RIP #2: Clark and Watson (1995)

(Original posted July 31, 2023)

As an early graduate student, most (perhaps all) of my research involved mapping some type of in-lab behavior (responding to cognitive probes, movement behavior, etc.) to self-report questionnaires of individual differences. I did studies on the Big Five, emotion regulation, aggression, sexuality… you name it. And for all of these domains, I used “off-the-shelf” questionnaires that had been published by other researchers. I thought “hey, if they’re peer-reviewed, well-validated, and everyone else uses them… they must be pretty good measurement tools!”

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Oh Coney Dogs, My Coney Dogs

Anthony Bourdain regularly observed that virtually all cultures have their own spin on “meat in tube form” — hot dogs, all kinds of sausages, bratwurst, and so on — all cherished for their deliciousness. Today, let’s celebrate one particular variation: the beloved hot dog. It’s now officially summertime, after all — peak hot dog season.

I firmly believe that there’s no wrong way to enjoy a hot dog. Across the U.S., countless regional variations add their own twist to toppings, styles, and even buns, from the famous Chicago-style dogs to the lesser-known Washington D.C. half-smoke, and everything in between. Each style has its fans, and rightfully so. After all, if they weren’t delightful, they wouldn’t be so popular. Rather than joining in on the cacophonous online bickering over the “correct” way to enjoy a hot dog, let’s just appreciate each variation for its own awesomeness, shall we?

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RIP #1: The Beginning

(Originally Posted on July 17, 2023)

Hey gang! I’d like to bring to life a fuzzy thought that has been bouncing around my head for the past few weeks — infusing the lab with the perspectives/lessons that I’ve internalized over the years working in the disciplines of psychology (and the social sciences more broadly), the humanities, and being a frequent dabbler in the dark arts of computational methods.

That is to say: every now and again — with no regular schedule or specific goals in mind — I’m going to share what I will call “Ryan’s Important Papers” or “RIPs”. Wow, the acronyms write themselves.

I’ll admit — 80% of the time, when someone sends a paper my way, I tell them “Wow, looks interesting! I look forward to reading it!” … and then I don’t read it. I’m a busy guy. We’re all busy, and nobody likes getting “vaguely interesting” papers dropped on their desk — that just feels like homework.

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Ryan’s Important Papers (RIPs) — A Prelude

There’s the old adage of “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I don’t think that that’s true, exactly, but I appreciate the spirit of the idea.

I love science, and I love talking about science. I’m a scientist by day, then I go home and do more science just for fun. It’s a great gig, and what you might expect is that I have a great enthusiasm for sharing the things that find interesting, exciting, or rich with meaning. And you’d be right.

I joined the HLAB in the Summer of 2023 — it’s a stellar group of very, very sharp computer scientists and CS Ph.D. students working on questions of the human condition by using state-of-the-art computational methods. It’s an intellectually diverse group of folks — people with backgrounds in Physics, Computer Science, Psychology, Public Health, and on and on — all working on incredibly fascinating questions across the spectrum of psychological research.

Having joined the lab, I wanted to unpack my suitcase that was filled with decades of rather formal psychological training. My mind has been filled with papers, findings, theories, and ideas throughout my personal, professional, and academic life, which has been deeply enriching. However, it’s not enough to simply hold onto these ideas and cherish them like collectible figurines, taking them out to selfishly appreciate them by myself.

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The Disgust Response

When it comes to food, I don’t use the word “disgusting” very much. People like what they like — you might personally dislike something, but like… that doesn’t mean that it’s objectively gross or weird. It just isn’t your preference.

But there was one comestible that I used to think was absolutely vile: honey mustard sauce. You know those little rectangular cup things that sometimes come with things like chicken nuggets? Painfully gross. I had a friend in high school who would take those little packets and spread honey mustard sauce all over his pepperoni pizza. He had a lot of problems in life, and honey mustard was but one of them. Rest in peace, Chad Weaver, you honey mustard loving freak.

I hated, hated, hated honey mustard. People would always give that stock line of “oh, you just haven’t had good honey mustard sauce, that’s why you don’t like it!” And then they would make honey mustard sauce, and I’d taste it, and I’d be like “yeeeeaaahhh, I don’t like this either. Sorry.”

Then, I met an intelligent, lovely, and talented person, who I ended up marrying a few years later. She was a vegan and a complete whiz in the kitchen. After about a year of dating, she told me that she wanted to make one of her favorite dishes for me: honey mustard tofu. Her mother’s honey mustard sauce recipe, but made vegan (depending on your stance on whether honey is, itself, vegan).

