issue.”

Norms are cultural practices that become “normal behaviors” by being widely shared among a community (e.g., your college). They are the community’s vehicles for announcing “the way things are done here.” Norms can become tactic knowledge, and can be learned through emulation, instead of instruction. When enough of a community do the same thing the same way, or talk about what they do the same way, this “way” is a norm. Norms describe common practices that express virtues (valorized cultural/social behaviors that carry ethical meaning) and shared principles (valorized value positions).

Some Statements of Open-Science Rules

Rules are like weaponized norms. Rules add the “or else” to a norm (AICD+O). While it may be easy to write the “or else” phrase, this is a more complex aspect to use in practice, since it requires that the organization has a method to enforce the sanction, and it puts the violator into a new category of attribute (e.g., as someone who may no longer be eligible for election to group leadership roles, or who is kicked out of the group entirely). It also means that others in the group may then have a new duty to act differently to the violator (e.g., not reviewing their work, not hiring them). So this statement will be connected to other statements that spell out the procedures for the sanction. Again, the “or else” clause is what separates a rule from a norm or a strategy.

Here are some examples:

“All proposers will add a data management plan to their proposal.” [Implied: “Or else your proposal will be rejected.]

“Behave professionally. Remember that harassment and sexist, racist, or exclusionary jokes are not appropriate.” [Or else you will be asked to leave the conference.]

“We do not tolerate harassment in any form. Discriminatory language and imagery (including sexual) is not appropriate for any event venue, including talks, or any community channel such as the chatroom or mailing list.”[Or else you will be excluded from on-line participation.]

“By 2020, the final published version of articles will be made immediately Open Access (with a CC BY licence) and copyright retained by the author.” [Implied: “Or else you will not be funded.]

Rules are valuable when used by organizations against bad actors in the academy. Codes of conduct only really work when there are consequences to violating these. (See: The Carpentries Code of Conduct Enforcement Document. Accessed May 29, 2019) Rules that set behavioral boundary conditions are necessary to help re-ground a culture that has become toxic. Your organization can signal that a culture change has happened by ruling out formerly accepted behaviors. Rules are much less valuable for announcing and enforcing good behaviors. For example, Clegg and Roland (2010) warn that rules concerning “due care” in education can interfere with the practices that carry authentic kindness.

Enforcement by leverage

The easiest way to enforce a rule is when you have economic leverage over the actors in the attribute part of the statement. At that point you may not need to create the “or else” phrase, because it is implied. A funding agency can create a rule by stipulating a task as part of applying for funding. “All proposers (this is the A statement) must (this is the D statement) submit a sustainability plan (the I statement) with their proposal (the C statement).” The O statement, “or we will not review this (favorably) for funding” is implied.

Open data efforts may push for funding agencies to enforce open data rules rather than for societies or universities to engage their members to do so. Enforcement by leverage is often viewed as easier than hosting democratic governance to manage a situation; and, yes, it is certainly less cumbersome. But rules also become social obstacles as they foster rule-bending behaviors, and cannot alter the intent of the individual scientist, nor encourage voluntary normative behaviors. Voluntary normative behaviors are informed by shared virtues and principles.

The Handbook looks to give you the tools you need to work with your colleagues and change your organization’s culture. Knowing how to fashion strategy, norms, and rules enables you to avoid creating unnecessary rules, or mistaking strategic statements for norms. You will populate these statements with the values (principles, etc.,) that you’ve already determined.

Don’t forget the narrative

Finally, you need to add some narrative framing to your statements to reveal their dynamics. Open science offers us new choices, new knowledge tools, and new ways of working together. Framing your statements as narratives invites others to join in. John Hegel (2018, Accessed September 3, 2019) notes, “a narrative is a call to action directed at the listeners, stressing the role that they can and need to play in resolving the narrative.”

Last word: Achieving the Zero-Asshole Zone

All it takes is one asshole to ruin you life. Photo Credit: Igor Pavlov on Flickr CC licensed

“First: the asshole helps himself to special privileges in cooperative life; second: he does this out of an intrenched sense of entitlement; third: he is immunized against the complaints of other people.” Aaron James: Assholes: a Theory… the intro video (2012) <https://youtu.be/d2y-pt0makw>

“An asshole is someone who leaves us feeling demeaned, de-energized, disrespected, and/or oppressed. In other words, someone who makes you feel like dirt” (Robert Sutton 2019; Accessed April 9, 2019).


Your organization can make this happen

Depending on who you talk to, the academy’s asshole problem is either extremely dire, vastly complicated, or both. Very few people would say it doesn’t exist. The “complicated” version tries to balance assholish behaviors with some idea that the pursuit of new knowledge in a hyper-competitive environment requires a intellectual with an enhanced sense of self-confidence, an enormous ego, a thick skin, and relentless drive. Only a complete narcissist can out-compete all the other assholes in the struggle for resources and credit. Colleagues who hang around this social-black-hole personality hope to ride along in the car of his success (i.e., “He may well be an asshole, but he’s our asshole”):

“The traits associated with narcissism explain why some people have an innate ability to dominate the scene. This includes the good serious face that implicitly tells their entourage that their research is important but also their willingness to use resources without any scruples or any sense of a possible cost for the community as a whole. This provides advantages in a system that monitors production and not productivity. We can understand why these innate leaders have supporters that praise their qualities – because of their fast-track access to resources that are usually difficult to get” (Lemaitre 2015).

