The Onward March of Feminism into Traditionally Male-dominated Arenas

Traditionally, the stereotypical picture of a DIY-fuelled bank holiday is that of a over-worked male wearily working his way through a catalogue of home-improvement or repair tasks. However, new research challenges this idea, claiming 60 % of women are more probable to be carrying out residence enhancements than their spouses.

There are a variety of reasons for this escalating number of female DIY-ers. Firstly it would seem that 50 % of women assume they are actually much better at tasks around the home compared to their partners. This coupled with an ever-declining amount of males taking on Do-It-Yourself activities.

Other research in the United States has already concluded that the decrease in the number of males performing such activities is credited to fathers no longer passing down the necessary skills required and tech know-how now being regarded as more important than brute strength. A noteworthy factor is the current rise in female home ownership. Single women today represent more than one in five family units. But also the rise in power tool technology has obviated the need for the male-muscular physique. Today, female DIY-ers can rely on technology to achieve their goals and with the Internet readily supplying information on everything from the latest reviews on air compressors to how to build an outhouse, the playing field has been decidedly levelled when it comes to home-improvement know-how.

ADHD and the Metaphor of “Memory Retrieval”

In an article entitled “Looking Differently at ADHD,” Julie Hail Flory reframes so-called attention deficit in terms of “memory retrieval”, or the “failure of active maintenance.”

It happens to us all – you walk to the refrigerator, open the door, then stand there, unable to remember why you went to the kitchen in the first place.

You may call it a brain cramp, but in psychological terms, it’s a “failure of active maintenance,” and it could be a key to decoding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, according to Brad Gibson, a University of Notre Dame associate professor of psychology whose research looks at the link between memory and the disorder in adolescents.

But how compelling would this analysis be without recourse to technological metaphors? What is gained, scientifically speaking, by referring to simple forgetfulness by the cumbersome phrase, “failure of active maintenance”?

Further, if this simple, everyday example is an example of ADHD, then how is ADHD abnormal? How is ADHD a “disorder” if its “symptoms” are so universal? It would seem that institutions and authorities are essential to forming a distinction. (If you forget why you went to the fridge, it’s simple forgetfulness, but if you forget why you raised your hand in class, it’s a “condition”.)

Which is why the technological or computational metaphor is so important. It suggests that the information or knowledge is ‘in there somewhere’, only something is blocking its retrieval. The kind of memory described by Flory is quite literally a computer’s memory, even though, for the same author, what ultimately determines recollection are institutional standards of propriety, educational norms, and industrial metrics.

“What we’re finding is that kids with ADHD tend to retrieve more irrelevant information; so they’re coming up with things, but they’re not really relevant, they’re not the items from the list,” he says. “Right now the challenge is to come up with measures that can accurately assess their weaknesses.”

What, then, constitutes irrelevant information in a memory game? Or, to put it differently, could information considered irrelevant in this game be found relevant in another? The author, however, says nothing of the criteria buttressing this decidedly non-computational judgment, even though, to be sure, the whole argument comes down to this fine distinction.

So, what began, or what ends up seeming like, a distinction between attention and attention deficit really boils down to a hidden, and it would seem largely unquestioned, distinction between relevance and irrelevance, topicality and tangent. What seemed at first to be a matter of retrieval failure has become, in fact, the successful retrieval of improper information, which is a different ‘problem’ altogether. And in this regard, one can’t help but wonder whether a rather limited and unhelpful theory of learning is merely labeling as deficient those who, for whatever reason, learn differently or are less available to the current educational model. Those they say are attention deficient to everything, because of their ‘brains’, might just be attention deficient to them, because of their method.

Reflections on the peer supervision process

About five months ago the head psychiatrist at the clinic where I work approached me about starting a peer supervision group for the Interns and Externs training there. He wanted to construct a space where they could present and discuss their cases, receive feedback from their peers and also raise any issues that they were having in the clinic. As a 5th year psychology Intern, I was the most senior training clinician (it feels as much as an oxymoron as it sounds) and we agreed that it would be my responsibility for creating this space. Our initial discussions outlined the goals of the group, that it would be voluntary, confidential, open to all the trainees, run for twelve weeks, and that each week a different clinician would present a case for discussion.

