Finger-ratio curiosity: A satisfying answer!

So, I posted some curiosities here on the blog. And, got one of them satisfied! Within hours of wondering about how robust the digit-ratio marker is for exposure to androgen in the womb, Ruben Arslan tweeted a link to this meta-analysis by Martin Voracek. Conclusion: Not very.

The meta-analysis collects studies that has compared repeat polymorphism for two androgen receptor genes with digit ratio. I wasn’t sure this was getting to the point first. I guess I’m a bit wary after all those SNP searches for genes for traits that we know are heritable (intelligence, personality) which have turned up no results. But, I think I understand that this is different, more clearly established, and why finding no relationship is actually very suggestive that the finger-ratio is not a useful maker for the type of research I might be interested in.

Why would it be interesting with a marker such as the 2D:4D digit ratio? From what I understand, it is well established that exposure to androgens during gestation has enduring organizational effects on the mind. Exposure will alter the individual in a way that is permanent (for example, making them men, or not making them men as in those xy individuals who do not have androgen receptors). How well established this is, I don’t know. Again, I have to take researchers word for it (both Voracek, and Marc Breedlove from an earlier review). Mostly, I think, it has been established through animal studies, and studies of unusual humans, such as those xy females. Of course, it would be very interesting to study, in more detail, how androgen exposure may influence human traits in more detail.

But, as Voracek points out, testing this directly by checking for actual prenatal androgen exposure in humans is not usually feasible for many reasons. For one, amniocentesis is not risk free. I doubt anybody would allow this simply for research purposes. And, even if it was, it would be a rather massive undertaking to measure and follow a large enough sample of kids to see how this would work. But, if there could be a fairly reliable, non-invasive, and easily measured marker for androgen exposure, one could use it as proxy in research. Which is exactly what they have done for the 2D:4D marker.

Breedlove (who, overall, is a lot more convinced by evidence that it is useful) is careful to mention that the ratio does not have discriminant value. That is, you can’t look at someone’s fingers and determine from the ratio alone whether they are male or female, gay or straight, autistic or not, nice to their partner or not. (Like I mentioned in my other post, both my daughter and MIL have longer 4D than 2D – to the degree that my daughter once mentioned to me that the ring-finger was longer than the index finger, and I mentioned that this really varied with people in interesting ways). What it can be used for, according to Breedlove, is doing research on groups.

I should understand this, being the kind of researcher that I am. But, as Breedlove also notes, in the daily press and popular accounts, it is always talked about as something discriminant. Look at their hands, what does it say about them. (After all, this is something we would like to have. Some marker we can notice to make judgments about others without having to take the risk of getting to know them closer).

Still, even if it is not a marker you can use to directly say something about an individual, it could potentially be useful for research about how certain individual differences (possibly related to what we think of as masculinity) may arise from prenatal androgen exposure.

If it is a reliable marker, that is.

In 2003, Manning et al published a small study (50 people) that suggested that the length of a particular region that codes for Androgen Receptors is positively correlated with finger ratio (actually, it looks like it was positively correlated with the ratio on the right hand, and also with the difference between the ratios of the two hands). This was taken as evidence that, yes indeed, finger ratio is a marker for androgen exposure in the womb.

I think the chain goes somewhat like this. Cells will not respond to androgens if they don’t have receptors that bind to the androgens and then allow for changes to take place. (XY women lack androgen receptors). The genes coding for androgen receptors are evolutionarily old, and fairly well preserved across species. There are two different coding sites – the CAG and the GGC. Most of the comparison with finger-ratio has been done on the CAG site. Moreover, these are “repeat polymorphic” sites. That is, the snippet that codes for the receptor (or part of the receptor) comes in multiple copies. The measured ranges are 7-37 or 9-41 repeats. Moreover, the repeats are active. They code for the receptor. The effect is linear: the more repeats, the more receptors. And, the idea then is, the more receptors, the more sensitive to prenatal androgen. This can all be established without measuring fingers (and I assume it has). The next step to establish is that, indeed, the finger-ratios are related to the length of the coding-sites.

Length of coding ->prenatal androgen exposure -> 2D:4D finger ratios

And it doesn’t.

The finger measures are the Right hand 2D:4D, the Left hand 2D:4D and then the difference in ratio between the right hand and left hand.

For the 18 CAG studies (2909 individuals overall), the correlation for right hand is .005 [-,032 to .042]. for 16 (2803 individuals) looking at the left hand, r is -.003 [-.041 to .034]. Finally, for the 16 (2796 individuals) looking at the difference r is .013 [-.024 to .051].

It doesn’t look much different for the 5 studies (1497 individuals) that look at the GGC site: Right hand: r = .045 [-.006 to .095]; left hand r = .034 [-.017 to .085] and difference r= .019 [-.032 to .070].

The samples are from all over the world: UK, USA, Spain, Australia, China, Belgium, Slovakia, Tanzania. They look at men and women of different ages, as well as a couple of samples of male-to-female transsexuals.

It really doesn’t look convincing at all.

In the 4.6 section of the paper, Voracek considers where there may be alternative reasons that 2D:4D ratios would be indexing prenatal androgen exposure, even if the genes coding for receptors are not correlated with finger-length. The paths may be rather complex with unknown feedback-loops. (Could very well happen, but it is not clear how). But, as it stands now, I see no clear reason to believe that the ratio is related to prenatal androgen exposure.

Sure, there could still be interesting correlates between finger-ratios and behaviors related to masculinization, but this really weakens the explanatory power of this measure. I don’t think I would want to use it for explaining any traits in humans at this point.

Thank you Ruben, for satisfying my curiosity!

Voracek, Mark, (2014). No effects of androgen receptor gene CAG and GGC repeat polymorphism on digit ratio (2D:4D): a comprehensive meta-analysis and critical evaluation of research. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 430-437.

Breedlove, S. Marc, (2010). Minireview: Organizational hypothesis: Instances of the Fingerpost. Endocrinology, 151, 4116-4122.

February 18 edit: An artist friend made a comment that made me realize i need to explain 2D:4D a bit better. You can measure your index finger and your ring finger, and check which is the longest. An easy summary is to take the ratio of the lengths, so you divide length of index finger with the length of the ring finger. There are lots of sites about this, but I think this one was illustrative enough.

I checked my boys hands, they look like mine with longer index fingers. My daughter has a longer ring finger. I know it doesn’t have discriminant validity, but I still thought it was illustrative about how non-discriminant it is. They all seem like fairly normal boys and girls, without being extreme.

