mikka luster

just a blog. you remember? those things we had before facebook.

I just got some super sad news. One of my heroes, Dr. Peter Rosen, father or Emergency Medicine, passed away yesterday.

Dr. Peter Rosen

I first heard of him during my paramedic days, when his eternal words were emblazoned on the little booklet we had to document all our training cases in:

“Nobody woke up this morning and decided to ruin your day. Don't get angry at your patients. Don't get frustrated. Happiness is your choice.”

I was ... different ... then. It didn't sink in until a lot later, that being mad at people, them being intentional assholes, simply in pain, confused, lost, or unintentionally hurtful, was like drinking bleach and hoping someone else would die: never be mad, never get mad. Stay positive, happy. It's a choice. And that choice saved my ass a lot of times, because Emergency Medicine will burn and kill you, if you don't.

He came to talk about EM twice, and the first time I was so starstruck, I didn't (and that's rare) manage to get a word out. The second time I asked him to sign the black book for me, and he did. He asked it I had come from work to see him talk. I said yes. He asked what we'd done that day, and I told him about two cases. He wrote: “You saved a life today, you're my hero. Peter”

He was sharp as a surgeon's knife. He had a way to narrow down complicated cases and turn them into simple steps that would, like a mason's chisel, remove all the clutter from the patient's presentation and leave you with certainty about the next steps. He's the reason I wanted to and still work on getting into medical didactic.

There's a second quote from him:

“Preserve your ideals, don’t let the people around you poke fun at them, and look for where you get your fulfillment and make sure that it is still there and go after it if it is not.”

It's the reason I am back in school at 46, to get further, better, in the one thing I (to no small reason because of him) learned to love: medicine. Together with Nancy Caroline, he's whom I look up to when I think about what I want to be, where I want to be, where my ideals are.

The old three-volume and new two-volume editions of Rosen's Emergency Medicine have followed me everywhere, including to Nicosia. I always wanted to get them signed and tell him what his words meant to me, but now I guess I'll have to hold on to the Black Book.

RIP Peter, you were and are more than a hero to me.

It's time for a little bit of melancholy.

Cyprus is a weird place in a lot of ways. The one that gets me the most, is the massive discrepancy between temperatures and sunlight hours. The days are warm, 26 degrees C (79°F), and the nights are moderate, but it's dark at five, sunset being at a quarter til.

It's not winter, yet, but the city does its best to make it look a lot like it. Christmas decorations are going up all over the streets, Alpha Mega, our local Walmart-lookalike sells plastic trees, and bakeries are offering the first semblance of holiday cheer diabetes.


I feel strange about this. My favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote in 1911 about this time:

Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time, will stay up, read, write long letters, and wander the avenues, up and down, restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.

it sounds better in German:

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr. Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben, wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben und wird in den Alleen hin und her unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

“Strange,” because I do have it all in a weird way. I make friends quickly, and so the barber next door has become one, a place to sit and drink coffee, chat about politics and girls, wax poetically about the days we were younger and had the time and energy to catch a wave or six at the beach.

I've become fast friends with my grocery lady, too. Her house stands open, she teaches me Greek and cooks dinner when money is tight (as it always is). I don't want to get on her nerves, so I barely pop in, but whenever I do she seems to know that I'll be coming and has coffee ready and a pack of smokes to tempt me to go back to them.

But back home, the US or Germany, this used to be a different time. One where new friends had to wait and old friendships were being reaffirmed after a summer of flings and experiences. Where, over Cola Tea (yes, it's a thing and it tastes freaking great), we'd sit together and rehash the year. As the evening moved on, we'd switch to the fall wines, maybe a glass of good rum or whiskey, and the laughter would get a little louder, the jokes a little shallower. We'd laugh against the cold, the time to come, and as a way to tell each other we're still here.

This was the time of stories, many embellished, a few told from behind glassy eyes and with a slightly slurred intonation. This year, it isn't. And that's weird.

We'd cook and bake. This year I am in a room, unfit to host, and even less fit to cook and bake in. My oven is broken, too, but that's neither here nor there. So it gets dark outside, I brew some tea, eat dinner alone, and read BioStatistics or the New England Journal of Medicine.