However, we were less clear when defining my role and exactly how I would create the space for this to occur. We contrasted the pros and cons of the traditional group supervisor role to the supervisor as a group facilitator. While the former provided more in the way of structure and boundaries we were concerned about it feeling like a therapy group or clinical rounds. Indeed, having established collegial and friendly relationships with the clinicians it was important to be clear that the supervision group was not a therapy group. Alternatively, the latter appeared to engender more space for open discussion but provided less structure and clarity around roles. After going back and forth over the differences, we agreed to use a facilitator model. In this model, I was responsible for bringing the group to a beginning and an end, ensuring that there was a presenter each week, and generally facilitating discussion. We also decided that I would not present my own cases and that I would generally try to allow others to answer questions so that they would not be directed at me. Having established the framework, we ended our conversation with the psychiatrist sounding the ominous and prophetic warning that he had never participated in a successful peer supervision group.

As the group started and began to meet weekly, some of the outlined aspects worked well. Notably, some members appeared to benefit from presenting cases and being given an open forum to ask questions. Furthermore, clinicians felt they could discuss issues they had in the clinic in a confidential area. However, as predicted by the psychiatrist, for the large part the group did not feel like it ever took off. Attendance was spotty from the second week onwards, robust discussions were sparse, and much of the group process seemed to go through me.

Succinctly, the group never seemed to take ownership over itself. While there are likely many reasons and contributing factors for this, reflecting back over the course of the group I am struck by how much my own role influenced the development of the group. Specifically, I believe that I failed to commit to the role of group facilitator. Instead, I moved back and forth between supervisor and facilitator and by not being consistent limited the group’s growth. In hindsight (which is not always 20/20) this is not surprising and seems to me a product of the ambiguity inherent in peer supervision groups, and my own ambivalence towards authority.

There are two important differences to peer supervision groups and other forms of groups, including regular supervision groups, therapy groups, and even support groups. The first is that in peer groups, the members either already know each other, or will at some point through their interactions come to know each other. Thus, unlike other groups, where members maintain little contact with each other outside of the group, in a peer supervision group they frequently interact outside of the group. Secondly, in other groups, the supervisor or leader is typically a more experienced clinician, whose role and position is defined, however in peer groups all members are expected to contribute equally.

The result of these differences is that the boundaries established in other groups to ensure safety are less pronounced and more ambiguous, meaning that the peer supervision group members themselves have to establish trust amongst each other. Although this may seem easy, it is as I learned actually a complicated process requiring a lot of faith and an ability to tolerate vulnerability. Without a supervisor to orientate around (more on that in a minute), group members are asked to establish trust through the act of discussing cases with their peers. This is potentially frightening, case discussions reveal aspects of us as therapists or individuals that we may not be aware of. Doing so in an ambiguous setting, with colleagues we trust, but perhaps not entirely, is daunting, difficult, and anxiety provoking for even I imagine experienced clinicians. Compounding these obstacles, is that many of the trainees were just starting to gain clinical experience and may have felt vulnerable and out of place discussing their experiences with others. It is not that the members did not explicitly trust each other, as much as the valence of the group pulled them away from easily building trust with each other.

One of the ways of lessening anxiety – or countering this valence – is for the supervisor to take an active role in running supervision, establishing boundaries regarding member interaction and a consistent structure for the group to follow each week. In doing so, individuals come to know what is expected of them less through their interactions with each other, than with the supervisor, who acts as an anchor for them to orientate around. Two of the most likely configurations are that either supervisee’s develop trust in the supervisor and it expands towards the other members, or alternatively, they develop trust in each other and perhaps later the supervisor. In either case, the supervisor’s role is defined by stability and consistency.

Notably, while trust can develop amongst all the parties, the power differential of supervisor and supervisee remains. Peer supervision offers the opportunity for a greater balance of power. Each individual can temporarily step into different roles, each taking turns at supervising, facilitating, being supervised, etc. In other words, by giving up the traditional role of supervisee (or group member) and managing the anxiety that comes with it, other interpersonal relationships are possible.

