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Archive for the ‘values’ Category

Publish or Perish?

As a researcher, I often have to stop and ask myself: what kind of research do I want to do? Research that would get cited a lot versus research that would make an impact in people’s lives? In general I think that the answer should be obvious, but sometimes I find myself getting caught in the “publish or perish” mindset that seems to encompass all the scientific world nowadays.

Last year a Dutch professor in social psychology, Diederik Stapel, became widely famous because of a decade of research that was, unfortunately, all fabricated. He was caught because three of his PhD students started suspecting study results that were simply too good. In the consequent investigations, it was found that he had been falsifying data for a long long time, perhaps as early as his dissertation research.

The New York Times article about initial suspicions of Stapel’s long line of fabrication quotes Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

“The big problem is that the culture is such that researchers spin their work in a way that tells a prettier story than what they really found. It’s almost like everyone is on steroids, and to compete you have to take steroids as well.”

In a way, this was the message I got from October’s ACR conference as well. On one hand, ethics and integrity were called for; on the other hand, it was emphasized that writing a good paper is like telling a nice story. I’m not saying that these things are contradictory, but sometimes I wonder whether honesty and marketing can ever cohabit without at least some bickering.

Stress and haste can make people vulnerable to losing their integrity and prone to cutting corners. If it happens in professions where results of the work are concrete and immediate, it is certain to happen in research as well.

Dear readers, please remind me frequently that the main purpose of the research and work we do is not fame and fortune, but to make the world a better place. No one’s perfect and we need each other to keep our integrity. It’s not a race, it’s a journey towards a common goal.


Ride for Life

We did it! Hundred miles around serene Cayuga lake to raise awareness of AIDS and to raise funds for Southern Tier AIDS Program for continued prevention and support services. It was a wonderful ride.

I woke up at five on Saturday morning and zipped down Buffalo Street after a quick breakfast, my little LEDs shining in the dark and scaring a skunk who was puttering around minding its own business. Arrived to Stewart Park to wait for the ride to begin as the sky lightened, met friends with whom I’d be sharing the road. Watched more than 350 riders gather together. Before we were sent off, we were touchingly reminded of the purpose of the AIDS Ride for Life – the stories yet to be told, the lives yet to be saved, and the dreams yet to be realized.

Can’t quite describe the feelings I had at that moment. I think it was a mixture of sadness, joy and anticipation. I thought of Freddie Mercury and the songs he still kept on recording just days before his death. I thought of the book “Wisdom of Whores” I read last year, the theoretical ease and the practical difficulties of preventing HIV infections. I looked at people around me and I was glad to be one of them. They all cared.

Preparing for the ride

And then we started riding and I came back to the present moment and just enjoyed the cool morning air and the determined pedaling. I had tested the waters one week earlier on a 57-mile ride to Aurora and back, so I knew that the first hills would be steep and long, but not too bad. Pretty soon (well, after 1,5 hours) we were at King Ferry Winery, the first pit stop at 18-mile mark. Munched some protein-filled oatmeal with nuts and pumpkin seeds, filled my water bottle, chatted with friends, and soon we took off again.

Weather was absolutely perfect, half-cloudy, not too hot, not too cold. We sped past the second pit stop thinking that we would easily make it to the opposite end of the lake before having to stop. This theory would have held if I hadn’t started losing air from my backtire around 40-mile mark. It wasn’t a flat, but definitely a little bit of leakage was happening. Since it was less than ten miles to Verdi Signs pit stop, I wanted just to go as far as I could, and change the tube there with proper tools. (I had a spare tube and tire levers with me, but I had forgotten a wrench! My bike’s old-fashioned, it has real bolts to keep the tires on.) Well, had to stop to pump more air in a couple of times, but arrived to Verdi Signs without losing too much time on the way. And besides, it’s a ride, not a race.

Thanks to the repair crew, I soon had a new tube in and full of air. We continued through a lovely drumlin area and reached Seneca Falls after noon, having ridden 60 miles. I wasn’t feeling too tired, but definitely hungry. Enjoyed a good lunch with the team and got back on the bikes.

The 40 miles that we had left went by surprisingly fast. The wind that had been against us during the first half of the journey was now on our side (or, behind our backs). What’s more, the lovely volunteers had written and drawn encouraging messages on the road shoulder. We stopped once to fill our bottles and grab a handful of grapes before the last leg. Having eaten tons during the day, I actually felt quite energetic as we approached Ithaca. Crossing the finish line at Cass Park was awesome: a big crowd of people was there waving, cheering and applauding. Then we just relaxed and basked in the afternoon sun. After five we gathered for the victory ride through downtown to Stewart Park, where we had a nice dinner and celebrated the accomplishments.