That, too, I miss. I've always striven to have a healthy mix of medical and non-medical, cop- and non-cop, friends. That helped, it kept me grounded. Now, paradoxically enough as I attend a medical program in a university, few people around me give a shit about healthcare and medicine. My love, the reason I am here, medical education and medical didactics, falls behind. As do the stories. There aren't many who will laugh about yet another “and then the central line went all the way through the room...” story, no one to discuss the relative usefulness of a reverse algorithm in ACLS, and no one to do Dr. House or “guess the STEMI” drinking games with.

So I sit and read NEJM, play on Figure 1, watch House MD by myself, and dream of the days when I didn't feel like an abject failure in the face of 50 multiple choice questions about protein synthesis.

Now, this might sound more depressive than it actually is. I love it here. The island is amazing, its people friendly and welcoming, the weather is a bonus, and walking 8 miles (ca. 13 km) combined to and from school truly helps with loosing weight. Not only that, making new friends is always amazing. But as much as I love jumping into new things, I am a creature of habit. And would much rather be curled up in front of the TV right now, watching a medical drama, doing shots every time someone gets something basic wrong, while the fall wind drives leaves across the yard outside the window.


You should probably read Tdtw1, which is here.

This is just a brief summation of the argument made in my last post. Working out the kinks of this argument is one of the reasons I am submitting it for debate and am writing it down.

Important Abilities Of Medics

  • Performance under stress
  • Know where to find answers
  • Know where to find support
  • Know your tools, be prepared for any and all problems
  • find your agency under stress

Important Abilities Of Psychopaths

  • Performance under stress
  • resist stress under situations of lost agency

The important differentiation here is not that medics can not be trained to remain calm and dig through their experiences and knowledge for answers under stress, but that the stress experienced by medics is one of time constraints, not reduced agency.

To overcome the stressors of a medical scenario, medics need to learn to function when every second counts, need to be able to sift through vast amounts of knowledge, filtered through hundreds of facts and data points about the patient, and decide on courses of action.

This activity is precisely (Chambon et al., 2013) located in the parietal cortex, which links vestibular, somatosensory, and action plan information via the angular gyrus. Agency removing actions, such as possession deprivation, facial and body language signaling hostility, surveillance, and more, inhibit this activity.

This simple truth is, funnily enough, pretty well known. Brock Chisholm, (not the former WHO Director General, Psychiatrist, and conspiracy nutter, the UK Psychologist), showed that human rights workers, well trained and successful in other places, failed miserably under surveillance in Ethiopia, for example.

I should stress this: a good test does not a bad doctor make. Many fine medics have tested well. I do argue, however, that by focusing on these tests, making them the gateway into medicine, we not only fail to sieve out the worst enemy of medicine, the sociopath egotist, but also train our future physicians and medics in general to act and react in a way that does not seek agency under stress but relinquishes it, ignores its loss, and performs on a reduced helpful pathway of formulaic approaches alone.

Maybe some of you know this scenario in a similar way.

[Note: there's a second part, which you should maybe read after this]

An evening. I am explaining Compton scatter to a few colleagues, something I understand. We drift from Thompson to Pair Production, discuss constants... I know my shit.

The next morning. 60 questions. I probably got 40 wrong.

Why does this happen? Why am I running blank when in front of a piece of paper? The answer, I believe, lies in something I understand even better: law enforcement and medic psychology.

Test environments are the very antithesis to the idea of modern medics. Sterile rooms, forcibly made void of many things, guarded by scowling staff. Good medics thrive in teams, work with all available tools, know where to get more. They build networks of knowledge and social graphs to combine the best they have with the best others offer, all to no personal benefit but that of an often complete stranger.

Medics learn to work in a ß-supervisory environment, where supervisors are at hand to guide, not to constrict. This is not unlike law enforcement, where our first goal is to turn police officer into team players who simultaneously thrive under complete autonomy (“One LEO One Car” system). LEO and medics also work hard to be on the right side of a nervous breakdown whenever there is a moment of chaos.