However, not only does the supervisee have to give up their role, but the supervisor as well. Indeed, while I thought that I was ready to do this, in retrospect it proved more difficult than I anticipated. In trying to establish the space for peer supervision I was also (although likely unaware of it at the time) moving away from my own basis of security. In this sense, much as I was asking the supervisee’s to handle anxiety by giving up their role, I was also asking myself to deal with anxiety of not having a clear role either. This process seemed to entail an interesting paradox whereby in order to give up authority I first had to use it.

Broadly speaking, initiating a group already entails a certain relationship between supervisor and supervisee’s (initiator and initiates), although as already described the aim of this group was to move that relationship into the background and place peer relationships in the foreground. In order to accomplish this, I originally thought it would be enough to describe the aims, goals, rules, etc. However, as described earlier, this did not work – and indeed, may have likely contributed to increased anxiety and ambiguity in the group. Looking back, I now wonder if it would have been more effective to use the authority present from initiating the group, being senior, etc to attempt and remove that authority. While I am not entirely certain of the form that this process would take what seems clear is the need to act, as an authority to communicate that there is no authority. In other words, by actively placing my trust in the group (only something the supervisor/authority can do) I would have more fully taken the role of facilitator.

Of course, this is easier said then done, particularly in a peer setting. Indeed, early in the group, the question of authority was raised and despite my wish to move away from these traditional group issues, by spreading authority around I found myself more often then not responding from a place as the supervisor. While this involved using authority it was in the form of maintaining a more conventional relationship. Instead, I wonder what it would have been like to use my authority to let it go. By constraining the extent to which I would reply (perhaps less as supervisor and more as a peer?) would that have facilitated a more effective peer group experience?

I believe that my difficulties doing this, reflects some of my own ambivalence to authority and hesitancy to fully embrace a facilitator role. Indeed, much like supervisee’s look to quell their anxiety through the supervisor, I was doing the same. Retreating into roles makes managing anxiety easier but also limits some of the opportunities for novel experiencing. In this respect, my movement between facilitator and supervisor limited the extent to which I committed to either and thus the extent to which a genuine peer interaction could develop.

For me, anxiety around authority stems from the possibility of overly constraining self and other. Accordingly, my response is to make space by either reluctantly (or inconsistently) accepting authority or alternatively challenging it. Although at times effective and important it can also be confusing and prevent roles and novelty from becoming fully developed. Instead I find it necessary to remind myself that authority much like other roles can be taken up, released, and modified, and that constraint enables action, which of course modifies constraint. Being more flexible at doing so may allow for more productive peer supervision groups!

Eli or Thorkelson on the gender of the academic name

Eli Thorkelson, of decasia fame, makes some compelling observations about “the gender of the academic name“:

Anyway, my friend said she’d noticed that, when academics talk about other academics, they are likely to use the first and last name when referring to a woman academic, while men academics often get mentioned by last name only. This to her was entirely part of everyday life, undesirable but obvious.

But I was taken somewhat aback by this claim, and I think the other guy there was too. I realized afterwards, to my shame, that our common reaction was one of doubt. We wanted to think of counterexamples. Exceptions that would disprove the rule. Isn’t Judith Butler pretty reliably called Judith Butler? we were asked. But isn’t Butler a pretty common name? Well, but there aren’t any other famous academics called Butler, now are there? Or take Simone de Beauvoir. Pretty much always Simone de Beauvoir, isn’t she? Well, yes. Who could deny that? While on the other hand Sartre, it came to my mind, is indeed pretty much always just Sartre. Or take Hannah Arendt. Is Hannah Arendt always Hannah Arendt? Well, yes, pretty often, though I think maybe at the philosophy department in Paris-8 she may occasionally become just Arendt. But other mid-century German male philosophers seem to go by their last names far more often. Marcuse is just Marcuse. And “Adorno” also seems to travel pretty well by itself, as a practically self-contained sign of pessimistic dialectical prose convolution. Or take Eve Sedgwick. She’s pretty often called Eve Sedgwick, no? But not really Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, that’s a mouthful. We didn’t reach agreement about that.

