Put away your h-index Professor

By | February 4, 2018

As a childless, single woman over forty, opines Professor Jordan Peterson, “You’re going to be one lonesome, isolated, miserable creature“. Don’t hold back now, Professor. Why not add meaningless, pointless and desperate? But, thank you for your “evidence-based” assessment. Not that I asked for your opinion, you just appeared on my YouTube feed and I clicked on you. But, silly me, I clicked on you. It is the modern equivalent of asking for your opinion. Like striking up a conversation with a man you’ve never met before who happens to be sharing the same bus shelter. Except that my limited experience of strange men in bus shelters is that our conversations are safely confined to the arrival and departure times of buses and the weather.

I suppose when one has an h-index as big as yours you might feel emboldened. Perhaps you even feel entitled to be an authority on the subject of women (an h-index, for those outside the academic club, is the equivalent of currency – a highly valued measure calculated from how much you’ve published and how many people have cited your work). Who would know better about the lives of women than a male academic, with a towering h-index? I know. I’m revealing my h-index envy here.

And one needs to tread carefully. Not long ago, the tweeting mob rounded on one person with a smaller h-index. Ira Wells had the temerity to question Peterson’s academic work. But who was he? How much had he published? Who had cited him? The message from the mob, and Peterson himself, was clear. Only some have authority to question. And be under no illusion, the mob exists in academia as it does elsewhere. Outsiders without the necessary credentials (in this case a humanities scholar questioning a scientist), interlopers who fail to observe the crustimoney proseedcakes (Pooh Bear, 1926) are summarily dealt with and despatched. But let me not get diverted by yet another interminable discussion about academic metrics. Suffice to say, the necessary credentials are nothing more than the currency that the academic community has agreed to value. While that agreement is far from universal, it is the agreement that currently prevails.

And, the voice of the mob, it seems, is baked into our genes. With a single click of the mouse, that voice is embodied and articulated through the esteemed personage of Peterson. Have I just uttered a heresy? Peterson is a scientist, a respected scientist. Hell! All these scientists, not long ago, marched for science. We need science. And I agree, we do. But we need a science that is built upon humanity, not an inflated h-index. We need a science that values diversity, kindness and care.  Not just for its subjects but for its workers and for its audience. And part of that care, involves not only choosing our words carefully but thinking through the purpose and the implications of uttering them in the first place.

Imagine, if you can Professor, a woman of advancing years, who is single and childless and who, for whatever reason at some moment, is struggling with her place in the world, with the meaning of her existence. And, I suspect most of us have those moments at some time. She clicks on your exposition and as if her own self-talk, her own self-doubt, informed by the prevailing norms of the wider mob of humanity, does not cause her sufficient grief, you march into her space. With the clatter of your academic jack-boots, your polished articulation, you proclaim, with all the authority of science behind you, that she is, effectively, finished. Do you really think that helps? And what is your message to young women? Conform to the norm or be damned? For the only thing your science has discovered is the prevailing norm. I have to tell you, this authoritative scientific finding comes as no news to our subject. She has soaked in these norms for years and understands them better than you think.

I feel fortunate to live in a country where the person who holds our highest political office is (often) barefoot and certainly pregnant. She is smart, savvy and humane. I don’t think she has an h-index at all. Your clear advice to her, should she make the mistake of clicking here, is on no account to try to do the job of Prime Minister. However, it turns out for her and for us as a country, that the very fact that she is doing what she is, is shaping our new normal. For now, at least for a time, there is hope of a solution to the paradox of normality and it involves the continuous hard labour of embracing difference, diversity and normality. As Laurie Lee observed in Cider with Rosie:

We were as hateful and cruel as most primitives but our inborn hatred of freaks and outcasts was tempered by meeting them daily.

So, now I must choose my own words carefully. From where I sit, far from tempering the cruelty of the mob, all that your “science” and use of social media is doing, is magnifying the pain of those who live outside the norm and about whose lives you are arrogant and clueless. Worse, it seems  you profit from your misogyny. What makes you think you have any right or authority to speak about what is right for women in general, for young women or for any woman? Put away your h-index Professor. Put it away.

PS: Clover is no post-anything scholar. The only post she engages with is a fence post but she is most definitely out standing in her field.






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