Unpleasantville

Last week, Kristian Lum has written a blog post to report her experience of inappropriate behaviour by some senior male colleagues at statistical conferences (ISBA and JSM, in particular).

I don’t personally know Kristian, although I think I did have lunch with her, a common friend and bunch of other people, at JSM in Montreal in 2013. Anyway, even if I were completely agnostic about the whole thing (and I don’t think I am…), seems to me like her account has been corroborated by some hard facts as well as discussion with other friends/colleagues who actually know her rather well. So while it’s important to avoid “courts martial”, I think the discussion here isn’t really about whether these things happened or not (which at this point I’m pretty sure they did $-$ just to clarify).

I’ve been left with mixed feelings and a sense of kind-of-having lost my bearings, since I found this out last week. Firstly, I am not surprised to hear that such things _can _happen at a conference or in academia, in general. What has kind of surprised me is the fact that while I do move more or less in those circles, I wasn’t aware of the reputation of the two people who have been named. Some people (for example here) have made a point that these stories were well known and Kristian said so herself in her blog post. As somebody who’s involved in ISBA, this is troubling and I kind of feel like we’ve hid our collective head under the sand, possibly for a very long time. To be fair, ISBA is now coming up with a task-force to create protocols and prevent issues such as these arising again in the future. Still, doesn’t feel particularly good…

Secondly, this may be some sort of self-preservation (or may be denial?) instinct and may be there is indeed a much more rooted problem in statistics and in fact in Bayesian statistics, which I make myself struggle to see because it hurts to think that the environment in which I work is actually flawed in bad ways. But what I mean is that perhaps it’s not like there’s a couple of areas in which bad guys operate and if only we could get rid of those bad guys in _those _areas, then society would be idyllic. I think that, unfortunately, there’s plenty of examples where people with/in power (statistically more likely to be white men) do behave badly and abuse their power in many ways, including sexually. May be our field does represent men disproportionately $-$ and it may well be that this is even truer for Bayesian statistics than for other branches of statistical science. And so, as painful as it is to realise quite clearly that the grass ain’t so green after all, it is what it is. But the problem is (much) bigger than that…

Finally, I’ve particularly liked my friend Julien’s Facebook post (I actually see now that he was in fact linking to somebody else’s tweet):

Retweeted Carlos Scheidegger (@scheidegger): We should all read and acknowledge @KLdivergence's and other women's harrowing stories. But I want to try something different here. Do you all know of her amazing work at @hrdag? This, on predictive policing, is so good

Dan’s post has some lengthy discussion about the use of the term “mediocre” to characterise the two offenders. I think that neither mediocrity (= how poor one is at their work) nor excellence (= how good one is at their work) should be excuses $-$ but I see how this may matter because, arguably, the better and more respected you are in your field, the more power you wield over junior colleagues… But I think it feels right to point out Kristian’s work qualities. Somehow, it seems to put things in a better perspective, I think.

comments powered by Disqus

Related