Speculative Realism and Animal Studies Discussion

The Inhumanities and Speculative Heresy are hosting a cross-blog event on the topic of critical animal studies from the perspective of speculative realism. The first post up – on Levinas, the Other, and animals – has set the stage for what promises to be a lively, rich discussion, centered around the following question:

While speculative realism has critiqued anthropocentrism in ontology, and critical animal studies has critiqued anthropocentrism in ethics, there has yet to be many productive connections made between the two. With each offering the other important insights, the question to be asked is, what is the relation between ethics and ontology? Does a realist ontology require the suspension of any ethical imperatives? Can ethics and norms be grounded in something real? Are nonhuman actors capable of ethical relations?

The submission/participation guidelines:

Besides the participants of the two blogs and anyone we are able to recruit to respond, we are also opening up the field for answers to anyone. All answers must be 1500-2000 words, and submissions for answers must be recieved by Friday, November 13th. Inquiries can be sent to Inhumanitiesblog@gmail.com or to the email addresses of Scu, Greg, Craig, Ben, and Nick. I hope you are all looking forward to this event as much as we are!

I for one plan to throw my hat in the ring – on the subject of “instinct”, its epistemological history, and the way it shapes dominant scientific and philosophical conceptions of the animal.

Frankly, it’s about time critical animal studies regained some momentum and sparked some genuine interest in contemporary schools of thought. The major post-structuralist thinkers, Derrida excepting, were not too kind to this question, and the embarrassing hole they left for us desperately needs to be filled.

Personal reflections on the therapeutic process: Learning from termination.

The process of terminating with ongoing psychotherapy patients, especially long-term patients (those generally seen for a year or more) is one that can be very meaningful and emotional for both therapist and patient. Termination has appropriately been linked with past experiences of loss and abandonment, existential fears of death and dying, as well as with opportunities for new growth and development. Under the best of circumstances the decision to terminate is agreed upon by the client and the therapist, providing them both with the opportunity to work through the process. However, more often than not termination is dictated by one party or the other, brought on by factors such as expiring insurance, a patient’s moving, or in my case stopping at training sites in order to begin my full time internship.

In my case having worked extensively at one clinic in addition to other sites, preparing to start internship meant terminating not only with the patients I had seen over the year, but also with patients whom I had been seeing for the past three years. Having never terminated with patients who I had seen for even close to this long, and certainly never having terminated with so many patients all at once, I was unsure what to expect both from my patients and myself during the termination process. Given this, perhaps it is not surprising that much like I have found throughout my clinical training, my expectations and thoughts about what terminating would be like did not match my experiences. This seemingly common – at least to the training experience – phenomenon creates in my mind an interesting gap, created not by poor expectations, but rather by the inherent difficulties of training. In other words, despite the fact that I had been taught and even experienced when completing previous externships what termination would be like (i.e. see above) it remained difficult to know how it would be when it was this different.

The hardest part of termination for me has been trying to assess the effectiveness of therapy and to evaluate how I performed as a therapist. Going through the termination process I remember voicing doubt to fellow classmates and supervisors about how I helped my patients. While many had made progress towards goals they also often remained stuck in certain places. From my perspective it was difficult to ascertain that what I did during sessions helped them achieve their goals, as opposed to it just being a product of time and their own growth.

Reflecting upon my uncertainty and ambivalence I think it is in some ways part of the tension that is a part of therapy. Both the therapist and the client have an idea of what they are working on, or what the “problem is”, but how they approach it and work at it may not be so clear. Indeed, as a student I feel that this uncertainty may even be exacerbated as there is a propensity towards trying new techniques or representing the material in ways that reflect recent readings, discussions, ideas etc. That this process of working in different therapeutic frames is likely normal if not central to the training, does not necessarily alleviate the feelings that the patient would be better off with a more established therapist, or generally that they deserve better.

Despite this, during the process of terminating one of the most consistent and perhaps surprising observations was how deep my relationship was with my patients and vice versa. While going through notes I was amazed at how much had transpired in their lives and my own over the course of my sessions with them. Not only did I feel tuned into their lives but it also felt as if I had actively participated with them. In this sense reading through notes about their stories I found myself at times thinking in terms of “we”. For example, how “we” handled a certain issue or “we” achieved certain goals. The feeling of connectedness in some ways belies the uncertainty, almost by saying that this was “you” in the relationship and that your effect was real.

