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Two Steps Forward —

June 7, 2013

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are signs of social progress in the War on Fat if you’re looking for them.Two Steps Forward

Today, Erin reminded us of Geoffrey Miller’s douchetastic tweet on the inability of fatties to willpower their way to a PhD. This was followed by deleting his initial comment and excusing his asinine response by claiming that the original tweet “does not reflect my true views, values, or standards.”

Miller’s right. What kind of asshole assumes that the things we share on Twitter are a reflection of our true views, values or standards? Being an evolutionary psychologist, Miller’s most recent experiment was to give a thousand monkeys a thousand iPhones, and this is just one of the many unfortunate tweets he’s sent out in the name of science.

Setting aside the unintended bigotry of a thousand monkeys, there is much to celebrate about this moment.

First and foremost, Miller’s near-immediate deletion reveals an immediate sense of remorse. Now, that remorse may have been driven by his internal sense of shame (unlikely) or it may have been driven by his recognition that saying something so blatantly bigoted against fat PhD candidates might harm his own career.

Miller may have realized this latter possibility himself, or one of his colleagues or superiors may have informed him that saying such unfounded, ignorant nonsense could cost him dearly. But the fact that the tweet came down almost immediately shows that at least among academic circles it has become anathema to be openly shitty toward fat people. For further proof, check out the brief, but satisfying response from University of New Mexico’s Psychology Department Chairwoman, Professor Jane Ellen Smith.

At the end, Prof. Smith mentions Miller’s bizarre assertion that his tweet was part of some brilliant social experiment to see how people respond to “provocative tweets.” And yet, as several people pointed out in the YouTube comments, performing such an experiment probably requires an application to UNM’s Institutional Review Board.

UNM has an interactive Adobe Flash FAQ that helps researchers determine whether their research project requires an IRB review. The FAQ defines some terms, such as Human Subject Research:

A living individual about which an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains
a) Data through intervention or interaction with the individual, OR
b) Identifiable private information

The FAQ goes on to outline projects that should be reviewed by the IRB:

A project may require IRB review if it involves any of the following:

  • Systematic investigation designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge

  • Obtain information about living individuals

  • Involve intervention or interaction with individuals

  • Obtain private and individually identifiable information

  • Research is conducted or supported by HHS or is covered by an application PHRP approved assurance

If Miller consulted the IRB, it should be easily discovered, but if he didn’t check with the IRB before conducting his social experiment, then even this weak excuse can lead to further trouble. My hope is that Prof. Smith will indeed follow up with a thorough investigation to determine Miller’s qualifications as a professor.

What this suggests to me is that Miller is desperately trying to transform his tweet from impulsive and ignorant into a carefully crafted academic exercise. But if Miller’s whole point was to be intentionally provocative and gauge the response, then why delete the tweet? Clearly he provoked people on Twitter, which was the whole fucking point, right? His experiment has been a rousing success!

This is the other hopeful sign I see in this incident: simply deleting the tweet and saying you’re sorry isn’t enough. In this particular case, fat hatred is not being treated as “just words.” Covering his tracks didn’t protect him. Now, Miller has to justify his words by making them seem like they’re part of some non-douchey plot to study our response to douchebag comments. That’s an airtight alibi if I’ve ever heard one. Hell, if only Miller’s “impulsive” tweet on poor impulse control had happened a few days later he could have blamed it on the NSA’s PRISM program.

Think back just five years ago: would Miller have caught as much flack as he did this week? Personally, I doubt it because there would not have been the public pressure to hold Miller accountable. Prof. Smith said that what brought this incident to her attention and what made her look into it were the emails she received from ordinary people.

This is progress.

This is hope.

This is change.

Perhaps it’s not the most glamorous payoff given the cultural groundwork that’s been laid by Fat Acceptance for decades, but it is a minor, yet gratifying, step in the right direction.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. JennyRose permalink
    June 7, 2013 1:37 pm

    He told a complete lie about being provocative to get himself out of a jam. This just shows his level of immaturity. Just say sorry, even if you don’t mean it. A transparent lie just digs a deeper hole and makes you look worse. In this case, his lie was not even plausible.

  2. nof permalink
    June 7, 2013 3:24 pm

    I too am happy that the response that I’ve seen have been more “That is not acceptable, especially from a professor of science*” than “lol fatties are so fat amirite?!”.

    *Even if that “science” is evolutionary psychology, which is just full of ick

  3. June 7, 2013 7:42 pm

    One thing I’ve been wondering is how did a tweet from a minor non-entity professor in evolutionary psychology go viral in the first place? I wonder whether it was retweeting due to outrage or initially a bunch of people thought it was funny. The end result is great, but I do wonder.

  4. June 7, 2013 10:47 pm

    I love it when something originally done with a mean intention boomerangs back and accomplishes something good.

  5. Elizabeth permalink
    June 8, 2013 10:50 am

    Isn’t “evolutionary psychology” the new name for sociobiology? The “science” that set out to prove the inferiority of people with brown skin? If I’m correct, it would explain a great deal about Dr Miller — he’s a superior person and us fat people, especially fat brown people, are some sort of genetically inferior stock.

  6. Dizzyd permalink
    June 8, 2013 6:49 pm

    If he’s superior, we’re all in trouble as a society. Seriously, I’d be more inclined to respect the academic viewpoint of the thousand monkeys.

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