Richard Harper told me he has read something about it being a short window where there is a tug-of-war thing between estrogen and testosterone – I think that was brought up in the Voracek article towards the end, suggesting paths to go. But, now I’m thinking that the relative length of the digits have multiple causes, and thus are hopelessly confounded. The reverse-inference thing again.

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Things I’m curious about: Finger ratio, and Social Priming

How robust is really that finger-ratio index for testosterone exposure in the womb? I have a daughter (and a mother in law) with very long ring-fingers. Mine are more even (with a tilt towards index finger being longer), there was some study on Finnish individuals (finger-ratio and homosexuality) where the ratio went the other way. Right now there is, in the daily press, something about ratio in men saying something about how they will treat women. But, interestingly enough, even in that article (in one of the more tabloidy of our papers), there was a mention that the original work that established the connection was in question, as it could not be replicated.

Are we in tooth-fairy science land here? I’d like someone to trace this, and look at the robustness of the original finding.

Wyer, Srull and Donald. I blogged about that original study a while ago, and we all noted that this seems like a one-shot (at the outset, two-shot) study with 8 participants in each cell. I looked in PsycINFO, and the paper has been cited 600 times in the data-base. I’d like to trace the work forward. Kind of a genealogy of this study, and see what others found, and how critical it was of the original, and in what way it has replicated conceptually or other. Like tracing Ghenghis Kahns y-chromosome.

Some of this comes from the ideas implanted in me by David Hull, where he looks as research as a process, with genealogies of questions.

Would I have time to do this? I don’t know, but I think it would be interesting. May also trace some of the Chinese-whisper effect of findings, due to us not possibly having enough time to carefully scrutinize all the literature that came before.

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Donald: Srull and Wyer’s ambiguously hostile character – a reading.

In my Advanced Social Psychology class, the presenting student selected Srull & Wyer’s ”The role of category accessibility in the interpretation of information about persons: Some determinants and implications” as his classic empirical paper. That is the “Donald” paper, ancestor of much social priming research.

It also became the paper that we pick apart so that we can better understand and critique research. As it is early in the semester (my first seminar, their second), the picking apart ended up being me asking questions from the presenting student, and then writing it down on the white board. (I have yet to master proper disposition of the board. I managed to fill it up just by the first set of conditions).

The Donald paper is legendary. Well worth actually acquainting oneself with. For example, turns out there were two hostile (and two kind) vignettes. They publish one in full. But, I digress.

We actually focused mostly on method. What exactly did they do?

The idea is that if you prime a trait concept, like being hostile, you are more likely to use this primed concept to interpret described behaviors later. This is something we all know more or less.

To prime, they used the now ubiquitous sentence unscrambling task which evidently was first created by Cotin in 1969. Not as an independent variable it seems (just looking at the title, now how diligent do you think I would be for a mere blog post?) but as a measure of hostility. Each sentence consisted of four words such as” “leg break arm his” or “her found knew I”. Two different 3-word sentences can be created out of each set. Notably, for the hostile one, both will be hostile, and for the neutral ones, both will be neutral.

The sentence task was presented in four different conditions. All conditions contained hostile sentences, but in different proportions. For two conditions, 20% were hostile words, for two 80%. In addition, participants were given either 60 sentences to unscramble, or 30 sentences to unscramble. So, participants unscrambled either 6, 12, 24 or 48 Hostile sentences; the 12 and 48 belonging to much longer tasks. Got that?

The idea here is that the more a concept is primed, the more likely it is to be used when interpreting ambiguous behavior.

But, as they say, that’s not all! Priming is likely to fade over time, in part because other types of concepts get brought to mind replacing the earlier primes. Thus, they also tested 3 types of delay. Participants did either read about, and rate Donald immediately after priming, 1 hour later, or 24 hours later.

That is a 4 x 3 between subjects single measure study. Total number of subjects: 96. Eight participants in each cell. (Given the F stat showing df’s of 1,72, I suspect some data may have been lost).

Eight participants in each cell!

And, I can’t make out if each participant read only one of the vignettes or both. (There were evidently two other tasks, but they were not relevant for the results presented in the paper, as they say).

What were the measures?

Well, first participants were asked to form an impression of Donald, and then rate him along a series of trait dimensions on a scale from 0 to 10 (not at all to extremely). Six of them could be considered related to hostility: hostile, unfriendly, dislikable, kind, considerate and thoughtful. (I leave it to the reader to work out which ones were reverse-scored ;),) six were evaluative, but not related to hostility: boring, selfish, narrow-minded, dependable, interesting, intelligent.

The second measure was to rate a series of individual behaviors on perceived hostility, again on a 0-10 scale. These were behaviors that had been collected and rated earlier, which had also been used as the basis for the vignettes. Five clearly were hostile, ten ambiguous, and five not hostile, as per the pre-test.

This is kind of nice. They do spend a lot of time working out their materials, and then also test what happens after priming.

Finally the participants are asked to do a co-occurrence rating. Per the description participants are given a sentence that reads “ If a person is hostile, how likely is it that he is…..?” the blank is filled in by one of 11 other traits, which I now presume come from the first measure. I also assume that it is always “hostile and…” as rating co-occurrence between all of them would lead to a combinatorial explosion. *

This is about how far we came in analyzing the paper. We did not go into the statistics this time. But, as I look over it, I’m struck by the lack of standard deviations in the reporting.

The results do show interesting orderings: the more hostile sentences the participant unscrambled, the more hostile (and less non-hostile) they thought he was. This also fades over time. Interestingly, the pattern is similar for the evaluative but not-related traits.

The behavioral ratings seem affected in similar ways, although the spread is the largest for the ambiguous behaviors. This is, of course, the famous finding. The spread is quite large – going from a mean rating of about 4, 5 to a rating of 9, depending on the number of hostile sentences in the unscrambling task when you do the test right after the priming.

They are suggesting that there is an interaction between trait type and delay, but none of the interactions are true cross-over interactions. The time-delays are not linear (0, 1 hr, 24 hr), so I don’t think much can be said about that.

They do nothing, that I can see (in my skimming) about the co-occurrence data. At least, nothing is plotted.

Experiment 2, the priming of kindness, seems to yield weaker data.

It is certainly interesting. Probably quite interesting in 1979 when it was published.

They do ask participants if they had realized that the priming task and the judgment task belonged together. Mostly they did not. In some instances people did, but seemed to guess. But, this is really more of a “connect the two” than an attempt to unconscious/unaware priming (which Tom Stafford beautifully critiques here). Perfectly fine, of course, and they also do not claim anything about things being unconscious, but more about not being aware that there was a possible connection.