This is in some sense the actualization of the gap that I described earlier. The role of the therapeutic frame and theory is meant to structure the therapeutic space providing the tools to help the patient work and make changes. However, this space does not in effect account for the human-to-human interaction that comprises all of the therapeutic interactions. Indeed, as described above, while talking with my patients about our relationship what was striking was how much they valued the relationship. That to me the frame more often than not felt ambiguous seems to have had a minimal bearing on them. What mattered more to them was that I was there, and that they knew that I would be there to listen, to share, to acknowledge, to discuss and to explore. As my patients discussed with me the aspects of myself that they valued and found effective during therapy, it was amazing how little they had to do with approach or technique. Carl Rogers knew this of course and orientated humanistic psychology around it. Cynically, I feel that in some ways the parts of me that worked the hardest for example to conceptualize them or to make certain interpretations were the least acknowledged.

What terminating has helped me to begin thinking about is how to minimize this gap. One way that comes to mind is how theory can be orientated and utilized around the actual interactions in the office. I understand this personally as a deepening and extending of my thinking about interpersonal approaches to psychotherapy that work off the therapeutic relationship. What I have come to appreciate in terminating is the need for the therapist to present himself or herself in an authentic manner so that the aspects of themselves, whether they are warmth, honesty, directness etc can be felt and understood clearly by the patient.

In many ways this feels both very obvious to me and is also somewhat of a revelation. To me it means both working as myself but doing so in ways that are clearly conveyed to my patient. Theory then becomes a way of looking at the ensuing interactions between my patients and me, providing a perspective to both elaborate upon our shared experience and create new ones. In other words, in therapy a space is created to have experiences that are real but can be explained in ways that allows for the growth of the therapist and the patient.

As a final thought it is probably not a surprise that I felt this gap while terminating with my clients. Termination is not only a time of reflection, but it is very obviously the end of the therapy. This can lead to a sense of safety where both the therapist and the client knowing that their time is ending can act more like themselves in therapy. While throughout termination I was thinking about theories about what is happening for the patient and myself, it still nonetheless felt as if my interactions with my patients were more genuine and less a matter of us participating in social role playing. Experiencing these authentic interactions, while also hearing about what my patients were taking from therapy has not only helped make terminating with them a meaningful experience but also an educational one as well.

“The numbers don’t lie?: The problem of emergence in baseball and basketball statistics”

The role of statistics in sports can be generally stated as providing more objective and sophisticated evaluations of an athlete’s performance. At its heart, statistics are tools that can be used to increase a team’s chance of winning a game. In this sense, much like counting cards can help win at blackjack, keeping track of a variety of individual statistics can in theory help a team win. The logic is to first objectively determine which aspects are important to winning and then to build a team around athletes with those skills. The allure of objective and measurable data is that it levels the evaluative playing field, by providing tools to measure aspects of the game that were previously thought to be subjective and only noticeable to those individuals such as scouts with special visual access. Indeed, the appeal of statistics has grown to the extent that many casual fans have brushed off high school math textbooks to both understand and contribute to statistical evaluations.

For example, in his recent ESPN the magazine article the sometimes sports journalist Bill Simmons documents a recent conference at MIT on the future of statistics in the NBA. Simmons’s article is notable because it reflects a relatively new idea about the use of statistics, specifically that they can be used to measure a player’s impact on the team as a whole. Unlike in baseball, where statistics measure individual players and their talents, basketball is thought to be more of a team sport. Accordingly, analyzing a player’s individual performance does not necessarily help teams win. Instead, it is necessary to develop statistics that capture how individual players contribute to the team’s emergent identity, which is what leads to victories. Given the complexity behind building a team, Simmons implores basketball teams to release the data they have so statisticians can develop new statistical measurements of a diverse number of basketball plays. He writes:

“I want “mega-assists” (passes that create a layup or a dunk) and “half-assists” (for each made foul shot). I want “unforced turnovers,” like in tennis (Tony Allen would be Wilt Chamberlain in this category), and “nitty-gritties” (some combination of charges taken, deflections, balls saved from going out of bounds and rebounds tipped to teammates). I want “Unselds” (a long outlet pass that leads to an assist for a layup or a dunk) and “Russells” (a blocked shot directed to a teammate).”

