Being on the Red Team

Late spring, I participated as one of the reviewers in the Red Team challenge.* I was selected for my knowledge of research on emotional expressions, which now goes back to the time before emotion research was fashionable (as soon as it got, I kind of slid out. I don’t like crowds).

I was so excited about the possibility, that I plowed through the edited volume “ the science of facial expressions”, read the paper and began writing a review before I even knew I had been selected (actually lotted in), and been informed about the format of feedback. (it wasn’t supposed to be the standard review format. Oh well).

It’s a while since I was this excited about something in science!

I wanted to share a bit of my experience.


The challenge was formatted as finding errors, noting them down on a google docs spread sheet. These were to be judged by an independent judge (Ruben Arslan).

For some issues this works well: Computational errors. Confusing parts in text. Sections that seems to not quite represent earlier research.

But, I did find this format itself challenging, as my commentary was not always bite-sized, and not always about errors but about alternative interpretations, questions about methodological choices, references to other theories. I did the best I could with the ones I had and in the end also included the entire review that I wrote – which is not as easy to judge. (I did read the entire spread sheet of issues with Ruben’s and Nicholas’ comments).

Some of my “issues” weren’t so much about errors as it was about bringing up challenges from the field. For example the work assumed a categorical/discrete view of emotions both in posing and in rating of emotional experience. But there is an approaching century old controversy about how to conceptualize emotions – dimensionally or categorically. Another example was the opening statement that most theories of emotions incorporate facial feedback which, in the fashion of a long time essay advisor, I thought was much too broad, as I can think of lots of theoretical accounts surrounding emotions that are completely uninterested in whether there is something like facial feedback. Nothing was made of that. I just wanted something more precise. Is it an error? Not really.

I also came across this chapter in the above mentioned book: Form and Function of facial expressive origins, by Daniel H. Lee and Adam K. Anderson.  Their main interest was in looking at the face as a moving surface, and how different expressions seems to have opposite action (an expansion in fear, a contraction in disgust). On page 1983 they mention how the posing of expressions did not seem to have any effect on pupil size or behavioral changes (measured by looking at eye movements), and concluding from this that there were no evidence for no autonomic feedback. I’m not sure how to incorporate that into the paper.

In the end, I did like the paper. I thought it was a cute, minor contribution, but doesn’t resolve the facial feedback question. Of course, no paper could


Unlike Frank Zappa, I wasn’t in it for the money. I’m a reasonably well paid academic in a secure position. I appreciated it (moar artisanal muesli for me!), but that is not what enticed me. Now, I’m not categorically against using money as an incentive, and I do think we need a better incentive structure, with more acknowledgement of all the work that goes into producing good research.

Scientists as a Social Species

So what excited me about the Red Team challenge?

It was a paper in an area where I have expertise about a topic that I care about. It was trying out a new technique for improving the scientific literature, and science in general, which is also an area I care deeply about. It was also conducted by people I like and care about – in the capacity as scientists and science reformers. I felt I could make a contribution that was deeply meaningful.

Let me expand a bit on this.  My absolute favorite book on meta science is David Hull’s “Science as a process” which I came across in the late 90’s as a graduate student (and then re-read several times). The thesis he advances (with thorough observations) is that science proceeds in an evolutionary manner**. The knowledge that is amassed through the scientific endeavor does not spring from the individual scientists heads, nor does it require that scientists are dispassionate and ostensibly impartial and objective. No, it is a product of the churning between groups of scientists passionately amassing and rebutting evidence and arguments, as described by Sperber and Mercier in The enigma of reason. It is not fool proof. It is not necessarily efficient (Hull points out that “efficiency” is a value, not something necessary), but it does slowly, incrementally approaches something that could be a little t, provisional truth. I’ve recently seen Cordelia Fine mentioning this in an Aeon article***.

In his conceptualization, the individual scientist is inconsequential, unless they belong to a deme, a scientific community where subgroups either champions or rebuts a particular topic. The social is as important as is the desire to understand the world just a little bit better. A single scientists may have fantastic insights, but these won’t matter if shouted into a lonely void, without others engaging with the ideas.

