Thursday 23 July 2020

Doing right or right doing?

Both ideally . . . but if you had to choose? Two pop-ups on the racism front have set me to thinking about this difficulty.  To expand with two different framings:
  • choosing between getting the task done or getting the optics right 
  • choosing between getting the task done in way that's inclusive
The two triggers
  1. A paper in PLOS Computational Biology in their long 10 Simple Rules series Ten simple rules for building an anti-racist lab by Bala Chaudhary and Asmeret Asefaw Berhe. Many of these 10-themed papers have been authored by Philip Bourne including the self-referential Ten Simple Rules for Writing a PLOS Ten Simple Rules Article. The anti-racist rules paper is under review. It lists a number of things that lab PIs can do to either salve their right-on conscience or do something useful to stop being a racist dick in daily life in science.  Dr Bourne has recused himself from this project possibly because  He White  [R notice the choice of B&W photo; I couldn't get more self-referential if I wrote each sentence twice I wrote each sentence twice)  [MeFi comments]
    • Not every patriarch is able to stand down when there is an opportunity to speak up: they [errrm we] are used to holding the mic and dominating the podium. As Dau.I the Radical pointed out Harrumph, if that young feller wanted to make a stand against sexism in science, then, rather than sounding off as a SWM PI, he could recuse himself and ask a female colleague to give the career-advice holiday pep-talk.
  2. MSF Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders have been washing their implicit racism in public. [MeFi comments] with 1,000 of their operatives signing an open letter acknowledging that "white doctor saves back babies" is endemic in the organisation; local  operatives are paid buttons while the ex-pat doctors get 4x4s; dusky Northern docs really don't have parity of esteem.
I don't think we need much editorial on these matters, except to say that my heart sank as I scanned through the list of 10: so much to do before we get down to The Science! It's like my Ethics is Hard revelation that there is more to biomedical ethics than a a good heart and common sense. Rule 1: Lead informed discussions about anti-racism in your lab regularly: yes yes, once a year will be regular enough!! We have to get statistical significance dinned into everyone's head . . . and absolutely clean behaviour in the tissue culture room (not so much the centrifuge) . . . and explicit hypothesis framing . . . and who's making cookies next week  . . . and . . . and . . .
20+ years ago, we were founder members of what became the Home Education Network HEN. One Sunday every month through 1999 we packed our two small children into the car and drove 110km to a Scout Hut in Greystones to thrash out a coherent response to the Government's plans to regulate and control truancy Home Education. HEN was, and is, a broad church. There were some very floaty skirts in the room, lots of Birkenstocks; children called Aragorn;  it was my first encounter with rice-cakes. There was A Lot to do setting up an organisation, starting a newsletter, recruiting members, drafting policy, encouraging our children to play nicely, identifying sympathetic politicians, raising a bit of money, setting a date for the first annual meeting and sourcing a venue. It was different from my professional experience: there was to be not Chair and Secretary but rather a Facilitator and Scribe. That was okay in a, like whatevs, nice folksie way of sorting the optics. I often found myself sitting beside the only other bloke in the room who worked in a professional capacity in biomedicine because there was comfortable common ground there.

After we'd swallowed Facilitator and Scribe we were asked to adopt Consensus Decision Making as the modus operandi for our group. [Bob thinks; whoa! Woo-Wah alert]. But it sounds great:
"Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group getting their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with." What's not to like about that??  But it's like ethics, invisible racism, unconsidered sexism . . . it's hard to achieve those clearly desirable outcomes. The advocate of CDM assured us that it would be easy: "I propose that we devote the next three monthly meetings to sorting out the group dynamics through CDM . . .".
Nooooooo! We have tasks, we have things To Do, a potentially adverse legislation Express is rushing down the tracks at our little homely caboose. We can't be fannying about here. In the end we adopted Facilitator and Scribe but we parked what they actually represented and got on with Business.  No regrets on that one: it was a fair compromise between doing the right thing and doing it in the right way. I do so try to be aware of the unconscious bias in my patriarchal thoughts and deeds.

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