This quote reflects a general idea underlying the use of statistics. Namely, that it is possible to completely catalogue the different interactive or team related talents of players. By doing so, one could then presumably draw upon an index of players (mega-assist guys, nitty-gritties, scorers, defenders etc) in such a fashion to construct teams with the best chance at winning. Obviously, putting together a team where different player’s talents contribute to the team’s chance of winning is the goal of every General Manager as well as every want to be General Manager (of which we all secretly are).

The use of statistics to measure performance and build teams in sports is nothing new. In his popular book Moneyball, Michael Lewis details the use of statistics by the Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane in drafting and trading for baseball players. Beane, who was greatly constrained by the limited payroll of the A’s, used statistics to help find players who had underappreciated talents. The most famous of these is On Base Percentage (OBP), a simple measure of how many times per plate appearance a player gets on base. His argument was that measurements such as OBP (as well as Slugging Percentage) were better indices of successful players (in specific those who score and drive in runs) than traditional descriptive statistics such as Batting Average (BA), Home Runs (HR) and Runs Batted In (RBI). Beane, utilizing primarily OBP successfully built teams around players who were undervalued by other teams. His model of using statistics to help identify undervalued talents has served as a model for other teams and as a result baseball statisticians have become increasingly en vogue. Currently there is a plethora of statistics used to evaluate players, ranging from the mildly simple, i.e. OPS (on base plus slugging) and WHIP (Walks and Hits per inning pitched) to the fabulously complicated, i.e. VORP (value over replacement player) and WARP (wins over replacement player).

The use of statistics in basketball is much more recent. In a recent NY Times article, Michael Lewis describes the unique case of Shane Battier, the Houston Rockets starting forward. According to the Rocket’s General Manager Daryl Morey, (who was also at the statistical conference attended by Simmons not to mention highlighted in his article), despite a lack of visible statistical evidence, Shane Battier, makes his team significantly better when he plays than when he does not. Moreover, he has made every team he has played on significantly better. According to Morey, this is because Battier plays such effective defense against the opposing teams best player and is himself an unselfish offensive player. As a result, Battier limits the other teams scoring while not detracting from his own teams scoring.

Much like Beane, who used statistics to find underappreciated players, Morey has worked to develop statistics to help him find undervalued players. While the secrecy about the nature of these statistics (as well as the data behind them) is what infuriates Simmons, what is of note in the case of Battier is that according to Morey, he recognized Battiers effectiveness but not why he was effective. The recognition according to Lewis, involved a variation of a relative simple measurement known as “plus-minus”. Simply put it “measures what happens to the score when any given player is on the court.” Though not perfect, it is in many ways a descriptive statistic similar to that of OBP, as it expands the analysis to include a wider range of behaviors.

The fascinating part about of the Battier story is the eventual recognition of what he was doing that was making him effective. Morey describes it as an accumulation of different abilities Battier had developed that minimized the abilities of the other teams best scorer. One of these was Battier’s intelligence and capacity to assimilate a large amount of information given prior to the game about the tendencies of the other player and then to use them to play the odds. Lewis traces how Battier developed his abilities as a result of growing up between two cultures, a privileged white private school culture and a more street orientated black culture. As a result, he was forced to develop his game as a flexible hybrid of the two. It was his ability to stick (in some senses literally, he is referred to as a “lego” in the article and a “glue guy” by others) between these two games that made him successful.

Battier’s unique “sticking” abilities add intangible elements to the Rockets, such that when he plays they become greater than the sum of their parts. In order to discover this Morey used a statistic that looked at more than an individual’s box score performance (i.e. Field Goals, Shots blocked). While understanding what he is doing to be successful necessitated close observation, allowing for the development of new statistics. It is exactly this process that Simmons hopes to use in order to quantify the talents and impact of other players to construct a team that wins.