But there is more... There is a reason this is how we “break” suspects in police interrogations. We deprive them of means of communication, make it clear that they are being watched and judged at every second. We take their possessions, force them into a specific location (usually a chair on a table), and we hand them a blank piece of paper and a pen. This is 2019, everything is recorded, statements do not need to be written. Yet, we do. Because the psychological terror of white papers and pens is not a holdover from testing days, it is one that is inherent in every person.


In 2004 Hattfield and Vandergroot at UvA attempted an experiment: a group of students was invited to take part in a small psychological. 20€ were promised to everyone who partook until the end, another 5€ to the top performing students.

Yet, instead of the promised test, all participants were led into one of the auditoriums at the university and asked to sit down in evenly spaced rows. A questionnaire was handed out, containing simple questions, from name to date of birth, favorite foods, and more.

The control was allowed to fill the same questionnaire in a relaxed environment free from apparent supervision. The second group was patrolled by orderlies, had their cell phones, jackets, bags, and watches taken from them, not allowed to speak or interact otherwise.

Group 2 performed much poorer on simple questions (“a man carries five boxes of ten apples each up a hill, one box at a time. Every second trip he eats one of the apples. How many apples arrive on top of the hill?”) than group one, even though group one did not use peer knowledge.

Dropouts from Group 1 were rare, only two (n=53) had to leave early. Group 2 (n=48) lost 11, or almost a quarter, of its participants.


I'm not a bad medic. Drop someone from a sixth floor balcony, intoxicate them beforehand, and make it hail in the middle of the night, and I'll barely feel an elevated level of stress when tending to them. Why? I am no superman, but I have what I need: peer, presence, tools, freedom.

Drop me into a room with a paper and a pen, and I freeze. Jail like circumstances, the opposite of where I worked for most of my life. Surveillance, loss of agency and loss of control.

Uni Exam

“Anti-Cheating” hats in a Thai Medical University

When I worked LEO Psych, I helped develop the environments in which we tested candidates. It was hard to break through the old “tough love” thinking of ancient LEO who believed that only being forged in the fire of feeling like a serial killer under interrogation churns out the good ones and drops the chaff. Instead, and this is an observation we sadly make every day in modern America, the chaff (and the good ones) made it, because the testing we did said nothing about the fitness of our candidates and more about their psychopathic subtendencies, which supported remaining calm in such environments.

Agency is important. Any person comfortable with its loss might not be a good medic in the first place. Psychopathy (warning: psychopathy is not a medical diagnosis and not a DSM number. I use it loosely as the amalgamation of the nine factor p-Test used in legal proceedings) makes it easier to ignore this loss, remain calm in the face of it. See Dahmer, see Green Bay Killer, see Zodiac Killer interrogations.

Agency is also, what makes us care about others, not just ourselves. This is known as the paradoxical empathetic feedback. The “freer” one feels, the more they care about others. Agency creates freedom, freedom creates altruism Its loss is the very trigger for amygdalic stress and self-preservation by detaching conscious thinking. Scowling Jailer-cum-Testmaster faces are visceral triggers of such reduced agency feedback loops and, if Hattfield et al are right, accounts for a mean of 22% worse grades in specific candidates.

Leave the universities and head into an airport. Here you are, as you would be during every traffic stop or border crossing, subjected to precisely the same situation: a person in authority, holding a piece of your freedom hostage, depriving you of agency, in the commission of a testing scenario. LEO around the world are now trained on how to defuse these situations by using words, gestures, facial expressions, and poses. The result are less tense citizen and much less open confrontations. Confrontations which are triggered due to a reduced frontal lobe involvement in spontaneous actions and utterances. University test masters do not receive this training, yet their behavior and the environment they create is at least as damaging to some people's future as a random traffic stop.

In other words, the very dynamic we're using in LE to get confessions, a form of psychological attack meant to inhibit higher cognitive functionality, works against us as LEO in traffic stop or threshold-admission situations. And it works against us in test scenarios.