This “nice scientists finish last” mind-set serves to demonstrate why open science, with fierce equality and demand sharing, is an important, and urgent, remedy for the academy. The “cost” to the community—and to your own team, lab, department, or school—of even one real asshole is greater than you might at first guess. Assholes breed more assholes as they chase away nice, clever people. “Ultimately we are all diminished when clever people walk away from academia. So what can we do? It’s tempting to point the finger at senior academics for creating a poor workplace culture, but I’ve experienced this behaviour from people at all levels of the academic hierarchy. We need to work together to break the circle of nastiness” (emphasis in the original) (Mewburn 2015; Accessed April 9, 2019).

You can argue ideas without being an asshole

It is really important here to understand that arguments over ideas are not intrinsically assholish events. As we will see below, assholes demean other individuals; their behavior is aimed at people. They will also be abrasive and demeaning in the manner in which they defend their ideas. We’ve all witnessed this in conferences and seminars. Entire paragraphs of meeting “code of conduct” rules are meant to counteract this kind of behavior. Sutton offers this: “enforcing a no asshole rule doesn’t mean turning your organization into a paradise for conflict-averse wimps. The best groups and organizations—especially the most creative ones—are places where people know how to fight” (Sutton 2007).

Another complication the academy has is this: assholes with tenure. Sutton has no clear answer for this problem: “‘I’m with all these colleagues that are all tenured, and Stanford has no mandatory retirement,’ he points out. ‘So when I’m with an asshole, all I can do is hope’” (Sutton 2017; Accessed 4/9/2019; emphasis in the original).

“Science advances one funeral at a time;” Max Planck (1932/2015) had other, grand theoretical, reasons to say this. It also applies to assholes with tenure. So the best thing to do is: never hire an asshole in the first place. This is the essential message of the No Asshole Rule. No matter how much of an academic star she/he might be, adding him/her to your faculty is a huge mistake, even more so when they show up already with tenure.

In a corporate environment, you can just ask a high-powered jerk employee to go be a jerk in some other corporation. CEO coaches offer a simple principle: “‘genuine collaboration and accountability for our own actions are non-negotiable if you plan on succeeding in this place’. … Get this right [as a CEO], and you will set yourself up with a culture that delivers far greater and more consistent long term success than the short term spikes delivered by a Jerk!” (Francis 2017; Accessed April 9, 2019).

Assholes in positions of power in your organization can be sidetracked as much as possible, isolated and ignored as circumstances allow. Graduate students can be warned away, administrators can be informed, and professional associations—where these assholes are eager to get into leadership positions—can be immunized through active word-of-mouth. Remember that a single asshole can impact your organization for years.

In The Problem with Assholes, Elizabeth Cullen Dunn announced that “Anthropology has an asshole problem.” She notes, “[a]ssholery is contagious. Once people see an asshole being an asshole and winning, actually gaining power and prestige by being an obnoxious self-interested bully, it creates a huge incentive for other people to emulate that behavior. Assholery has ripple effects as it spreads in the form of disciplinary norms that not only enable, but hyper-value nasty, elitist, demeaning behavior” (Dunn 2018; Accessed April 9, 2019). Anthropology is not alone. In a 2018 report, the National Academies note: “In a survey conducted by the University of Texas System…, about 20 percent of female science students (undergraduate and graduate) experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff, while more than a quarter of female engineering students and greater than 40 percent of medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff” (NAS 2018). The asshole problem is acute across the academy.

Situational assholes

Sutton (2018 and 2007) notes that, on occasion, anyone can act assholishly. These “temporary assholes” are not the real problem. They tend to want to repair their lapses of civility, and to feel bad about their own behavior. The real problem comes from “authentic assholes.” Authentic assholes display durable personality issues, and are also more likely to engage in an “exploitative sexual style” (Jones and Figueredo 2013) that seeks instrumental sex with multiple partners; a trait that powers workplace harassment.

There is also a subset of assholes in the academy who are “accidental assholes” (Sepah 2017; Accessed April 9, 2019). These are nerdish individuals who are, for example, on the autism spectrum, and who do not have the social skills to always act appropriately. They may do randomly assholish things, or they may simply copy the bad behaviors they find around them. Accidental assholes are still jerks. And being on the spectrum is no excuse. “It’s a conscious choice, no matter how much lead-in, to become like that,” Brandon Weaver (2019; Accessed November 10, 2019) explains.

Not all assholes are born that way: lots of them are nurtured into bad behaviors on the job. The current, toxic academic culture can turn a temporary asshole into an chronic bad actor, a kind of “opportune asshole;” (or, in evolutionary culture terms, an “adaptive asshole”): someone who believes that bad behavior is expected of them and rewarded by their peers. They are happy to oblige.