The words rang in my ears. “Honey… mustard… toooooffffuuuuuu.”

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“Comedy is a very powerful component of life. It has the most to say about the human condition because if you laugh you can get by. You can struggle when things are bad if you have a sense of humor. Laughter is a protest scream against death, against the long goodbye.”

Mel Brooks, All About Me: My Remarkable Life in Show Business

The Bedrock of Human Experience

“Although these points of view do reflect the prevailing empirical climate of our times, they fail to express more than a small part of the value of personal documents for social science. Properly used, such documents anchor a discipline in the bedrock of human experience, make the most of the predilective value of the single case in the normal process of human thought, exploit the idiographic principles of reasoning, and aid in meeting (more adequately than can unaided actuarial methods of work) the three critical tests of science: understanding, prediction, and control.”

Allport, G. W. (1942). The use of personal documents in psychological science. Social Science Research Council.

On Being a Peer Reviewer, and on Being a Semi-sentient Potato-like Creature from the 6th Dimension

In science, we virtually never deal in absolutes. Especially in Psychology and the social sciences, we are exceedingly careful to acknowledge that virtually every aspect of the mind, mental life, and the human condition is insanely multi-determined, and there is almost never a one-to-one correspondence between Thing A and Thing B. With that context, I choose my next statement carefully.

A bad peer reviewer is always a bad scientist.

There, I said it. In scientific publishing, there are numerous clichés and tropes about how we “hate” bad reviewers, how “Reviewer 2” is always making unrealistic demands that no sane scholar would ever request, and on, and on, and on. These tropes are often more memetic than anything — cultural in-jokes that serve as idle, mindless, water-cooler chitchat.

But, holy smokes, I really mean it: a bad peer reviewer is always a bad scientist. It means that you’re missing the entire point of scientific inquiry, scholarship, and just good, old-fashioned critical thinking. Science is a really special pursuit, dedicated to collective forward progress and knowledge building for humanity. I place special emphasis on collective here — we’re all in this together, folks. And, ultimately, the logical conclusion here is that if you’re a bad reviewer, you’re actually undermining science itself.

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All Aboard the Gravy Train

This recipe may seem way less exciting than the vegan pumpkin pie recipe. Like… it’s just gravy, right? Even a so-so gravy is still gravy. Gravy is a sidekick that nobody pays attention to. Gravy, my friends, is never the star. Heck, if the meal is done nicely, you might even skip the gravy altogether. Gravy… who cares?!

You’d be totally justified in thinking all of these things. But you’d be wrong.

Let’s travel back in time to the very same “Ryan’s first vegan Thanksgiving.” I had told you all that I pulled down recipes for lots of the staples — vegan stuffing, vegan roast, etc. etc. One of those recipes was for vegan gravy. I made this recipe the very first year, and it turned out quite nicely. “Actually,” I thought, “…this is pretty damn good. I’m going to just keep using that.”

No big deal, right? A pretty good gravy — great. We’re all very happy for you, Ryan. Why, sweet mercy, why are you wasting our time with this?

Let me just say this: apparently, this is no ordinary gravy. Over the years, I’ve had multiple Thanksgiving guests from all over the world. Colleagues from England. Dear friends from Italy. Fellow scientists from China. Family members, acquaintances, and even a few people that I just plain don’t like. Across all of these people, vegan or otherwise, one pattern has emerged: there’s always someone who stops eating and says “What the… where the hell did you get this gravy? This is great!” And, like many of you, I used to consistently respond with “Oh, yeah, it’s just gravy, you know. Homemade, but… it’s just gravy.”

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Pumpkin Pie, Veganized

Around 20 years ago, a confluence of ideas and events led me to the conclusion that I should go vegan. I quietly conveyed this to my younger brother while we were standing in my kitchen, and he paused. He put his hand on my shoulder, gave me a deeply concerned look, and said “Oh, no, dude. You really don’t want to be one of… you know… those people.” But my mind was made up. And thus, my interesting in cooking launched — this was a long time ago, and if you wanted to be vegan in the Midwest, that meant that you were going to have to seriously learn how to make your own food.

A few months later, it was Thanksgiving time. I was still learning how to cook and bake halfway edible meals, and I wanted to approach a big Thanksgiving feast with enthusiasm — if you’re going to do the whole “meat-free” thing, Thanksgiving is the time to really prove to yourself that you can do it. So, I pulled together a bunch of recipes from various cookbooks and corners of the internet, putting together a menu of all the usual faves: garlicky mashed potatoes, a savory stuffing, some depressing, off-the-shelf substitute that is supposed to fill that turkey-leg-shaped void that you know you’re going to miss.

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