The question to me is whether statistics can ever really be effectively used to create a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The phenomenon here is one of emergence. From watching sports we know that over the course of a season a team can almost develop a personality that they did not necessarily have at the beginning of the season. This personality becomes greater than the individual players themselves and is often credited with helping them win. While each teams emergent traits are unique there have certainly been similarities in the narratives of championship teams. For instance, there are “underdog teams”, “goofy teams”, “professional teams” etc. The goals outlined by Simmons and Morey is how to use statistics to construct a team with one of these emergent personalities.

The paradox here is that statistics themselves are necessarily reductive – by definition they measure the probability of an event happening given a set of circumstances. Their use restricts events to what is normative not capturing the events that lie outside of the norm. This is why in his article Simmons lists a variety of statistical categories, because any one category only looks at some aspect of behavior. In order to get all of behavior one needs increasingly diverse range of statistics. Indeed, almost all behavior can be subjected to statistical analysis, especially if there is a trend that the researcher is looking for. What is less clear is that it can be successfully applied to the construction of the team, such that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Interestingly, this problem mirrors the historical tension surrounding the use of statistics in studying social phenomenon. In my opinion this tension has been described most clearly by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1932) as the difficulty of developing general laws in science. Lewin recognized, that any attempt at establishing general laws (or abstracting out from individual cases) made it difficult if not impossible to go back to the individual cases. He relates this problem to the traditional method of classification in science, where phenomena were grouped according to similarity. According to Lewin, this only ended when genetic/constructive accounts became viable, as they allowed for the grouping of phenomena according to the way they can be produced or derived from each other. The focus moved from forming classificatory categories (making it difficult to look at specifics) to genetic accounts that provided laws for understanding idiographic cases.

In his article, Simmons discussion of the individual nature of baseball statistics (i.e. the ability for any baseball trait to be measured) maps out nicely to the classificatory use of statistics in social science. Essentially, the view is that if there is a baseball related activity, there can be a statistic for it. The event driven nature of a baseball game (a pitch, an at-bat, etc.) lends itself nicely to this sort of approach. As a result, statistics often highlight the individualized nature of baseball.

The brilliance of Billy Beane was not so much his use of statistics as a whole, but rather his use of a particular statistic, OBP, which allowed for a more genetic view of the player. Specifically, players with high OBP generally did many things better than players with just a high batting average. Some of these things, such as taking more pitches even help the team as a whole, by letting other players see more pitches or tiring out the pitcher quickly. Beane’s use of OBP in effect switched lenses, from one that only looked at hits to one that examined at-bats as a whole. It is crucial to also keep in mind the reasons why Beane was looking at OBP, namely his relative need versus what he could afford. In other words, OBP was great not only because it was more holistic but also because it was undervalued. Relatively, it provided greater bang for the buck.

Looking at Beane’s effectiveness in constructing a winning team using OBP, the early “Moneyball” Oakland Athletic teams on the one hand consistently made the playoffs, while, on the other never advanced to a World Series. Indeed, mixed results are the norm for other teams that have focused on building their teams around statistics such as the Dodgers and Blue Jays.  The explanation for this at least in part, is that statistics due to being inherently reductive only capture some aspects of the game. What is not captured often is minimized. The classic example of this is how Beane’s teams stole relatively few bases because stolen bases are thought to be statistically inadvisable. Yet, it was a stolen base, by the 2004 Boston Red Sox that is credited with propelling them to winning the World Series. While statisticians point out all the other things that happened during the year and the playoffs without that single event the Red Sox would have lost to the Yankees.

This matters because while Beane’s use of OBP while more genetic, still reduced the whole of a player into certain aspects of worth. This reduction, was far from an objective measurement, but instead was defined in relationship to the more traditional and highly valued statistics. Indeed, since OBP has become more popular it has become less cost effective for Beane to build a team around OBP players. Instead he has switched to looking at more holistic defensive statistics as well as base running statistics. These skills, which were undervalued to him in the 1990’s, have become more valuable as the market has changed.