Science need to have active communities engaging with and arguing about ideas for our understanding to deepen. Hull asks towards the end of the book, what would happen if the argumentation was attenuated or stopped? And my thought is that what has been seen in the science crisis is in part what happens when critique and argument is not rewarded, just production of papers. The inquiry is not corrected if critiques are stopped (but that is for another post to develop).

But, to come back to me, this felt deeply meaningful to me as I felt I contributed to two small areas in science (emotion research and meta-psychology), and that my small, prosocial contribution could possibly help making science better. It doesn’t matter if in the future there will be no facial feedback or the scientific process will take up other procedures than the red/blue team style. It is a small step on the way.


*A challenge to find errors in the paper by Nicholas Coles, Brooke Frohlich, Jeff T. Larsen, Lowell Gaertner and get paid for it. Proposed by Daniël Lakens and Nicholas Coles.

** He is regularly cited by researchers in cultural evolution

*** Fiona Fidler @fidlerfm Replying to @siminevazire

“scientific objectivity depends not simply on scientists being coolly detached with respect to their data, but ‘upon the depth and scope of the transformative interrogation that occurs in any given scientific community’.” (Fine quoting Longino)


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Diary of a….

It’s Monday,

slither down the greasy pipe, So far so good no one saw you…

Things feel disoriented. Sometimes things are fine, sometimes this is very weird. I hate that I cannot have vague plans for what happens a couple of months from now, because I just don’t know.

Work goes on. Tomorrow we’ll do the ethics committee via Skype. That will be…. Interesting. I’ve summarized my particular cases (that is what we do, each one of us get two to three cases to summarize and validate and give recommendations for). Then we’ll see if we agree.

I had a short zoom meeting last week, which worked very well, but we were only two people. That is about potential doctoral students. Still a bit of work to do on that one.

I also found out that a local conference/hotel/winery that I really like went bankrupt. People stopped scheduling conferences and they just could not handle it. It is a lovely lovely place, and they have also run the restaurants in two other locations in skåne. The restaurants will (temporarily) close, then open with someone else. It actually really bothered me to the point I was having bad dreams about it.

I see a lot of new efforts about doing valuable research on what is happening. I feel too swamped to be part of it, even if I would like to.

Then, I have moments, Like when I’m listening to Daniel Milo’s Good Enough, and it is just so much fun!

Could I just go home and listen to audio-books until June?


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Diary of an Academic in a Pandemic


It is very quiet at work. The lunch restaurant in the building across where I usually get my coffee and a breakfast sandwich has closed. No use now that no students are coming.  On the bus this morning, we were 4 passengers spread across the whole length. I tend to cough throughout the winter. The doctors find nothing wrong with me, it is just something I do after I had my first winter cold. I’m now highly aware of that. Yesterday, an older woman (older than me) who sat right in front of me got up and moved several seats ahead. I can’t blame her.

I got some training on using Zoom, in anticipation of my new course that starts in a week. I think that will work, as long as Zoom holds up.

I feel this sadness, and tiredness. A lot of work and uncertainty yesterday, and now there’s the aftermath like a kind of intellectual hangover. I’ll keep coming in, because I have a nice office, and I don’t think I could work from home with the rest of the family there – my husband has always worked from home.

We have set up some reading courses for the doctoral students who would have, but now can’t, go out collecting data. But most of them are mainly in writing and planning stages, and are doing just fine.

Is this becoming the new normal?

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Diary of an Academic in a Pandemic. Wednesday

Premiere on-line seminar! The first pass worked using Conferences on Canvas (which uses something called Big Blue Button). Took a bit before I got my microphone working, but after that we could discuss the two papers I have assigned via either talk, or chat.

Second pass. I get the notice “failed to connect with conference” over and over again! Of course, it is in the sweet spot where everybody wants to teach 10-12 so perhaps a capacity issue? There are a lot of these, particularly for the academic ones. The commercial ones like YouTube and messenger and all that works fine! No wonder.

Let me just say, although I’m happy that this option exists, and that I started prepping for it early, online will not be the teaching method of choice for me.

At least, I know how it works now, and won’t have to fret for next weeks seminar. I have one more to go today. See if Conferences work then.

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A little later

I’m getting more anxious and overwhelmed, but I keep going. This is my feeling thermometer. Anxious, a bit sad. It will  change soon.

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Tuesday after 11

Tuesday at 11.