Classroom tests are not stress in the way we perform under stress as clinical practitioners. Stress comes in many forms, and is not interchangeable. Stressors, neuropsychological and neurophysical, vary in latitude and magnitude. But while learning to deal with the stress of a psychological torture scenario like a classroom test might be beneficial to a career as a psychopathic suspect, it won't help and might actually be detrimental, to a future as a physician.

Just a Medic

Online, almost anywhere I go, I call myself “Just A Medic” (or “medimikka” where that's taken). And, inevitably, I am asked why “just” and why “medic.”

Truth is, there's a process, a development, behind this statement. One that begins, much like any development does, slowly. I had jobs. I didn't like them, but they made me (much, in some cases) money. I wrote software, I started and owned restaurants, I worked as a bouncer, a lorry driver, and a barroom magician at one point. I was in law enforcement. I tried it all, none of it stuck... except medicine. I liked medicine. It wasn't the most glamorous of jobs (someone told me yesterday, that it's a pity I am not a German Chef... I didn't tell her and said “sorry, just a medic” :)), and it wasn't the best paid one, either. In fact, riding the dot.com wave briefly in late 1999 and early 2000 made me more cash than six years of medicine combined.

But I never had a Monday in medicine. You know, that's the day you don't want to go to work, want to stick around and see what else sleep brings you? That kind of Monday. I never had one. After years doing medicine in one way or another, interrupted at times, I still wake up every morning with that butterfly feeling in my stomach, excited to get going, excited to do medicine, excited to see what the day brings. It's like being freshly in love with someone you know so well, you know they'll make you happy.

So, why “just a medic.” A medic, to me, is someone who heals. Heals in a very specific way. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, combat medics, physiotherapists, psychotherapists, they, we, all do have a choice: do we want to be a medic, do we want to be that person?

To me, “medic” conjures the image of a person clad in the gear you're wearing, ready to brave danger, ready to get to work and drag you into safety, always there with a means to still the wound, ease the pain, and give you comfort and safety.

The medic is a special kind of healer, one we need more of. Not a god. Not a demigod. Not an acerbic ruler or chart reading leader. But someone who understands that our job, as therapists, as nurses, as physicians, as orderlies, as EMT, is that of a buddy, a navigator, a copilot. We're not dictators, we're not warlords in the war against disease, we have no enemies. Instead, we have buddies, the patient near us. We're their second, their advisor, their protector.

We're not fighting against things. We fight for someone — our patients. In the process we, together, them and us, vanquish the dangers that threaten them. They might need us, yes, but this doesn't give us powers, instead it gives us responsibility.

I don't wear ties. Ever. In a clinical setting, ties are attempted bodily harm, as they're both nasty transmission vectors for all kinds of things, and always get in the way. Outside the clinic, I don't do, either. I seek no special status, seek no acknowledgment, and do not want to signal standing. Instead, I carry the tools I need to help if I am needed. More expensive than a tie, rarely seen or used, but in line with my calling, that of a medic.

Medics don't stand behind lecterns when they speak. Ideally, I am next to those I speak to (never “at”), but as much as I can I remove obstacles between me and them. I don't use desks when I am collaborating with a client, desks are dividers, too. A small writing surface next to me is generally enough, the practical part is being satisfied that way.

Medics don't teach. Medics converse. In conversing, they learn as much, if not more, than the person who came to see them. I will never understand my colleagues going to conferences to give a speech and disappearing right at its conclusion, not extending the courtesy of listening to those who listened. No one is educated enough to eschew learning. Which, funnily, is something I observe in the Nobel laureates and other luminaries that come: what sets them apart from the colleague who isn't as well known, is that they generally remain and listen, engage, converse. And that there is little to no hierarchical thinking in their interactions. It's not the demigod in white that will save the world or the patient, it's that Nobel laureate's findings that will.

I follow the first line, attributed to Asclepios, of the Modern Oath: “Sedare dolorem opus divinum est.” — it is a divine work (“highest calling”) to ease the pain. This extends into my life in general. I listen, I try to ease the pain if I can, and I will attempt to cause as little as I manage. It is never exhausting to be there, but as a medic I also offer and withdraw, I leave it to my buddy, my patient, my equal, to accept or reject the offer. I am not all knowing, not omnipotent, so I do not know if I am what someone else needs.