I’m still struck by the low number of participants in each cell. When I did my sentence priming task, I had thirty participants in each, and had a hard time finding evidence for priming of the emotion concept.

I was also struck by the fact that hostility was primed in all conditions. I think it is fine titrating the amount of priming in this way, but that was also very different from what I was doing, where we were careful about not having too many priming sentences, in order to not hit them over the head with it. You are surely hit over the head by unscrambling 60 sentences, where, for 48 of them, you are forced to put together sentences involving arm or leg breaking or similar hostile acts.

Now I’m almost getting curious about tracing the tasks further, as the priming literature got subtler and wobblier.

*(12! would lead to 479001600 combinations, and I’m too lazy right now to work out whether it really would be 12! or a subset of it. But, you know, taking far longer time to do than any student would be willing to participate. 2 seconds per item, which would be on the quick side, would take roughly 30 years to do).

Srull, Thomas K. & Wyer, Robert S., (1979) The role of cateogry accessibility in the interpretation of information about persons: Some determinants and implications.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(10) 1660-1672.

Posted in Social Psychology, Writeups | Tagged | Leave a comment

Culture Clashes

The first thing I was asked to do for my job as a lecturer/assistant Professor at Lund University was to schedule my course.

This was in March, I was still doing my post-doc in South Bend, and the course was scheduled for November and December. I had never scheduled a class before. I was used to classes being centrally scheduled, published in a catalog, with times and locations for the lectures and section being the same throughout the entire semester.

Luckily, and I no longer recall how this happened, I was given the schedule for the prior year, and told I could use that as a pattern. Which I did. It looked quite different from what I was used to, with 3 hour lectures just about every day, some labs and sections. One of the people that I would teach with ended up talking to me on the phone, but I could not quite understand him. It is weird planning a course that you have never held in a country where you have never taught, but I did it.

Once I had moved here, more surprises came up. I did get a lot of help from one of my co-workers who had taught the class before, and who was a new hire just like me. He gave me the syllabus and some background information.

There would be just one exam, consisting of 9 questions, covering 12 introductory chapters. The questions were essay questions. At least that was how they had looked like before, and I figured I’d better follow that pattern. Other co-teachers kindly let me have their material for the laboratory sections when I asked. Mostly I was left to devise my course as best I could.

My first surprise was the demand for power-points, which annoyed me for multiple reasons. I did not want to spend time copying handouts, I had no easy way of putting them on the net at the time, and I really question the pedagogical value of giving people notes instead of asking them to take them.

Another surprise was the evaluation. They were done by the teachers, who created the forms, handed them out, and evidently also should tally them. On the day of evaluations I was lucky enough to find someone who had a form for it. I had just expected that it would work like in the US, where this is handled by the admins, and the teachers cannot look at them until grades are set.

The grades at the time had three levels, Pass with distinction, Pass, Fail. I got no particular instructions on how to set these or what was expected from grading, but I did have experience in creating and grading exams from the US – just different formats. I figured I’d set distinction at roughly 85%. That was lower than the A level I was used to in the US, but I figured that distinction should encompass both A and B, and that this was reasonable. I found out later that most set this at 75%, whenever they used some kind of quantification of the scoring, but that this was also something that was at the discretion of the teacher.

For sheer self-defense, wanting to make sure I could defend my grading, I created something of a Rubrik, where, for each question, I wrote down what I expected, and how many points I would give for it. For this first exam, each of the nine questions earned vastly different amounts of points, since I did this after I had written the questions, but at least I was sure I awarded the students the same amount of points for similar answers.

It turned out that a lot of them did not make the 50% points level, which is fairly strongly the level all teachers decide is the minimum for passing. I did have those that passed the 85% level though.

Once people got their papers back, a couple asked if they could do extra tasks to get a better grade. This is actually not allowed at all by law, but I didn’t know that. I just said no, in a kind of self-protective way.

A lot of things were different than what I was used to. I was handed students to supervise for final thesis, which I did, because, well, research and writing papers is something I know how to do. There came no other information with this task. Just advise them. Slowly I found out about students doing defense of their thesis, and particular requirement of writing, in excruciating detail, null results, rather than just writing down that it was not significant. Hmmm.

Several years in I realized there was a handbook, and all sorts of things on the net surrounding this, which nobody thought of giving me, and I never thought of looking for, and the advising seemed to more or less work, and nobody complained.

In fact, the first several years consisted of working to change my model of university teaching and research from the US one to the Swedish one. Like, for doctoral students, you are accepted at thesis level, and you have to have figured out more or less exactly what you are going to before you are even admitted. Would have been nice to know, before I failed at helping recruiting the student I wanted as my doctoral student (he landed at another university though).

I didn’t realize that exams are public records once they are given. Students have the right to access all the past exams. So, if you reuse the questions, the next batch will have practiced on those, and do a lot better. No possibility then to work out questions that are good assessment.

This was rather frustrating for me many times, because there were all these things that nobody bothered to tell me, and I didn’t know to ask, so I did a lot of mistakes, and violated a lot of assumptions.

So why did they not bother to tell me? Because they are selfish, thoughtless people, or incompetent, careless people? No, of course not.

You have to look at it from their point of view. My colleagues, who were wonderful and helpful when I asked them about things, have mostly been at Lund. They did their undergrad at Lund, they did their doctoral thesis at Lund. Now they teach at Lund. How you do assessments, and evaluations, and essays, and exams are deeply implicit in their knowledge. As much as I didn’t know to ask, they didn’t know I needed to be informed.

This is the beauty and the Achilles heel of a culture. So much becomes tacit knowledge (some people would feel insulted being explicitly told how to advise), which saves so much energy on trying to be explicit and clear and figuring things out, because everybody knows, and everybody does it this way, and there are no questions and it is wonderful.

Except for those who come in from the outside and don’t share these assumptions and then things can go so wrong.

No worries, though. I think I have done well for myself, and I’m contributing to the culture.

But, this becomes salient now, when Lund is working on becoming more international.

There’s always been exchange students, but now we have created an international masters, all taught in English. Also, because I don’t care whether I teach in English or Swedish, my new Evolutionary Psychology course is in English, so I get the exchange students at the bachelors level also.

The tacit assumptions are like underwater rocks, and you will dash yourself upon them.

For example, I had the Japanese student who did not turn up to my obligatory seminars, because he was struggling with the text and had not finished reading it. In Japan, he claimed, the teacher would have thrown him out of the seminar. For us, we would rather have you here, talking.