The government went out with info that all students at University and High-school level should stay home, and do distance teaching. Us teachers have to then create these courses. Glad I had a bit of startup there for my course. This means my two older kids will be home, while the youngest will be at school.

In other news, one of our teachers found out that a student of hers had Corona (this is all hearsay). So, there is a teacher and a student group that may have been exposed. Yeserday, I had a meeting with this teacher, and we regularly see each other in the lunch room. Hypocondria, here I come.

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Diary of an Academic in a Pandemic. Tuesday morning.

Overnight, the university decided that anybody that wants to go to on-line teaching can do so.  This is good, because it gives us some choices. When the line was “business as usual” we couldn’t really break rank. (Ok, so some departments did go out early about potentially prepping for on-line, which I think was very good. This switch does take time and a lot of mental energy).

My co-teacher was preparing to lecture via zoom or something similar, because he was not feeling well. Today he has decided to cancel entirely.

I’m suffering from the “what if I threw an online seminar and nobody came” syndrome. Also, how the hell is this going to work? And also a bit of “I don’t want to do this, can’t we all go home and hibernate until it is all over?”

We will have our crisis meeting soon. I’m learning more functionality from Canvas. I wish I had immediate people to discuss my plans with, whether they were reasonable or out in the left field (can I really ask my students to put together small filmed presentations, without any demand of quality, just because my 19 year old daughter has done that effortlessly since she was 14?)

I am also torn with all the other things that are supposed to be done if everything should function well, and an inability to prioritize right now. How important is the ethics committee? Do we have to have a list of top potential doctoral candidates this week, or can we wait a couple of more weeks (and I’m the deciding body here). How half-assed can my new course really be, considering that there is only doctoral students, and they are clever and self-going.  And, what else important am I now forgetting?

I did yoga yesterday. My gym has decided to close all the halls, but those trainers that care to have taken to giving outdoors sessions. I prefer the “Work out doors” anyway, so the past 3 days, I have exercised every day.

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Diary of an academic during a pandemic end of the day, the first day.

It is still in flux. I did a little bit more learning Canvas, and set up the work that the students need to do to get credit. We are emptier than usual.

I feel like in the near future there is a wall beyond which I can’t see, and the wall is like, maybe tomorrow, maybe Friday. I hate not having a sense of direction and what I can plan for the future – and I’m not in any way a good planner. It is just that I don’t know. I can’t prepare.

I have all this work to do, which now has increased because I need to do it in a way I’m not familiar with. And, everything can be canceled within the week.

I’m not sure my online version of the course will work. I don’t know what to do instead.

The workshop I rearranged my class-schedule for has been canceled, as I expected (travel restrictions).

It is now 3 in the afternoon, when I usually hit a low point, and the best is to not try to push myself into something taxing. I may just start looking over the ethics applications that I’m supposed to have reviewed before the 24th, and then I’ll go home, and maybe do some outdoors yoga.

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DoAiaP Post 2. Catching up

We have our hindsight problem, and come to think about it, it isn’t 20/20 but suffers from serious tunnel vision when you only see what worked or that which failed catastrophically.

Looking ahead feels like staring into the darkness at the end of Santa Monica Pier. Or possibly being in the darkness of a cave. I think it is important then to have a record as things happen, because memory will not serve us that well.

And, now in hindsight – to get it out of the way – the Corona virus has been a worry, but my main worry is always whether my kids are at risk. Seems like they would probably feel bad for a bit and then recover, so that is a relief.

My daughter has a trip planned for Korea in late June. By June I think we have more clarity in how to behave with that one, and June is still a bit away.

Still, she is the one that has been the most impacted so far. They were planning on a trip to Montpellier right about now or next week. This is a school they have had exchanges with for years. We have had two students staying with us. My daughter has been visiting on her own last summer. During this trip there would also have been students from all over the world. She said she had looked forward to this since the first year in high-school. Now this is all canceled, and she is a bit disappointed. She loves traveling.

Last Monday, on the 9th, I was in a meeting with the other directors of studies of doctoral programmes in Sweden. Up in Stockholm. My main concern then was actually my old mother who is now in a dementia home after dad died. She is well taken care of, but doesn’t feel well, and takes to calling my sister over and over again. This is still a concern (but she is staying there, no moving old people in the times of corona virus).