I can heal. That's all I know (ok, I can cook a mean dinner and if you ask nicely I'll show you a few card parlor tricks), and I know how to do well. It won't make me special, doesn't give me permission or leave. Instead, being a medic, a healer, means I want to be with, not above, those around me. I want to be by their side when things go pear shaped, when shit hits the fan, or when fear comes with the darkness.

I don't want to be special. I just want to be ... a medic. And that's why I am Just a Medic.

Way back when, when games were bought in stores, no one streamed their exploits (but we recorded them with FRAPS), and 1080p at 40fps was considered a great gaming experience, I played WoW.

WoW was more an interactive chat environment for me, a place to explore, to communicate, and to meet new people. The hyper-Christian father of six, the former sex worker turned lawyer, the grandmother, everyone was special, often fun, sometimes drama, to be around.

Then came that fateful day I found PvP, player vs. player. First it was just a way to relieve some stress in the evenings. As a new player, neither possessing the armor and weapons nor the experience, most of my PvP experience consisted of running back from the game's graveyard towards my comrades, getting “killed” quickly, and repeating the exercise.

The game, however, also rewarded the losers. Not as well as the winners, of course, but just participating or, ideally, being in the winning team, meant to gain points that could be spent on better weapons and armor as well as cosmetic changes, such as “titles” that were displayed to other players.

A few weeks of losing, learning, eventually winning a few times in a row, and I was hooked. No longer did I explore Azeroth, the planet, or participate in 5- and 40-man “raids” of more complicated content... I was constantly “in queue,” waiting to be thrust into a player vs. player fight, or fighting.

My in-game connections changed, too. My “guild,” the social groups of players that formed in WoW, was focused on beating computer generated monsters in dungeons, while I was fighting other players. While I remained a member (and guild master) of the guild, I barely interacted with them anymore. Instead, I found new compadres, people whose history I didn't know, who barely offered their real world backgrounds, and whose conversations focused on how to beat which player on the other side, and who needed how many points to advance in rank.

Ranking was a fickle system. Not only based it on kills and not being killed, it also weighed each player against all others, both in a percentile and direct sliding scale. While many people could reach the rank of, say, Legionnaire (Rank 8), much fewer would make it to General (Rank 12), and only one slot was open at all times for High Warlord (Rank 14).

Ranks were calculated during the weekly “maintenance” downtime, when all servers were disconnected and the scores tallied (as well as patches applied and other things).

We usually met an hour before the servers came back up, using VoIP technologies such as Teamspeak, later Mumble, and planned the week. Going from Rank 9 to 10, I felt the trepidation for the first time: did I make it?

When, four weeks later, I reached Rank 11, I decided to call it a day after 12. “General” was a great title. Going from 11 to 12 meant to “grind” every day, at least 8 hours of playing, at least 6 weeks, and winning at least 75% of all games. So I did it. But then “Warlord” (13) sounded good and reachable, after all it was only 10 weeks out.

On my way to Warlord, things changed. I didn't, I already had. I'd become reclusive, antisocial, and overweight. I'd lost a lot of sleep, and my health had deteriorated. To fall asleep, I drank. To wake up, I tossed pills against the hangover and coffee against the lack of sleep. Then I played.

What changed wasn't me, I'd already become “that guy,” it was my environment which, much more forgiving and slower to judge than myself, wandered off. My friends, relationship, family, and job evaporated. It didn't matter. I had the game and the Grind.

My days looked the same: get up, make coffee, toss pills, reheat pizza or just eat it cold, log into the game. Open Mumble. Greet everyone who was there, briefly deride the one player who had a life and wasn't coming online, then jump into the queue for Battlegrounds. Unnoticed by me, but the more felt by others, my depression reared its ugly head more and more, only placated by the next win in combat or the next trophy acquired.

I usually played until I found myself asleep on the computer. This only happened when the queues were longer, if we jumped from battleground to battleground I often made it for 24 hours or more. Coffee and sugar conspired to keep me awake and additionally reduce my insulin sensitivity as a lasting gift.