This may be why so many precincts of the academy seem to be swarming with assholes (jerks, bad-actors, etc.). When you add the opportune- and temporary-assholes to the authentic ones, the numbers and their bad effects really add up. Sutton addressed this situation in an article in the Harvard Business Review (<https://hbr.org/2007/05/why-are-there-so-many> Accessed April 9, 2019). As the National Academies found, the most asshole-infested profession is medicine and medical school:

“A longitudinal study of nearly 3,000 medical students from 16 medical schools was just published in The British Medical Journal. Erica Frank and her colleagues at the Emory Medical School found that 42 percent of seniors reported being harassed by fellow students, professors, physicians, or patients; 84 percent reported they had been belittled and 40 percent reported being both harassed and belittled” (Sutton 2007).

So, why are we surrounded by assholes? Sutton explains:

“The truth is that assholes breed like rabbits. Their poison quickly infects others; even worse, if you let them make hiring decisions, they will start cloning themselves. Once people believe that they can get away with treating others with contempt or, worse yet, believe they will be praised and rewarded for it, a reign of psychological terror can spread throughout your organization that is damn hard to stop” (Sutton 2007).

The who is more important than the what

The good news is that the principles of fierce equality and demand sharing are diagnostic and therapeutic in finding and neutralizing assholes. Once the opportune-assholes find that their bad behavior is no longer applauded or even acceptable, they will need to self-monitor their personal interactions. When open-science norms support public acknowledgement of the asshole problem, and offer remedies for this in departments, labs, colleges, professional associations, etc., authentic assholes will find that their toxic actions serve only to isolate and shame them (even though they may not feel this shame as shame, but convert it into anger (Brown 2012)). Over time, when new norms take hold, and new hires bring fresh non-assholic voices into the mix, your corner of the academy can regain its fundamental civility, and you and your students can again argue theories and ideas, methods and experiments, without resorting to abuse and fear.

Working in a zero-asshole environment is significantly more pleasant and productive than toiling in the psychological minefield that even one asshole can create in your department, laboratory, agency, or college. Achieving a zero-asshole status takes a principled stance and procedural follow-through. It is a worthwhile goal for you as an open science culture-change agent to pursue. “Bear in mind that negative interactions have five times the effect on mood than positive interactions—it takes a lot of good people to make up for the damage done by just a few demeaning jerks” (Sutton 2007).

The asshole in the mirror

A final thought here. Each of us is capable of astounding assholishness at any time. Most of us have experienced being on the receiving end on some occasions (in seminars, through peer review, at office hours) of abuse by those who control our academic fortunes, and use fear and humiliation in their critiques of our work, or of our capacities for research or teaching. We know how to do asshole; we’ve had enough training. We just need to not go there. And we need to isolate ourselves from the assholes we encounter. Sutton reminds us of this:

“If you want to build an asshole-free environment, you’ve got to start by looking in the mirror. When have you been an asshole? When have you caught and spread this contagious disease? What can you do, or what have you done, to keep your inner asshole from firing away at others? The most powerful single step you can take is to…just stay away from nasty people and places. This means you must defy the temptation to work with a swarm of assholes, regardless of a job’s other perks and charms. It also means that if you make this mistake, get out as fast as you can. And remember, as my student Dave Sanford taught me, that admitting you’re an asshole is the first step” (Sutton 2007).

You can always take Sutton’s (2007) “asshole test” to self-diagnose. Or, if you find yourself believing that you are surrounded by idiots and that you should be recognized for your real talents and elevated into a higher level of society: you are probably an asshole, or at least, a “jerk”:

“Because the jerk tends to disregard the perspectives of those below him in the hierarchy, he often has little idea how he appears to them. This leads to hypocrisies. He might rage against the smallest typo in a student’s or secretary’s document, while producing a torrent of errors himself; it just wouldn’t occur to him to apply the same standards to himself. He might insist on promptness, while always running late. He might freely reprimand other people, expecting them to take it with good grace, while any complaints directed against him earn his eternal enmity” (Schwitzgabel 2014; Accessed April 9, 2019).

This is a good reminder that assholes know who and what to kiss to get ahead. They may direct their assholocity at anyone/everyone lesser than them in the academic scheme, and act entirely respectful and encouraging to those above them. Your dean may not know who’s an asshole, but grad-students might have a clear idea. Listen to them. They may already be organizing to minimize the impacts of faculty assholes on their future careers. At the University of North Carolina, graduate students organized “Academics taking Action” for this purpose (<https://academicstakingaction.wordpress.com/> Accessed 5/14/2019). And should you, in a moment of fatigue or stress lash out at your students, if you are a temporary asshole, then it’s up to you to make them know you acted poorly and regret it.

Feeling mean today? Go ahead, be mean to your data; interrogate it ruthlessly. Be cruel to your theories. Don’t look to validate them, find new ways to attack them. Be an asshole with your methodology; it’s certainly not as rigorous as it could be. Then, have some more coffee and be kind and humble with your students and colleagues.

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