I also worry about how we do exams. I’m sure that for some of the exchange students it may take a couple of passes before they get how you answer exam questions right. Fortunately, in Sweden you can take your examinations again so if they miss it the first time, they have the opportunity to do better next time, and now they have an idea of what we look for. Unfortunately, if you don’t pass the exams the first two passes, and you go back to your home-land before the summer pass, we have no secure and feasible way to allow you to take the re-examination in your home-country. You just have to return to Sweden.

There is also this informal rule about lectures and exams. The examination is on the literature. We cover some of the literature in the lectures, but the lectures are not obligatory. But, if we go outside the literature in the lecture, we really shouldn’t examine that. Students should be able to sit home and just read the book and pass the exam. I have no idea how this informal rule came about.

And, then we have grades. Grading systems are really like monetary systems. They have their internal logic, and if you are in that system you know what they are worth. They also inflate, as most of us know.

But, across systems, it becomes much more difficult to understand what the grades signify, especially when they seem, on the surface, to be the same thing.

So, here we have now implemented a system of grading where the passing grades ranges from A to E. The non-passing grade is U for Underkänd which means that you did not pass. (And, now my addled brain imagines Gandalf and the Balrog).An E is a passing grade. The cut-off is the same as we used previously in our 3 level system. A C is a good grade. It hovers on the cusp between the old G and VG. A’s are hard to get, but you can. This is hard to convey to people who may think that C is not a good grade, or are used to getting A’s and B’s, but in another system. In addition, not everyone here agrees on whether we should give these kinds of grades, which makes it even harder, although god knows we spent a couple of years discussing them.

Then we have the fall semester ending in mid-January, and the lure of travel, and wish to go home, and the hope that missed obligatories or examinations can somehow be fixed or overlooked or re-taken from the other side of the planet, not realizing how much time and logistics this would take for teachers and administrative personnel, and how to secure that examinations are fair and not vulnerable to cheating.

I love teaching international students. I like mixes. But, it takes so much more time to do so because we do not have a foundation of shared assumptions that we can rest on. I spent so much time talking with various coordinators prior to the winter break in order to sort out some of the issues that I barely got any research done. And, they are questions that cannot be ignored. I am planning to teach these classes again, with a fair share of international students, and I need to be able to chart at least some of the shoals and flag them for the new batch of students, so I know that they know that I know and so on.

Posted in Cultural Learning, teaching | 1 Comment

2014 reflected in the rearview mirror.

Recency effect strikes. This fall, I felt tired, beleaguered, and inundated with chores, which makes me feel like nothing was accomplished. I got nothing done on my attempt to do a meta-analysis (dormant since may). I had things I wanted to blog about, but didn’t find the time and energy. I started to learn R, but stopped once the semester kicked in. I have yet to learn Bayesian statistics in even a rudimentary way.

Perhaps it is not a recency effect, but rather some kind of emotional overshadowing that makes me feel like I accomplished nothing. Perhaps I just need to spell out what was accomplished.

This is the first fall since 2012 that I haven’t had a brand new course to prep. Advanced theory and practice of science was run for the third time. Still needs some tweaking, but is a functioning course, and I had a good time with the new batch of international masters students.

My Evolutionary Psychology class came up for the second time. I spent time adjusting/rewriting the lectures from the first time, but I ended up having a group of students so fantastic, so enthusiastic, so interactive, I barely made it through half the lectures. They worked incredibly hard, and mostly aced materials that is rather complex (the main book really is a bit too difficult, although we have supplemented with a more intro level book).

The marketing psychology course is always fun, and it was fun again.

The two first courses are taught in English, and there are a lot of international students. This is in part very rewarding, but also in part very exhausting. I have an unfinished blog-post about the trials and tribulations of the cross-cultural. Just trying to deal with everybody’s expectations (which invariably vary), disseminating information about how we do it in Lund, which actually becomes information (as in, lodging in their brains so they know what to expect), and not just words words words and paper and other things to ignore.

I’m learning, but I think it will always take time. My next mission (already begun), making it abundantly clear to the University that this cool internationalization thing, as cool and wonderful as it is, can’t be done for free, or on the good will (and time) of the lecturers and the our administrative staff. (Maybe this is why I’m tired).

I signed up for the Many Labs 2. Which required an ethics review in Sweden. Which costs 5000 SEK to do. Which I asked for in one of our internal grants in February. And was granted in May. Phew.

Once I got back from Australia, I started slogging through our ethics application. Thankful for the pre-registration and the prepared Qualtrics forms. No, I don’t like doing this anymore than any of you do either. It took a long time, and then it had to be copied in 17 ex (paper). I hand delivered them, late September. Next meeting for the ethics committee was 11th November. (Next time, I will have to adjust my schedule better).

Meanwhile, my assistant, and an academic friend spent a lot of time translating the texts to Swedish. Oskar did the rough, Anna the fine (she is a professional) with all the issues about having the texts sound Swedish, but not deviate too much from the original meaning. I did rough back-translations.

Ethics had complaints about my consentform (the wording of it), so final approval was not in before end of November. I was now very stressed, because our deadline for collecting at least 80 participants was December 15.

We made it. Vast majority online (we got 4 persons in the lab – lab participation is always more difficult here, with no regular participant pool).

Phew. I guess everyone is having a break, because I have not heard from Rick. I think we deserve it.

I also had a couple of meetings with our cross-disciplinary/cross-national film group, which were just wonderful. Now comes next step – creating some work out of all our meetings.

Oh, yeah, my paper in “Music and the Moving Image” is now in Press (will appear this spring). It was more or less invited as it belonged to a workshop we had spring 2013, but peer-reviewed.

Come to think of it, the year began with me getting two co-authored papers accepted. I’m fairly low on the author list, as this was work done by my one and only doctoral student, so he is first author.

Actually, the spring was much less exhausting than fall, now that I’m going back through memory. Apart from not turning in that application to possibly get “excellent teacher” status (blinded by the reflection), I had an absolutely excellent social psychology course. We added a feature this time. Students have always been asked to do a short lecture on selected chapters, and to include a couple of original papers in that lecture. This time they specifically were asked to look at the methods and statistics. What did the effect size say? Was the sample size- big enough to answer the question they asked? Really really changed the quality of the discussions (they have always been fun).

And, yes, worked on learning to do meta-analyses. Not quite there yet, but it is coming together for that particular paper I want to do.

In the summer we took off for Australia for six weeks, which was absolutely excellent. I re-read David Hull’s science as a process. Just so interesting, especially in light of the kerfuffles surrounding reproducibility that happened during spring. I have intended to blog about it, but just could not find the time during the fall.

