Cumulative advantage and the Hall of FamePosted: April 12, 2013
Glamdouchery (often conflated with OA, which…let’s just not discuss it) is hot this week, getting some attention over at Drugmonkey and on the Twittings. Yesterday, everyone’s favorite BSD punching bag, @mbeisen, took some jabs from all us chicken-shit pseuds on stuff like glam, pedigree, and their advantages in jobs, grants, and tenure. I’ll preface this with: @mbeisen is awesome. As far as I know he’s a good at some kind of genetics, and without a doubt he’s a great advocate in the community and a founder of PLOS, which just did a great site redesign. Despite his undeniable privilege and loftitude, he is far more vocal and willing to engage on a range of issues than most BSD types, who, if they use it at all, use Twitter for personal press releases and digital self-fluffing. Most importantly, he’s funny, which is all that matters in the end.
But…everyone piled on @mbeisen’s claims that glamour pubs and pedigree become less important over time, e.g. at tenure it’s not a big deal. Especially, pedigree:
This feels wrong. You take the average CV of some BSD or HHMI or young gun assistant prof at an ILAF and check it out. You’ll see something like R1 hot shit lab for PhD and an F31, HHWF postdoc with a Nobeldouche, glam pubs from both. Cranking out PIs 10 years out. Wow! And: acronyms!
But then, consider this: the winner of a 1024 person bracket coin-tossing tournament is someone who just won 10 coin tosses in a row! WHAT ARE THE FUCKING CHANCES?! Wow! In a system designed to pick big winners, we shouldn’t be surprised the big winners are those who got picked.
Then, there’s the self-reportage of folks on the study sections and the search and P&T committees. “We look at the whole candidate. Glam and pedigree, whatever.. .we are serious people and we can see through the fluff and and identify who is a great fit and has lots of potential.” Allow me to suggest that committee members are the last people on earth we should be asking for objective commentary about what “counts” on these committees. We are scientists. How many implicit bias studies do we have to see before we start questioning our own rationalizations for how we make judgments about other people and their work? How did these people end up in your long list or TT in your department in the first place? What helped them land the grant that paid for the work you’re admiring*? So, sure, listen to the oldz tell you what they think mattered to them, then look at the short lists they make.
Fun fact: height is a terrible predictor of who gets into the NBA Hall of Fame. Ergo, height isn’t important in basketball?
My advice to my fellow trainees… if you have a shot at getting a glam publication with the work you’re doing, go for it. Why the fuck not? You’ll get a desk reject from Nature in a shorter amount of time than it takes PLOS One to assign an AE. And if you go for review, your chances actually aren’t that bad compared to wherever else you were going to send it, and it certainly won’t be more scientifically rigorous. And don’t let anyone give you shit or tell you YOU are the one perpetuating glamdouchery. You know that scientifically everything from (e.g.) JNeuro “up” is the same, but the obstacles on the ground ahead of you are not all about science.
Note: I am not saying choose what you do scientifically to try to and produce something you think a glam editor will like or will get you interviewed on Radiolab: 1. You’ll almost certainly fail, 2. You’re a tool.
But: when we’re in a position to judge others, let’s do what we can to dismantle the cult of celebrity and edifice of pedigree glam bullshit this past generation has spent their careers building. Start soon: when you get a BSD paper to review, the instinct is to trust them, to see how their new amazing shit fits into and extends their past amazing shit. They know how to sell their shit. You want to like them and you want the editor to like you and the editor and the BSD have been cozy for years. Maybe their shit inspired you to join the field in the first place! Who knows, but put on your grown up pants and tear them apart like you would your best friend in lab meeting.
*Being a Serious Person, you are of course admiring it completely independently of its publication venue.