Upon reaching Rank 13, Warlord, I had lost everything outside the game. Everything I owned was a computer, an overdue room, an unpaid Internet account in collections, and my pixels. New armor, new weapons, new titles.

There was only one more step: High Warlord. Rank 14. 12 weeks, at least, of never failing. 12 weeks of at least 14 hours of playing the game. 12 weeks during which the slightest failure, falling asleep, not logging in, not winning, would cost me all.

And, of course, the title was highly sought after. My compadres had to agree to stand back, to let me have the points. Not only did they have to work with me, twelve weeks, seven days a week, 14+ hours a day, they also had to keep me alive, control dangers, and tack on another Grind to theirs until their time came. I'd done this for others, and now I wanted it to be my turn.

The conversation was hard. Some wanted the title for themselves, a few left the team in a huff, adding more hours to the “feeder” duties of the remaining players. Others didn't think I could do it or deserved it, among other things I played a Priest, a support and healer, not killer, role in the game. Warriors and Mages were the favored classes at that time.

Yet, as the servers reset and a new week dawned, it was decided: I would go for High Warlord.

[In part 2 we'll follow the 12 weeks to High Warlord, the high cost of winning, and what happened after them. Will I make it? You'll find out]

I've known Mike forever. We're following each other on several media sites, he sends words of encouragement my way, and I follow, in awe and sometimes a little envy, his travels.

Mike is a special kind of individual. Between his words swings a kindness and love for life, a lust for it even, it makes anyone want to be like him a little.

But this isn't a post about how I want to be like Mike...

I don't believe in archetypes or classifications (a serious shortcoming for someone who works in psychometrics), but I accept that they're useful as illustrative tools every once in a while. One of the few I frequently employ follows me since my undergrad days, when I used them (much to the bemusement of my professors who, rightfully, didn't think undergrads should develop their own archetypes).

In short (you ready?)...

I believe we can classify humans into stair climbers, Tarzan, and BASE jumpers.

Ok, ok, I guess I have to expand on this. And why I believe this to be important. It all starts with Mike's piece. Read this first.


The Stair Climber: Their path is clear, they sees their goal, albeit a little hazy in the distance. And that's OK because the stairs to this goal are solid and well defined.

Stair Climbers approach change and goals with a focus on the path, long term planning, and a demand for solid and defined steps, ideally evenly spaced.

Tarzan: Like its namesake, Tarzans swing from vine to vine. There's an art to this, to grab hold of a new vine, test it, rely on the old one for support while assessing the new. Safety to our Tarzan means, to always have a vine to hold on to, one that has been tested. But, unlike our Stair Climber, Tarzan lets go. S/he discards the old, uses the mileage they get from it, to move on to something new. Their goal isn't far off in the distance, it's the next vine.

BASE jumper: Trust in the chute is the name of the game. The goal is below, clearly defined, the risk is great, but trusting in one's abilities and the chute is all the jumper needs.

Jumpers trust in themselves and the circumstances as well as their expertise to never let them down. This enables them to just let go, jump, fall, race towards their goal, knowing that there will be the soft (or hard) pull from the chute at the right time.

I've always been a Tarzan, I guess. Swinging for career to career, never crazy enough to let go of the tried and true before having solid purchase on something new. What I did, from academics to manual labor and later medicine, always used the old, the safety it gave me, as a fallback and safety device.

Mike is a BASE jumper, and for that I envy and admire him. He trusted, he jumped, and it seems he's having the time of his life gliding towards his goal.

I wonder what my friends see themselves as. Or you, dear reader... I, for one, am happy as the vine swinging kind, I wouldn't be where I am today without it, and I know two things: right now I am scared as all hell, but I know I can let go of this vine and swing back on my old one, and I love every second of it.

When do we truly “arrive?” I came here about a month ago, ceremoniously unpacked my 23 kilos worth of remaining life, found a supermarket and cafe, and life went back to somewhat normal.

This is all that is left from a 1300 sq ft (ca.

All that's left of a 1300 sqft house

I went to the beach for the first time today. The water is blue and green and warm, it's a holiday maker's paradise. It didn't feel like a holiday.