I have no resolutions for the next year, because I’m too old for that. (OK, maybe making sure I am nice). I hope to get the meta-analysis in shape, and to embark on a more ambitious one. I should really do the excellent teacher application. More work on the film stuff (Our Kuleshov paper got a revise and resubmit. Need to work on the new stuff).

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Minding our children – the aftermath.

Two things.

The aunt and uncle that killed the little girl are being prosecuted. The headmaster, who was relieved of duty because the powers that be claimed he had failed in his duty to alert the social services now exist in (roughly translated) a state of low level of consciousness following a single car accident which, not too carefully hidden, was a suicide attempt. Turned out he also was relieved of duty erroneously, as he had done what the law requires. He has a wife and children. It is unbelieveably tragic the whole thing.

The other, more closer to home – our school had hoped to maybe implement another version of the mindfulness theme, but this time, at least, they asked the parents beforehand. I responded, again,  that although I don’t mind mindfulness, you can’t have it as a theme in school, where children (and parents) cannot opt out of participating. Again, I don’t know what other parents said, but it is clear I’m not alone, as they decided to scrap it.

I’m sure kids can benefit from it. Let the parents decide, as an after school activity.

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Arts and Crafts in psychology – Partial Description of a practical masters level course.

Science is a craft. What is painstakingly, lovingly and carefully crafted are studies and experiments designed to test or capture something interesting. As any craft, it needs practice and honing, and the learning of a wealth of tricks and pragmatics that no text can ever cover. You need to do.

In all the courses I have designed (and they have allowed me to design a lot of courses) I’ve included practical elements. It could be the simple canned 2-hour experiment, which is not the most exciting thing in the world, but gets the students out of the books, and gives them a chance of experiencing how messy results in psychology really are. I often include a project section where the students, usually in small groups, pursue something practical.

Some years back, I was asked to co-design the introductory course for our new International Master’s Program. We already knew that half the new course would be on Theory/Philosophy of science, but we were unsure about what to do with the second part. During a discussion, one of the older lecturers mentioned a time where they had run day-long labs – 8 hour sessions where the students could become immersed in a laboratory project. This was the start of the ideas for the practice section of the introductory course.

I’m now running this course for the third time. So far, the students have enjoyed it (I haven’t gotten evaluations yet, but they were high even the first time)and there has been some evolution in how I handle the course.

It is divided into two parts. In the first part, we have 8 day-labs, and in the second they do a short project that ends in a poster presentation.

Day labs.

For the day-labs I recruited lecturers that are representative of the major research directions at our department. I want the students to be exposed to a broad variety of methods even if they have their heart set on a particular area and a particular methodology. As researchers we need to have some idea about the variety of ways to ask and answer questions. Since the implementation we have a Creativity lab, a personality lab which is focusing a great deal on being a data-detective, a Bayesian statistics lab, an ERP lab, and my two social psychology labs which I will go into in more detail. Our university has a good Industrial/Organizational department, so we have always had at least one day-lab focusing on these types of issues, but here the teachers have shifted. I also hope we will be able to once again have a developmental lab, and possibly to retain our Clinical lab, even if it is not possible to move to clinical psychology from non-clinical directly, the way the educations are set up here.

I, perhaps foolishly, decided to take on two day-labs. In one, participants get to program their own IAT. In the other – in the field – they get to go out and either observe or interfere with the public. Social cognition and the old, venerable tradition of field work.


Just about all the research I have ever done has been done on a computer, which, of course, means that I have programmed up a lot of experiments in different types of presentation software. In fact, the first software used was custom written in Pascal. Since then I have used DMDX (for its ability to record precise reaction times). I wouldn’t want to teach DMDX to students who do not have at least a little bit of computer programming back-ground. That turns out to be the vast and utter majority of my international masters, to my surprise. (I got my Cognitive Psychology degree during the hey-day of the computer metaphor of mind paradigm, so I have programmed in both Lisp and C++)

Our department has a license for e-prime, which, compared to DMDX is a docile and kind software, with both drag-and-drop and self-closing parentheses.

I spent a handful of days teaching myself how to use it prior to my first day-lab.

The first time you do anything is always a pilot and a learning experience for everybody. Here are a few of the take-homes.

  • There won’t be enough students with programming experience to take the lead, but this is not important.
  • Program in pairs, not in groups, because it is too inviting for social loafing, even in motivated students (the students themselves suggested this afterwards).
  • Don’t use pictures the first time you create an IAT. Too much time is spent on trying to figure out how to insert the pictures, and too little on figuring out how to create a functioning IAT. (This wouldn’t apply if the teacher is a very experienced e-prime programmer.).
  • You can learn to program your very own IAT from scratch in one day.

The past two times I have run this (and I run it in half class, so four repeats), the day has stabilized as follows:

I book our computer room, where there are enough computers for the students to work in pairs.

The first half hour or so, I lecture on background. First, the rationale for the lab:

  1. A lot of data is collected via computers. It is good to know how to create such programs so you can tailor them to your needs (and don’t need to engage others).
  2. A lot of times we read about some neat paradigm that we want to use. If it is described well enough, one can use the methods to re-create it.

I give them the Greenwald Banaji & Nosek 2003 paper where they compare different computations for the outcome, as that was the paper I used when I first programmed an IAT. Of course, I did that all by my lonesome, up hill in the snow both ways in DMDX (cue the violins).

I then tell them about the IAT: what is the rationale behind it, how is it structured and why (learning, fatigue, handedness, etc.). I got tired of using ethnic in-group and out-groups for my examples this time, so instead I used a comparison between chocolate lovers and frugivores. They get to do whatever comparison they want in their own program.

Next, we all go through the very nice tutorial that comes with e-prime. I sit by the teacher’s computer, projecting the programming onto the white-screen. I get to tell them about the importance of case, types of brackets, and frequent saving. The tutorial teaches them to do a one-block priming study. Simple, but still somewhat different from a single block of the IAT.

Once that is done, I let them loose. By now it is usually around 10 am, so they have the rest of the day.

So far, just about everybody has a functioning 7-block IAT by the end of the day. Usually several of the groups also get to test each other’s program. This time there was also a couple of groups that were done with functioning programs quite early – 2 pm, which means that there are 3 hours to go. I really do not want people to up and leave in the middle of the session. Fortunately, there is so much more one can learn once one has a functioning program (and I need to have that more clearly up my sleeve for the next time). Collecting the data is only half of the work. After that, one has to look at the output, extract the important data-points, and create the IAT score! Are you done with that? Work on either figuring out a proper counter-balancing, or how to add pictures to your IAT.

