Triticum Turgidum

Lying Dormant and Waiting to Bloom Since 2005

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Location: The Prairie, Illinois, United States

I am a beauty-loving ambidextrous higher-order primate who learned transcendental meditation at 7, statistical analysis at 23, tap dancing at 30, and piano at 35. I tolerate gluten, lactose, and differences of opinion, but not abuse. Or beets.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Herself the Elf

Two days after Thanksgiving and our neighbors already have Xmas stuff up. Lights, wreaths, the whole shebang. One house even had a giant 4' snow globe on the lawn, but it deflated by sunrise.

I wonder if that was the doing of a grinch with property values on his mind.

Anyway, I don't ordinarily get all into decorating for Xmas, but I realized this afternoon that I'd dressed my child as an elf today.

I suppose tiny lights around her borders are next.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

I've Been Plagiarized!

I just got home from back-to-back research trips to New York and San Antonio. On the flight from San Antonio I began reading a book I'd promised a journal editor I'd review for the journal's next issue. The book concerns research on mass media, body image, and eating disorders, the central topic of my research. About 70 pages into the book, I hit a paragraph that struck me as eerily familiar. Once home, I was able to confirm that the authors of the book I was reviewing, which was published in 2005, had copied, word for word, a paragraph I'd written in a journal article published in 1997. Twelve lines, no changes -- er, except I used the % sign and they wrote out "per cent."

I'm seething. Researchers publishing in journals don't get paid for their work, but book authors do. These people literally stole from me. And I strongly suspect that they've plagiarized other authors. Neither of the book's authors make their living researching this topic. The first author is a criminologist; the second, a media violence researcher. They fail to cite a single body-relevant media effects study published after 2000, which initially struck me as odd because probably half of the corpus of original research studies demonstrating an effect of media exposure on body image were published post-2000. Then I realized that the cited work is most likely outdated because, well, when you filch other people's writing, you end up citing whatever they cited when they initially published their work.

I've already contacted the book review editor of this journal to tell him there's no way I can provide a balanced book review. Now I get to contact the book's publisher.

Wish me luck.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Racist Next Door

As a white non-Jewish American I get to spend most of my time not thinking about my race or ethnicity (although my gender is another thing entirely). Not constantly having to define oneself by race is the privilege of being white in America. That is precisely why, in a class I teach called Media and the Human Body, we read and discuss original research relevant to the way people of color are portrayed in the mass media. My hope is to urge my students, many of whom are white kids from homogenous communities in the Midwest, to interrogate their assumptions about race.

Most of my students are open-minded enough to thoughtfully consider the findings of the research in light of their own, limited life experience -- or perhaps vice versa. My goal isn't to turn them into budding liberals, just to get them thinking about whether the dynamics they've always assumed to be true because their parents told them they were true really hold up when tested in a scientific manner.

Every few years I encounter a student who is deeply resistant to learning anything new about race. This year it was a young white woman (we'll call her Holly) whose sweet demeanor led me to expect this from just about anyone in the class but her.

I require students to submit questions about each reading. Most students ask about the theoretical assumptions or the research methods or the statistical analyses. Here were Holly's three latest questions. (Keep in mind that students know I will choose some of their questions to read out loud to the class, so she wrote these with full awareness that they could be made public.)

(1) Her first question was written in response to an experiment showing that when a black man's face was pictured in a mock news story about a violent crime, research participants using criminal suspect identification software reconstructed his face using more Afrocentric features (e.g., fuller lips, broader nose, and darker skin) than when the same man's face was pictured in a news story unrelated to crime:

"While I don't want to sound racist, I agree that when I think of scary criminals, I think of African Americans. A recent experience just solidified my opinion about them last weekend. My friends and I went to Chicago and were lost for an hour in the 'ghetto,' and I've never been so scared in my life. It was really late, and there were floods of black people everywhere, just walking the streets and blasting loud music. And they wonder why people stereotype them. I'm not saying that white people are perfect by any means, but you definitely don't see tons of them all over the streets making drug deals and living in projects. It interested me to see in the video on Tuesday that African Americans feel the need to act like bad asses to show they are not inferior. Why is it that African Americans wonder why they are discriminated against, when many of them act like animals? I hate to admit it, but I feel as though the media portrays (sic) them in pretty realistic situations, and many times try to glamorize their existence to try to break these stereotypes."

(2) She wrote this comment in response to a content analysis showing that black men are overrepresented as criminals on TV news (e.g., 37% of violent criminal suspects on the news were black, versus 21% in the same region according to actual arrest statistics):

"It was found in this survey that blacks are overrepresented on news programs. This goes back to my question/thoughts from the last article. I don't think that news programs try to find crime stories based on race. Again, I don't want to sound racist by any means, but blacks are probably overrepresented in the news because they are the ones committing the most crimes! The media should not at all lessen the amount of news stories dealing with blacks because they are afraid it may cause more racism or stereotyping. If the blacks want the media to stop overrepresenting them in bad ways, maybe they should stop being involved in these ridiculous crimes!"

(3) Her third question was in response to a content analysis showing that black women are portrayed as more dominant than white women in magazine advertisements:

"It is stated that the image of submissive sex objects applies specifically to white women. This makes me wonder why the media tends (sic) to stay away from portraying black women in this way. I'm not saying portraying any women as sex objects is right in any way, but it's crazy to me that many people fail to notice these little things that people and the media do to protect African Americans from being stereotyped even more."

I'm not sure what to do about this. I thought about calling Holly into my office and asking her to probe the source of her anger, but I don't want to come across as pushy. She has a right to her opinions, after all. And I suppose I should be flattered that she felt safe enough with me to share them in the first place.

More than anything, Holly's questions sadden me. Her resistance to the notion of walking in someone else's shoes, even for a few hours, even only symbolically, speaks to an ideological rigidity that strikes me as a disability, not of the body but of the soul. What's to be gained by adhering so vehemently to one's narrow worldview? Why do some people experience knowledge acquisition as liberating while others see it as the ultimate threat? Just what has she got to lose by acknowledging that racism exists in her country?

If I do end up talking to her, I'll let you know how it went.