On the 10th I introduced my students to the second section, and mentioned that I would keep them updated on corona issues, as a bit of an aside, but for now it was business as usual

Graduate school – which is actually the name of a collection of masters programs within social sciences – had been a bit more proactive and promised support for those that wanted to move their courses on-line. This includes my experimental methods course. I decided to move it to zoom. After I got home from Stockholm? It is already becoming a blur. With only 9 students spread over 3 campuses, all at the doctoral level, I thought this would work, and I started working on putting together more material that could be more easily be used long distance.

That Thursday we were supposed to be in a risk calculation meeting. But when we got there, things had already heated up more, so we started discussing what we needed to do in case of a potential shut down.

We have professional programs – educating clinical psychologists and psychotherapists, and their education is filled with hands-on crucial training, sometimes involving clients, and thus involving secrecy, and going on-line is just not an option both for quality and timing. For other undergrad progams, our international masters and the doctoral students, things may not be so dependent on face to face meetings. I inventoried the doctoral students. For some of them there will be problems with data-collection as they are working with schools, businesses and clients. For others, there is just business as usual.

We really are going through a transient at the moment. Day to day there are wildly fluctuating ideas, and no clear direction/decision for long term is in place. This, in itself, is stressful. Should I plan to move online, or should I plan to keep the classes. Do I have to plan for both? Can I really cope with that? What about all the other things I need to do that is also part of my job? How do we communicate with everyone?

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Diary of an academic in a pandemic. Post 1

I had told the student who would have traveled 2-3 hours to be in my doctoral course that I didn’t do anything on-line at this time, but that lectures were optional. Last week I e-mailed all of them, even the ones in my department, that we are moving to Zoom – provided Zoom can deal with the onslaught of sudden on-line courses. (Last I heard it was struggling, and the parts from China are expected in 4 weeks).

This Saturday I went through some of the tutorials for Canvas on how to move teaching on-line. I’m very happy that the Canvas Support team here has put together a special series of tutorials for doing this, because I was despairing at the thought of wading through irrelevant clips on how to grade, or create groups, or what have you. This made me feel like I at least have some training wheels.

I’m starting seminars on Wednesday for my campus-course. I wrote instructions on Friday, from the perspective of doing it in basically chat threads, with them uploading some small film clips, and having some discussions that way. We will see where we will go.

Before going through the tutorials, it felt like I was embarking on a trek up Mount Everest – Exhausting, treatcherous, and no guarantee of reaching the summing (or coming back down). Now it feels more doable, though I’m sure it will be very muddling.

My original plan had been that I spend the next couple of weeks putting the final touches on my course on experimental method, which I am giving for the first time. The marketing psychology course is stable since a decade, so I was simply expecting to come in once a week to hold seminars.

Now I have to prep that one, and be anxious about how it will work, at the same time as I have to prep the other one so it will be in reasonable shape. Plus, I’m part of the crisis team for the deparment as I’m the director of studies for the research programme. Which also means I have to worry about the doctoral students and in what way this will hold them back, and can other things be done for them? Oh, and, yes, we have the admittance of new doctoral students, I’m on the ethics committee that meets in a week, and I’m section editor for a paper. I don’t have time for a virus!

The Swedish policy is to not close things down in the country. You can’t really travel – both Norway and Denmark have closed their borders, and we have long since said to restrict travel abroad. This is listening to those experts who work on epidemics.

Humans in general seem to just have two attractor points: “Screw it I don’t believe it”, or “run away run away run away” which should be modeled by someone who know agent based modeling.

The government have removed the one day-no-pay day for the sick-insurance to remove the temptation to work through minor sniffles, and we don’t need to have a doctors note for somewhat longer time. Really good way to tip the risk/reward calculations that humans always do. The schools (I have teenagers) are open, but allow distance learning for those that are sick (who have strictly been told to stay home). They have evidently not read their behavioral economics, though, because they are still threatening with lengthening the school year so they can reach the stated goals due to shut down. Remove the threat!

I don’t know what is ahead, but this has rapidly taken over all the thinking.

And, really, we should have a broad study about how academics are coping with massively moving on-line poorly (or not at all) and what it does with stress and performance, but I think we may be too overwhelmed already to design that one well.

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