To Simmons and Morey, the goal for basketball statisticians is balance the tension between measuring a player’s individual effectiveness and their impact on the team. Morey described how in baseball individual statistics almost always benefit the team, whereas in basketball good individual statistics do not always equate to team success. It is this line of reasoning that has them looking measures to capture the emergent properties that make the whole greater than the sum. To Morey, basketball needs “to measure the right things … meaningful statistics” about how certain players help their teams. It is this idea that led Morey to identify Battier as a valuable player as he had a high plus/minus and a relatively low salary. Accordingly, this theoretically represents a shift from thinking about the player’s statistics as directly helping the team to how their overall play fits in with and helps the team.

At first glance, this appears to be a move towards exactly the genetic type of thinking endorsed by Lewin. However, the question remains to the extent statistics are able to assist with this matter. Identifying Shane Battier as a significantly better player than reflected by popular statistics involved using a different lens (specifically, plus/minus) than commonly used by General Managers. Understanding why Battier was so effective required intense observation and knowledge of his developmental history. To Lewin, such idiographic study is at the heart of science. He sees two possible paths. One is to attempt and genetically understand how Battier does what he does in an order to develop certain that can be applied to other players. Much like understanding why he is effective, this approach emphasis subjective observation and comparison. By observing how he interacts and influences the play on the court it is possible to qualitatively describe his play in such a way that rules can be generated and applied to others. Indeed, this is very much like Morey does when talking about Battier with Michael Lewis. Alternatively, we could abstract outwards the specific traits (i.e. getting his body in front of players, or using his hands in a certain manner) that make him effective, give them names and then statistically measuring them in others. This process will inevitably reduce Battier to certain traits and more importantly limit the extent of observation in other players. Exactly like OBP excluded stolen bases, the defining act of categorizing in basketball would do the same.

While it would certainly be interesting and likely elucidating to attempt and develop statistics that are more sensitive to how players interact with each other and thus their impact on the team the nature of sports is such that this can only capture parts of the whole. This is not reflective of one sport being more team orientated than another sport but instead a question of the locus of analysis. Any attempt at statistically analyzing an action, interactive or otherwise (and I would argue that even the more individual aspects of baseball are still interactive and team orientated) limits the field of study. Though this analysis can generate useful and insightful data it is at best only complimentary to other subjective and qualitative methods of inquiry.

Lewin, K (1932). The Conflict Between Aristotelian and Galileian Modes of Thought in Contemporary Psychology. Contemporary Psychoanlysis; 23, 517-554

Real Culture in Virtual Worlds

In this month’s Journal of Virtual World Research, Tom Boellstorff, author of the much-praised Coming of age in Second Life: An anthropologist explores the virtually human, makes an important observation about theories of culture in virtual worlds.

To concretize my concerns, it will prove helpful to consider the example of some recent work of the economist Edward Castronova, whose influential research I often cite with great approval in my own. In his article “On the Research Value of Large Games: Natural Experiments in Norrath and Camelot,” Castronova (2006) draws upon large datasets from two online games on develop fascinating insights about interpersonal coordination. Castronova rightly sees in this approach possibilities that have “never before existed in the long history of social thinking” and are “of incredible power and value” (p. 183).

As the title of his article indicates, Castronova explains this power and value by asserting that online games allow us to conduct “natural experiments,” explaining that, “Until now, it has not been possible to take all of society as a research object; such a thing is too big to fit in a lab . . . Now however [. . .] it is indeed possible to replicate entire societies and allow them to operate in parallel” (p. 163). (5)

Castronova’s position draws on the popular suspicion that because Second Life is a virtual world — i.e., a program, which suggests a kind of artificial delimitation — it is more coherent, unified, and available to analysis than is the world proper. The error here, as Boellstorff points out, lies in thinking that a virtual world can only produce virtual culture, that it is not part of the world per se and is therefore simpler, more contained, and open to easy surveillance. In fact, what Boellstorff shows first and foremost is just howunimportant the self-enclosed finitude of SL really is. If anything, the popular image of virtual worlds as less than real and less than able to capture or express real, cultural phenomena has the unintended effect of inhibiting genuine virtual anthropology.