Victory Ride!

The ride raised over $216,000. It’s an incredible sum and will go to a great cause. What’s more, the effect on raising AIDS awareness and strengthening people’s self-confidence goes even longer way. For me, 80 miles was the longest distance I’ve biked before this. It was wonderful to see that I could do it, and I didn’t even feel sore afterwards! And it was wonderful to see other people feel the same awe about themselves. Plus all the wonderful volunteers who took care of feeding and hydrating us and keeping us safe and smiling.

One girl actually rode a penny-farthing for 50 miles. Now, that’s a really amazing achievement!

Team Felicia – thanks everyone, you are wicked awesome!

The AIDS Ride is not a unique fundraising effort here, although it’s perhaps the largest event in terms of duration and organizing. There’s something going on almost every weekend. For example, in August, women swam one mile across Cayuga Lake to raise funds for hospice care. Tomorrow, there’s a Food Justice Summit walkathon (5 miles) with the aim to build a sustainable food system. Community is activated to do good voluntarily, and have fun and be physically active at the same time.

We have similar things in Finland too, but somehow I’ve never managed to hear of them, and I think they tend to be smaller scale. For example, there was a “Kävele naiselle ammatti” (“walk an occupation for a woman”) event in Tampere two weeks ago. Perhaps Pirkan Kierros could be re-focused as a charity event? (Could be that some of the money is already being donated somewhere, but if that’s the case, they’re not really advertising it.) Let me know which events you know of!

So now I’m listening to Queen’s last album, Made in Heaven, and thinking how people in welfare nations are more likely to engage in voluntary work, because they are safe and secure and can spare their time and resources on helping others. When a mind is not occupied with basic survival, it can reach out to the world and respect every life as valuable.

This year has been one hell of a ride so far. Ups and downs, but much more ups than downs. It’s a beautiful world that we have, and beautiful people in it. Let’s strive to make it even better.

Three Basic Needs

Lazy blogger, me. June has swiftly flown past like the hawk I saw above Taughannock Falls a couple of weeks ago. (Well, the hawk kind of lingered a while and circled around, but I would have still liked to observe it longer.) But I’m happy that I haven’t needed to travel in June. I’ve finally had enough time and relatively spry feet to explore nearby places by bike.


Happy feet at Robert H. Treman state park

As a result of settling down in Ithaca again, I’ve also really started to feel the itch for volunteer work. I feel the need to do something concrete and purposeful where I can see the results quickly. Donating blood used to be my lifeline in Finland – every 3-4 months I’d go and watch the blood flow out of my vein with a fascination that some might call morbid. (As a scientist, I think it’s perfectly natural to be interested in bodily fluids.) Since I’m denied that pleasure here in United States, being from Europe where everyone’s tainted with Creutzfeld-Jacob, I’m feeling the need to find some other real way to help. Research, while valuable in long-term (I hope), just doesn’t deliver fast enough.

I’m by no means unique with my need for purpose. According to Deci and Ryan’s Self-determination theory, purpose (or relatedness) is one of the three basic needs. The other two are autonomy and competence, out of which I currently have plenty of the first and less of the second one. Drive by Daniel H. Pink explains the theory in layman’s terms and gives lots of good ideas for companies that want to increase productivity – give more freedom and flexibility to employers, because intrinsic motivation is much more powerful (in creative tasks) than extrinsic. That should be obvious, but requires a new kind of a mindset. Pink also mentions that the amount of volunteer work is increasing, which indicates that people want to contribute, do good things and feel they’re doing something worthwhile.

Everyone wants to feel they're doing something worthwhile

From the lovely

So, you ask, what am I doing to fulfil my need for purpose? Well, not awfully much yet. Decided to bike 100 miles around Cayuga Lake in September to raise funds for AIDS prevention and support. Also started volunteering a small sliver of my time to Ithaca Health Alliance’s outreach and education program. And I sign every darn petition that I find that is about protecting basic human rights or preventing pollution. Those who are my Facebook friends may have noticed…

I do believe that the research we do can change the world for the better. But I think the focus should be more heavily on communities, families, social ties and social support, as well as figuring out what people really want. Plus, starting small, remembering that people need to be able to say: “this is my decision”, “I’m able to do this” and “this is meaningful”.