Working class lingo & whistleblowing

From a blog post I wrote on Jan 3:

“[W]hen we take a closer look at the case of Jordan Anaya we can see how the Executive Board has chosen to interpret harassment: Jordan tweeted “fucking retards”. I would argue that this interpretation of harassment can exclude individuals simply due to them, for example, having a working class background. I personally come from such a background, and where I come from, these exact words are used more frequently than in academic settings.”

Some people with a similar background as myself have publicly thanked me for raising the perspective of working class academics (not necessarily meaning they share my view on the use of “fucking retards”), such as @Lee_Jussim and @rickcarlsson. I’m especially grateful to the latter who courageously shared that he has grown up with a close family member with retardation. This experience is important and should not be ignored. I doubt there were many people sharing any similar experience involved in the decision to ban Jordan Anaya from SIPS due to foul language.

Even more people have contacted me privately about my blog post, some saying that they still find it difficult in academia due to their working class background and the language and manner they have been raised to use; manners and language that may sometimes be considered inappropriate in academic settings.

In my blog post I implicitly claimed that academics, even if they have a working class background, probably don’t use “retards” any longer. Some of the private messages I’ve received indicate I was wrong. People may try their best not to use it in academic settings, but at least privately may the word still pop up.

I personally don’t use “retards”. It may pop up in my head when I’m really angry, but I would probably hit a wall or something first instead of using it. I believe the reason this word has managed to basically get overwritten in my head is that I got involved in leftist communities (radical feminism, animal rights, asylum rights) when I was around 16 years. This was my only social life for many years and to date leftist communities remain the majority of my social life. Although it’s a bit different now when we are all older, use of politically incorrect language in these settings was always called out immediately and not withdrawing from it resulted in immediate social exclusion. This linguistic upbringing by peers is probably the only reason I would rather hurt myself than using a phrase such as the one Jordan did.

In my blog post I further raised the issue that there may be a significant overlap between having a working class background and being a whistleblower in academia:

“Whistleblowers will likely be a significant risk group here, as will people with a working class background (according to my experience, both these groups tend to speak more freely than other academics, and they might often even be the same individuals).”

This is something I have been thinking about for about two years now. I think it started when I met an independent researcher (who I will not name because I haven’t asked him) at SIPS 2017. Similarly to Jordan, he had left the PhD program due to feeling bullied into bad science, but not before he had tried his best to convince peers and supervisors to change their methodological practices. He had a working class background, and this was the main reason I think that we clicked and kept company throughout the conference. I consider him to be a whistleblower since he put himself in a socially awkward position by critising not only peers but also supervisors and consequently felt urged to leave traditional academia. The leaving process was basically exactly the same for me, and I consequently consider also myself to be a whistleblower.

Then I met Etienne LeBel in 2018, a metascientist and psychologist running Curate Science. He too had blown the whistle. And he is a first generation academic (i.e. synonym to - or heavy overlap with - working class). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Etienne is also one of the people who no longer go to SIPS conferences; he disagreed in a discussion on diversity during SIPS 2016 (the very first SIPS conference), and was publicly mocked for it. Interestingly, Etienne, was also the first to join IGDORE (if not counting myself and my good friend). I find this to be additional proof of his courage and no-nonsense style: he speaks his honest opinion in all/most settings.

Such outspokenness, I would argue, is common among academics with a working class background. And this, I argue, may be a particularly important habit for becoming someone who blows the whistle in academia, especially as an early career researcher, on such frequent/common misconduct that constitutes questionable research practices. That is, the outspokenness doesn’t begin with the whistleblowing, it begins with a general tendency to speak your honest opinion in all/most settings. Blowing the whistle on more obviously severe misconduct, however, such as data fabrication, may not require the same level of courage and outspokenness.

Thus, it is possible that there is a positive correlation between outspokenness and foul language, or outspokenness and political incorrectness, and consequently also between whistleblowing and foul language / political incorrectness. Would be very happy to hear others’ thoughts on this.

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Thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic.

My personal reflection on whistleblowers is that it’s easier for an outsider to realize that something is wrong with a work or academic culture. Whether it’s because of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age (late PhD studies), class etc., — I don’t think that’s important. And that’s my biggest point: we should cherish all forms of diversity. In American dominated discourse, the class perspective is often a blind spot. I think it’s a pity, not the least because of the very high intersection with race and ethnicity.

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I agree. And an ‘outsider’ can of course be anyone entering with different experiences, e.g. someone from a different university or department.

Yes, it seems so. American academics with a working class background also seem to be the ones reacting strongest (thanking me etc) on me bringing up my own working class background. As I argued here, lefties in Swedish academia do not seem to have forgot about the working class as much as they have in e.g. US. I base this view on mere experience though. Do we have any (good) studies made on it that would be relevant to look at?

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