I don't speak Greek, my six or seven phrases get me through the day so far, classes begin next week. Still, everyone speaks English here, and the hardest part isn't communicating but to practice Greek (Cypriot Greek is a whole 'nother animal, too) in a country everyone is so extremely friendly and helpful, they'll switch to English the second they notice someone struggle.

When do you arrive? When we get through our days, get what we need (thanks, Amazon), find what we're looking for? When we make friends? When we call it home? I don't know... but I guess, for the first time, I'll find out.

I've started using write.as and Facebook Live as some sort of diary. Still writing my more personal thoughts by hand, but this might serve as a pretty decent way to get some more memories committed somewhere.

You can annotate and mark up this post or comment on Twitter, I'll aggregate all comments in a coming blog post.

A while back, I wrote:

Where, in the beginning, I cared about dislikes, I stopped being affected by them. In the end, they meant interaction. Interaction meant positive attention by YouTube itself, and with that a chance at the Recommendations.

@cjeller responds:

Interesting to bring up the negative side of interaction. Just because someone interacts with your post beyond a like or downvote it doesn't mean it is a worthwhile interaction. I wonder if there could be a way to make those kind of interactions happen less. {src: https://hypothes.is/a/g-k5uNveEem_f4sgjOSPJA}

Maybe it's because I come from statistical academia, maybe it's because I work in a field where criticism isn't just accepted, it's encouraged and gladly given or taken (after all, lives depend on us not fscking up), but I always liked criticism.

There is, of course, a difference: Personal vs. ideas, ideologies, theories, and interpretations. Personal attacks, ad hominem arguments, are never OK. Attacking their ideas, however, their theories, their ideologies, is. Young parents learn this. Never tell a child “you are a bad kid” but, instead, tell them “you did something bad.” Someone who has been shown that their actions were bad might change them. Someone who is told that they are bad, won't. After all, they're bad already, why not do bad things?

It's the difference between arguing about the extent, impact, and cause of climate change, as well as the solutions, and calling half the country a “basket of deplorables.” The difference between disagreeing with policies and making fun of those who like them. It's huge.

In that vein, let's talk about negative commentary, and why I am a fan.

In academia, any citation is a good citation. Again, citations don't focus on the person behind them, they attack (or solidify) the argument made in a specific piece of writing. Citations yield “Impact Points” (IP), an internet “like” sort of currency used in academia to establish one's worth in the community and get jobs. As someone with little to no impact points to my name, I won't ever make tenure with a good university, for example.

However, IP don't distinguish between solidification and criticism. This is intentional. A criticized publication also gets stronger, since the author will rework, rethink, and redo their thought processes. At least that's the idea. It relies heavily on the recipient's resilience and ability to distinguish between criticism and attacks ad hominem and not to take the former personally.

You might not believe it, but contrary to the common chorus, not all academics are snowflakes.

On YouTube, downvotes are negative comments still count as interactions. This means that, yes, the algorithm will come and check out the posted content much quicker and more thoroughly, but the system itself considers all commentary to be currency into the “trending” tab, while downvotes (dislikes) still count as interactions for the purpose of establishing “playlist” queues.

YouTube's goal, to keep people on the site, is best served if controversy is included. Mad viewers will produce counter-content, link from Twitter or Facebook, and any traffic is good traffic. Within the new “adpocalypse” guidelines, of course.

Those are two different kinds of negativity leading to positive outcomes. The latter simply solidifies frontiers and invites more dissent which, in term, brings in more ad revenue for YouTube and the creator. The former has the potential of strengthening arguments and bringing about a rethinking of ideas.

In our AI powered world, it'll be hard to train machines to discern the two. Even harder might be, to train humans to do so, to not take criticism of ideologies, ideas, and findings as personal attacks. Fighting negativity in commentary is a good thing, but not all criticism is negative, not all attacks are a bad thing. Academia, science, enlightenment, and — ultimately — the lives of real human beings, depend on any and all idea, any opinion, any finding, being under constant attack. Only by defeating those attacks can a theory become stronger. Only by proving it can defeat them, on an equal, unemotional, rational, scientific, level, does it earn the right to inform.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.