In the field.

When I first decided to do both Social Psychology day-labs, I started becoming a bit panicked about what to do for the second, and how much prep I might have to do. I’ve advised a lot of introductory students on their final short project, and a favorite of theirs is to do various field studies. That could be dropping things in front of single people or crowds to test dilution of responsibility; “stealing” ones bike when either well-dressed or poorly dressed (nobody interferes regardless), or one of my favorites where they left a bag in a public space and someone else later came to pick it up to test if anybody would interfere. (It matters if you are a man or a woman, if I recall right).

Field studies is a staple of Social psychology, and it has turned out this is a fun day. We structure it like this:

I start with a brief introduction where I summarize some of the seed-studies I give them to read beforehand (for inspiration), and summarize some of what earlier students have done. Then they are divided into 3 groups (5-6 people in each) and given until 10 to come up with a study, measures and all, that they can perform that day. I float around and help them shape their ideas, making sure they can do them that day, that they are not planning on doing something that can land them in trouble (a group had the idea of having a woman and a man pushing each other in order to check who intervened – I don’t think I would want to be responsible for that), and make sure they understand they can’t just wing it when it comes to the measures, but to have a very clear idea about what they are going to do. I give them very free hands otherwise.

By 10, we gather together and each group tells the others what they are planning to do. This allows for input from the other students that can help refine the work. Then, off they go to gather data.

I had them come back at 15 this time, but next time, I’ll have them return by 14. It turns out you can collect a lot of data in 4 hours’ time, and still have a nice, leisurely lunch.

When they get back, they summarize their data. I strictly forbid them to do any inferential statistics. The first time I ran this lab, students threw their data into a regression that they didn’t quite remember how to do, and I now have a very firm mindset that you do not get to do inferential stats that you don’t understand, especially not before you have looked at your descriptives. Besides, the exercise is not so much about testing hypothesis as it is about learning and experiencing what it means to do a field study.

This time I allotted 1 hour to do so, but I really think it is necessary to have more time than that.

Finally, each group presents their research and their data. I also ask this crucial question: Now that you have done it, what would you have done differently?

Something that frequently comes up is that it is difficult to keep track of a lot of data in the field. Also, that it is not always easy to pick the right spot or right way to do things the first time over – piloting is needed.

I wanted to share some of the favorite projects that they have done so far. (They are all fun, but some stick out).

The first time, we ended up talking about violating social norms, and how Swedes have this gigantic privacy bubbles. When you get on a bus, you always sit at free seats, as far as you possibly can. You only sit next to a stranger if there are no other options (but you are very polite about it). They decided to see what happens when you violate that norm – not on buses but in other public areas where there are a lot of options for sitting down, but you choose to sit down next to the sole person there.

There really was not much interaction at all. Quiet toleration, but evidently body language that indicated that something was amiss. The only person that talked to the experimenter was a homeless guy, who offered my student some Jägermeister.

Another year, one of the students came in dressed in a dinosaur suit. Their experiment was to approach people on the street and offer free hugs. They recorded approximate age, gender, and whether or not people accepted the hug . (Student was male, so it was dino-boy). In fact, more guys accepted hugs than the girls, although without good controls you don’t know what that means.

This year, a group was interesting in observing giving behavior, and observed some of the beggars that have entered Sweden most likely from Romania. They were particularly interested in when people are giving – on their way in or on their way out of the store, and what proportion of passers-by (categorized by approximate age and gender) were givers. In their “what would we have done different” discussion they brought up the issue with double-counting people going in or out of the store, and how to deal with that problem. It was clear from their observation that there are a reasonable percentage of people that give something – between 2 and 5%. Not always money, but there is giving. They, along with other groups, were also discussing how you make yourself inconspicuous, and whether people noticed that they were out recording data. Clearly there were those that were aware, and that actually asked the students if they were doing some kind of experiment – but this is Lund, and having students out and about doing funny things in public is not out of the ordinary.

But, I also mentioned that often people may not be aware at all. You are focused on your tasks, and the data-collector is as invisible as that proverbial gorilla. Which prompted the students to tell us that at one point they had been so focused on counting passers-by that they didn’t notice that the beggar had left.


The last two weeks of the course the students do a short project. I decided early on that it should be examined with a poster-session, as I didn’t want them to spend a lot of time on writing a paper (neither did I want to spend a lot of time grading papers, nor did I want the advisers spending time on giving feedback on papers either).

Turned out that it was very hard to stop them from doing papers. (They had to do a handout, and tried to turn that into a paper). To stop them from doing this, and to have them focus on the research process instead, I decided to use a portfolio method for grading. And, in true open science fashion, I have turned it into an exercise in what I call “Research Hygiene”. The focus is on keeping good track of the research process so that in the future when Jelte Wicherts write them about something, they can cheerfully share a properly labeled data-set and stimuli without any excuses.

I ask them to use the Open Science Framework to keep track of their project, and to share it with me. That is where their portfolio should reside.

I ask them to provide me with the following:

  • A pre-registration (to prevent HARKING). I tell them it is fine to say that it is exploratory, if it is.
  • Copies of their materials.
  • A Lab book/diary/protocol
  • A labeled data-set with code-book
  • Graphs and figures of their results.
  • A reflection – similar to what they do in “in the field”

They are still forbidden to do inferential statistics. (I may relent for correlations). In this exercise I don’t care if they get enough participants for proper power. The time is too short. It is nice if they show they are aware of it, though.

During the poster-session, I walk around and talk to all the presenters. They also get to peer-review a couple of the other participants posters. (I still have to update that peer-review sheet).

I use a handbook for poster presentations that were done internally by a former Admin. I also link them to Dr. Zen’s poster blog for inspiration and ideas.

We are in the middle of this session right now. It is the third time I’m running it, and only the second time with the Portfolio. Last time I had no idea how that would work out, but it turned out it worked just fine. There was one group that tried to write a paper (and submitted it in portfolio form, which meant that I had to open an awful lot of documents). This time, when I know it works, I think I feel more comfortable grading across the entire range. I expect that the grades will be high, as this really is a measure of conscientiousness.

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Minding our Children

Sometimes my life as a Lecturer/Researcher and life as a parent collide in, well, interesting ways. The situation I describe here has been resolved (as you will see). Originally I shared part of it on my “shielded from Search” blog, where I put up more personal and family oriented materials, because it was involving my kids, and the issue was ongoing. I wanted to share, but 140 characters simply wasn’t enough.
Discussions with Andrew Sabisky, Keith Laws, Matt Wall, Sophie Liljedahl, Rachel Maddux, Sam Mella and others on both twitter and facebook helped me gather my thoughts and I thank you.

