08 April 2015

Autism Awareness month 2015

A reminder that April is Autism Awareness month.  I can't say very much first hand, but won't let that stop me from writing.  (As usual.)

Couple notes.  One is, though I'm not autistic, I'm also not dead center 'normal' (whatever that is).  (what, you've noticed?).  I deviate from 'normal' in some directions that point in the direction of autism.  Not enough to be on the autism spectrum myself, but enough that my sister found me useful as a guidepost towards her autistic students.  Partly because of this, I am irritated by people who say 'everybody in science is autistic'.  

Another note is, I know a number of autistic people, at various places along the spectrum.  That's the other reason I'm irritated by such blanket generalizations.  I wouldn't be surprised to find that some working scientists/engineers/... are indeed autistic.  But it's neither necessary nor sufficient, nor does it really honestly connect to either the scientists (who may or may not be autistic) or autistic people (who may or may not be scientists).

The thing to do is, er, be aware of autism.  See also my sister's (same one) blog.  Autistic people are people.  Start, and finish.  As with any people, you get farther with understanding them as themselves rather than trying to fit them in to preconceptions you may have.

03 April 2015

Citizen Science Versus Science

It's impolitic to say so, but I dislike the term 'Citizen Science'.  Scientists are supposed to be embracing 'Citizen Science' and all that.  But I can't get rid of the feeling that it's a patronizing term.  Nor can I ignore the echo that scientists are something other than citizens.  Lose-lose.

The patronizing, maybe you don't see it.  But consider some other realms of activity.  I am, for instance, a runner.  Not a 'citizen runner', just a runner.  I have been in races with some people who were anywhere from slow beginners to world record holders.  In one race, I ran a 10 km against the (then) current men's marathon world record holder (Khalid Khannouchi) and the soon-to-be women's marathon world record holder (Catherine Ndereba).  No, I'm not great.  That's the point.  They ran their 10k, in about 28 and 30 minutes, respectively.  And I ran mine in about 45 minutes.  They were much better than I.  But we all (about 3000 of us) ran the same race, by the same rules, and were called the same thing -- runners.

Or consider music.  At one point, I played clarinet.  With tons of practice, I was able to get reasonably good results and sat near the top of my section in high school.  We were pretty good for a high school band, so maybe I was pretty good clarinetist back then.  The thing is, I know what seriously good musicians were like -- my sisters were both talented, one exceedingly so.  They were oboist and flautist.  The flautist might have been able to turn professional successfully.  Chose not to.  But you notice, again, same terms -- clarinetist, oboist, flautist -- used for us nonprofessionals as for the professionals. 

My take is, let's all go do science.  Not citizen science, just science, period.  Same as music or sports or anything else, some of us make a living at it, and many more will do it for the love of it.  But we're all engaging in the same activity, so let's also call it by the same name.  Same as we do for any other activity.