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Dreaming about musing (or vice versa)

Topics/tags: Meta-musing, autobiographical, rambly

This morning, I woke up from a dream in which one of my final thoughts was I should muse about that. And so I will. That is, I will muse about the topic, and I will muse a bit about why I might dream about musing. Of course, dreams are slippery things, so my recollection, as it were, may not be precise.

If I recall correctly, I was in my office, looking for pens to give to people who were in a seminar in the hallway outside [1,2]. Someone peeked their head inside my office and asked, How are things going with your fight with the social science research board? I said to myself, I think they mean the IRB [3], and I can’t recall any fights I’m having with the IRB. [4] I kept looking for pens. I may have even switched to sharpening pencils and handing them out [5]. Then someone else stopped by and said something that made me realize that, Oh! They were talking about the IRB becoming less restrictive, rather than more restrictive. Now I understand. I should muse about that difference and why it’s a problem.

Then I woke up. I said to myself, That was a strange dream. I should muse about it. And so I am. I will do my best to unpack the questions and the introspection. The office supplies seem less interesting; people regularly ask to borrow things from my office [6], and I also offer to give pens away. The pencil sharpening may relate to either my attempts to keep pencils sharp for the Glimmer Camps or a quick set of sharpening that I did before Youngest Son took his SAT subject tests.

My dream was correct in the sense that our IRB is becoming less restrictive; regulations are changing and, under the new regulations, fewer studies require IRB approval. But that’s not choice of Grinnell’s IRB. They are just following changing Federal guidelines. My dream was also correct that I prefer stronger IRB oversight, rather than weaker. Considerations of the well-being and privacy of subjects should be central to any study of human subjects.

My real concern, and perhaps the one that led to that aspect of the dream, is that I feel like those considerations get lost too often. I’ve written implicitly about a Grinnell study that used building entrance data. It doesn’t help that as I ask for a restored privacy policy for those data, I get told, among other things, that the IRB will ensure privacy. It appears that the folks who suggest that don’t know that internal studies are not generally conducted under the auspices the IRB. I haven’t been fretting about building entrance data as much recently; I wrote to the Dean and Council, and they appeared to agree that the data should be treated confidentially and promised to work on the issue. Perhaps my subconscious wants to remind me to keep it in mind. Perhaps my subconscious wants me to rant more.

I also worry about changes to our end-of-course-evaluation system. I’ll write more about those within the next few days. Those changes relate to this dream about studies primarily in that I worry about the biases in EOCEs and the apparent failure of those proposing revisions to consider whether the new system will increase these effects [7,8].

The Dean has said, of late, that he’s increasingly come to believe that Grinnell should ensure that every student develops quantitative literacy skills. I hope that those skills include the associated ethical skills of considering both the impact of quantitative studies on the subjects and of the potential biasing effects in the study.

Is it strange that, in my dream, I said to myself, I should muse about that? No, not really. I say that to myself a lot. There’s a reason that the list of potential topics seems to grow, rather than to shrink. Is it strange that, in my dream, I was thinking about a topic that irritates me and that led to this rant lite musing? No; these days I seem much too frustrated by much too much else that’s happening at the College. It is, however, a bit strange that this was the topic [9]. While a thoughtful approach to data usage is always on my mind, there are at least two other topics that are higher up on my frustration meter.

Perhaps the root cause is that I’ve been trying to separate myself from those issues as of late, as hard as that may be to tell. Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something. I’ll say that it appears to be the wrong thing, as I need to spend what few brain cycles I have on the textbook. Or maybe it’s telling me that I spend too much time saying, I should muse about that. In that case, it may be right and, as this musing suggests, I failed to understand the message.

[1] I was looking in the drawer in which I keep pens in my Obermann office. Pens are much easier to find in my Grinnell office.

[2] There is not room for a seminar in the hallway outside my Obermann office or my Grinnell office. But you know what dreams do with time and space.

[3] Institutional Review Board.

[4] I’ve recently been thinking about XML markup of an edition of Through the Looking Glass in which introspective thoughts appear in italics with quotation marks around them. I’ve mimicked that approach here. You can read more about the related ideas in the section of FunDHum on XML and HTML, if I ever finish it.

[5] If I recall correctly, I was using an electric pencil sharpener. But my Grinnell Office has a manual pencil sharpener. Strange. And, well, the desk looked like none of my desks: not Grinnell, not Obermann, not home. Hey, it’s a dream, don’t expect accuracy.

[6] Most frequently, it’s a student asking to use a stapler.

[7] I wrote to our Assessment Coordinator about those issues in early May. She forwarded them on to our OASIR leadership on May 9. Hence, it puzzles me that OASIR did not have answers prepared when they met with Executive Council on September 26 or when they presented at Faculty Meeting on October 15.

[8] I very much appreciate the care with which a colleague stated those concerns at the Faculty meeting.

[9] Or these were the topics, depending on how you choose to interpret the dream.

Version 1.0 released 2018-10-20.

Version 1.1 of 2018-10-24.