I live in a nice sleepy town by the ocean opposite Denmark. It has beautiful old villas lining the water-front, and a carpet of yellow brick 70’s style houses neatly laid out like those puzzles with identical pieces, making sure that not too much of our rich soil gets spoiled. I live in a lovely “bostadsrättsförening”. We own our 4 room apartment on the second floor of one of the also yellow brick buildings, across the road (really a cul-de-sac) from our children’s school.

People live here. Then they go to work in either Lund or Malmö or even Helsingborg or Copenhagen, as lecturers, professors, medical doctors, researchers, upper management, business owners, police detectives, musicians, carpenters. The school sports so many Swedish accents that my children have not acquired the very distinct southern Sweden variant. (Skånska).

In short, it is a repository of the high-IQ striving middle class. We would all have done very well on aptitude tests, while valiantly refraining from eating that Marshmallow.

I like it. It feels like a safe place to have children.

My kids school is great. For a handful of years it was ranked number 1 in the country. It has slipped lately. The slip is mainly one of resources. A lot of families moved in, and the hiring of teachers and support has not kept up. But I really have no complaints about my children’s education.
Several times the school have brought in outside programs, programs designed for kids, but a little bit outside the standard curriculum. Last year one kid had a circus theme, where they got to learn a lot of tricks, like juggling, clowning, and even walking the tightrope (all of 30 cm above ground). Another year they brought in a team that specializes in teaching kids old traditional Swedish dances. This is great fun, and I’m glad they are doing it.
But, this time, for one of my kids, they planned on one of these outside themes that I’m a lot more concerned about.


Mind you, I have nothing against mindfulness per se. I’m no stranger to Woo. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. I spent 14 years in LA. I have tried on a few life-styles. On occasion, Woo has a point, and mindfulness seems to be potentially more potent than homeopathy.
It is more about how this was introduced.

My understanding is that the coach, who is a trained mindfulness coach (whatever that means) approached the school some time ago wanting to offer them a package of mindfulness training for kids. When her own son was having some issues in middle school, she had been looking for ways of helping him, and found that this did.

I’m sure it did. I have, since I heard of this, read some research that suggests that this could be beneficial, even in modern, secular scientific terms. It is grounded in Buddhist meditation, which has been around for a rather long time.

My mindfulness researching colleagues did share some research on it, and it looks like it can have some positive effect, at least on some kids. But, as one of my international clinical intervention researching colleague pointed out (and backed up with research), it is not uniformly benign for all individuals. In fact, for some it can be detrimental.

I looked over the overview of the curriculum they gave us. My take on it is that it is limited enough to most likely be harmless, and possibly even beneficial. I’m not worried about damage to our children’s sanity.

No, my issue is that they decided to bring in what is essentially a psychological intervention. They fully hoped that this training would alter the children’s ability to focus, to emotion regulate, to get to sleep, to pay attention, and that this would be long ranging changes. (For the better, of course. No concern that it might go in the other direction). They did so without consulting the parents. In fact, they simply assumed that parents would be fine with this, as evidenced by them asking that parents cooperate with this theme at home, and that parents complete assessment-questionnaires about their child. There was not a word about opting out. There was not a word about anonymity. In fact, they seem to have not considered the ethics at all.

Of course, I’m a lecturer in Psychology, I consider Ethics all the time. I would never, ever, ever be allowed to do this on 11 year old children without a) an ethics approval, b) Informed consent from the parents which would include c) assurance that participation is voluntary and that the child can opt out at any time without penalty and d) assurance that any measurements collected will be anonymous and that the identity of the children will be protected.

The assessment they asked us to complete – which is designed to measure burn-out – asked parents to rate their children on items like “my child complains about being tired” and “my child seems to be mentally tired” as well as “my child is active”. Potentially you could uncover clinical problems with this questionnaire; that is what it seems to be designed for. The reference reads: Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 6, 1999.
On top of the questionnaire is a place where you can put your name.

I wrote my child’s teachers about my concerns. I really would like them to re-think this

Now, I would be fine if they offered the children an opportunity for mindfulness training; optional, of course, and with more consideration about protecting the children’s anonymity. I might even consider letting my child do it. But, we need to be asked.

I have no idea how this will play out. I feel bad in many ways about having to bring this up. They seemed so genuinely excited about this, and I’m pissing on their parade.

Changing ones mind.

I didn’t get a direct response, but we did get a response in a mail to all parents. They canceled the mindfulness theme. Reading between the lines, it seems I was not the only one voicing my concerns. The questionnaires were collected and shredded, and we were assured that the woman who would have lead the theme is bound by confidentiality.

I was right that it originated at the top. It had all been planned and developed over a longer time period. Their thought was that it would be good and fun for the kids.

I’m glad they listened, and took action.

But, I have some general commentary here on schooling – some of it coming up in exchanges with Andrew Sabisky.

Fads and fixes
My first reaction as I was sitting in the meeting was “oh, yes, another fad that people are enthusiastic about that will Fix things”. As I age, I have seen those come and go. Team building, therapies, all sorts of stuff that will Make Things Better. Only they don’t. Better for some, perhaps. Irritating for others. I don’t think of it so much in school terms as in corporate terms for some reason. I think, perhaps, I didn’t experience so many of them as I was coming up through school.

When I read the review article on Mindfulness in school I found myself finding my usually deeply buried inner sociologist. Some of the arguments why teaching Mindfulness to children would be so great, is because school has become so stressful, and to handle this human made situation, one need to teach the victims students to be mindful, focus on the now, to stop their suffering.

Of course, changing school is easier said than done (and god knows, there are lots of people saying lots of things about what one ought to do about school – it seems even more popular than the urge to edit, back-seat driving, and Monday evening quarterbacking – or is that Monday morning?).
I don’t think obligatory mindfulness is the route to educational Nirvana.

Andrew sent me a blog discussing this also – the urge to add what is in essence psychological interventions to the curriculum in hope of, well, fairness? Equity? Mental Health? World peace?

The urge to back-seat social engineering also asks of teachers to do things I don’t think is humanly possible. There was a sad and awful case this spring, that made all the newspapers. An 8 year old girl was found dead at her home. She was living with relatives. The likelihood was that they killed her. Not long ago the head-master of that school was suspended for not having reported worries about her well-being to the social services. Evidently, teachers have an obligation to do so. Which means that apart from knowing how to teach, they also have to make the kind of judgment that you usually get specialized training to do. I can imagine there are instances where there is obvious worry and perhaps you need to do something about it, but a lot of times things are just that much more ambiguous, and starts becoming ridiculously meddly (like the time we were told that my son needed good winter shoes when he went to school a balmy September day in sandals).

What teachers are asked to do must be reasonable. But, the social engineering urge seems to have been present for a long time (at least in Sweden), as I routinely heard my teacher parents kvetch about it.

I have received e-mails about our kids all sorts of hours. Sunday at 9 pm, late Friday to mention a few. I know because I use my gmail for school contact rather than work-mail. I don’t check my work-mail after hours. I strictly deal with teaching communications during business hours. (Research is another thing, which is why I use both for that).

I know that teachers in Sweden are overworked and underpaid, aren’t we always? But, there also seems to be an expressed ethic, at least in some places, that teaching should be a calling rather than a job, with boundaries between pupils and teachers occasionally being so blurred I’m not sure it is healthy. Being dedicated is not bad, and I figure all teaching (like mine) involves times when you can’t do the work in 8 hours 5 hours a week, but that has to be temporary.
I think it is fine with teachers focusing on teaching (and whatever the management that is needed, which is always the case), and I figure often they are very good at it. I have no complaints. It is all that additional crap that is overloaded on the teachers.

Incidentally, my son asked me to buy him marshmallows for his Saturday candy treat. He gleefully tore into the bag, but a bit later he came to me and said, you know, after a while, they kind of get disgusting.

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A sad story about the students who plagiarized.

A long time ago, in a little country tucked under the polar circle, there were two students, lets call them Pat and Sam, who were doing a research project for a class. No matter what level, just say, far enough along that one ought to know better.

The project stretched over half a semester, culminating in a research report. Four days prior to deadline, I, who was the course leader but not the advisor, got e-mails from both Pat and Sam as well as their Advisor. Advisor said the project is not in good enough shape to turn in and has recommended waiting. (In this little Nordic country, there are always second, and third, and fourth, and fifth chances to turn things in. Only time you get restricted is if we stop giving the course). Pat and Sam did not want to wait. I, their intrepid course leader spoke to Advisor, who apprised me of the situation. But, as we both knew and agreed on, students can turn things in if they want to. We can only recommend against. Which I tell the students.

Come morning after deadline (Pat and Sam have dutifully turned in their paper), Advisor e-mails me and tells me that their paper looks awfully lot like the introduction of AdvisorAvisor’s paper that was given to Pat and Sam as inspiration. Said paper is cross-disciplinary and under review (but not yet accepted and not published).

At a rather cursory glance, I first compare a chunk of yellowed out area, several sentences long, which looks like a slightly re-written chunk from Advisors paper. A little bit different wording, but basically the same content. Also nothing like “as mentioned by Advisor in the not yet published paper” indicating where they had gotten their ideas. (The paper is listed in the references though).

As I scroll down, I start being able to predict what will come next in Pat & Sam’s paper from what is in Avisor’s paper. Pat and Sam also refers to research that belongs to the other cross-discipline, which really has very little to do with their actual project.

On top of this, there is an e-mail exchange between Advisor and Pat & Sam, prior to turning the paper in, where Advisor tells them that their intro now looks awfully close to Advisors intro, and to make sure that they do not plagiarize. Sure, Pat and Sam answers. We’ll fix that. We just want to know we are on the right track.

This little Nordic country has very stringent rules about suspected plagiarism. As soon as there is a suspicion, it should immediately be turned over to the disciplinary committee, for them to look it over, determine whether there really is plagiarism, and, if it is, determine what the consequences are. The consequences can be relatively mild (from a US perspective) – a couple of months where you are not allowed to be at the university, which means you may miss exams and obligatory moments.

We, as teachers, or even the chair, are not allowed to take any actions. In fact, we shouldn’t even speak much about it once the suspicion is there, but just turn it over. That is not very psychological in some ways. We did talk, but really, because both Adviser and I needed to get used to the idea, because we had never encountered this before. Also, to feel that we were backed up, and that we knew how to behave.

I found out, for example, that I’m not allowed to fail students on the grounds of plagiarism. That is from the top down, in the laws surrounding university education. That is because it is seen as so serious that it is immediately taken out of our hands.

I had some thoughts that it would be nice to have options to just fail and scold in some instances – letting the students know how much trouble they are in, but this time they will only get the fail, and a re-do.

But, I can see how arbitrary that can become. In some ways it is nice that it is taken out of our hands. That the law says we are Obligated to report this – we have no choice.

In this case, it is panic plagiarism, because why on earth would you plagiarize your adviser, especially after having been told that it looks too close. But, really, Pat and Sam are too far along to claim that they did not understand that what they were doing – borrowing a structure, and just slightly re-writing – is not permitted.

It feels sad. And, I put it here possibly as a kind of warning. I always mention that we have policies on academic misconduct, usually casting it as a protection for those who do the right thing (which it is), rather than as a “we’re on to you, you cheating bastards”, because I recall feeling slightly offended by that. One of my friends says that too. I also link in the site with the clear policy on what constitutes misconduct, and also another tutorial site on how to avoid plagiarizing. But, having the didactic story, the personal anecdote of the very sad story of Pat and Sam who thought, in a panic, they could borrow the structure of a paper to get a paper in, may be more effective – story telling animal that we are.


I wrote the above a long time ago, when it just happened, but didn’t want to post it close to the event. I’m a public person, and students can read my blog. I don’t want them to walk around wondering which ones of their class mates it might be, so I delayed until it could be none.

The fallout was that the disciplinary group deemed it plagiarism (phew). They got a warning, and the excuse for this was that they had studied abroad (in decidedly western countries), and thought that delaying turning things in would mean that they would get kicked out of the program. (Hmmmm – the repeated chances is not a secret – it is Swedish law – but I am telling the powers that be that evidently we have to repeat this over and over). And, they didn’t realize that they needed close contact with advisor. Hmmmmm. I’ve advised a lot of people, and they have been wonderfully good at scheduling themselves. In fact, the class-mates that I advised had no problem getting in contact with me. It is just kind of typical of the disciplinary group that the students get a lot of benefit of the doubt. But, I thought just having it recognized as plagiarism was a win. It was close to the outcome I wanted anyway – it is plagiarism, now, go rewrite.

But, one thing that gave me pause was that, evidently Pat and Sam thought what they had done was OK – that it wasn’t plagiarism.

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