The Creepy Thesis Hangover

Leave it to Marla to come up with the perfect final word. By the time I’d gone to bed last night, I was feeling that vaguely hangover-y, regretful way she describes in her comment. You know, that guilty and indulgent way you feel when you’ve eaten too many chips or wasted too much time on the Internet when you could have been doing more productive things with the real people in your life? Not that spending a couple of hours with y’all is a waste of time, and anyway, I was already feeling tired and cranky for reasons that have nothing to do with the Internet and everything to do with a toddler who thinks he’s a newborn and wakes up 4x a night now, so I didn’t mind sitting on my ass tapping away and not washing the floor for a couple of hours.

And it was a really interesting conversation, wasn’t it?

So here’s the thing. Today, Theryn sent me an e-mail to say hello. Theryn, aka Heather Lyn, the author of the thesis, who is still a regular reader and even a blogger herself. Look, she even said hello on the comments, and I’m not sure anyone noticed. And here’s the big lesson of the day, one I should have known better: she’s a real person, not just the two-dimensional author of some obscure (less obscure than last week, though!) thesis. And whatever we might have collectively inferred about her academic abilities, turns out she’s pretty nice, too. Certainly she’s got a thicker skin than me, and bore all of our criticism and commentary with grace and good humour.

As I told her in our e-mail exchange, I’m still not sure how I feel about her thesis — but I do regret bringing down a hailstorm of unsolicited and occasionally savage criticism on her head. And so Theryn, I’m sorry that you had to endure a verbal assault on your work that would have brought me to tears, thin-skinned and praise-needy as I am.

Funny thing, this Internet. Even for someone like me who lives and breathes it, who prides herself on hosting fair and respectful discussions, it’s easy to forget that there are people behind the keyboard, people with feelings and biases and opinions that are different. I can’t say that I regret my original post, because I wrote it in good faith and I think it resulted in a truly fascinating conversation. I haven’t changed my mind about thinking that Theryn crossed a line in her assumptions, and that she took my work out of context. But I do regret that I was naive enough to think that Theryn wouldn’t see the commentary if I didn’t explicitly name her, and frankly I regret that she did see it if only because I would have been hurt by those criticisms if there were directed at something I’d invested a lot of time and energy and myself into.

Ironic or what?

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

28 thoughts on “The Creepy Thesis Hangover”

  1. And I had noticed that one commenter did seem to be taking credit for her writing, but I wasn’t sure about that, then couldn’t find the comment when I went back to write my piece… please ignore my last comment in my far too lengthy comment. I had not refreeshed and seen this!

  2. Love this.

    And honestly, I just think it’s pretty cool that people think mommy blogs are worthy of academic study.

    Glad the two of you were able to talk things over.

  3. Dani,

    You’ve certainly had an interesting weekend!

    There are so many angles on this, including the importance of understanding that information we post online can be used for things that we never imagined, never mind agreed to. Not only can words be studied, but also other metadata such as the date and time of posting. I know you’re aware of the majority of the risks, and when this type of thing happens it gives us pause to contemplate the potential impact on bloggers with less communications experience.

    But when it comes to Ms. Fleming and the professors who allegedly supervised her thesis at Simon Fraiser University you are far too kind. According to her paper she has earned a B.Sc, a B.Ed, and an LL.B and is now persuing a masters degree. A highschool student I might forgive for the egregious violation of ethics and etiquette, but Ms. Fleming should have known better.

    Failing to contact you and other bloggers about whom she was writing displays such an very sense of ethics on her part and creates an uneasy irony — I certainly would expect more from anything persuing a graduate degree in Communications at a prestigous university like Simon Fraiser.


  4. This HAS been a fascinating situation on so many levels. I definitely learned a lot, too…. I haven’t looked at the thesis since I first read it, and that’s definitely helped me get some much-needed distance and perspective…. Love the word HANGOVER! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And, hey! I got to get to know YOU better through all this! Awesome.

  5. Wow. Well I guess that we can all take it as a lesson. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Breathe, breathe, breathe…and then write. I’m glad to hear that you two worked it out.

  6. Really, really interesting. (Also noted a snarky comment on the author’s blog from someone else, about who she was writing about). Slings and arrows, eh?! ๐Ÿ™‚

    PS – What is up with ReCaptcha?!! Is it sentient?! It says, literally, “subcommittee approval”. WTH.

  7. Removing my entire comment doesn’t seem fair, Dani. You may not want the author’s name mentioned, but I’m entitled to the opinion that I have no qualms using given names considering our first and last names, the names of our children and spouses, our apparent economic statuses, or domestic situations and more were analysed. That’s cool that you want to refrain from using the woman’s name, but I don’t recall being asked to not use it, just that you didn’t want to.

  8. I was one of the other bloggers (The Writing Mother) and the only reason I knew is from a google alert that lead me to your blog! I didn’t mind the analysis but I wish I’d known after it was published ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Leanne, I didn’t remove anything — not sure what you mean? Did you mean your comments on the other post, or did my spam filter eat something? (I’ve been having a lot of trouble with that, both on my blog and posting on other people’s blogs this week.) I’ll check the spam filter, but I have left every comment on this discussion to stand.

    (Emma, were you around for the catpcha as oracle post way back in 2008? I swear, it *is* sentient!!)

    Hi Heather! Welcome to the maelstrom!

  10. I’m feeling a bit hung over myself, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the conversation has no value. I think the ideas raised about ethics are important ones and worth discussing. I continue to be of the opinion that no breaches of academic ethics occurred in this case, but there is a rather lovely and terrifying symmetry to the moral (rather than ethical) lesson here that no online conversation goes unheard, and I wish that in one or two of my remarks I had kept that in mind.

  11. When you write a blog, you are explicitly putting it out there for people to read and respond to.

    The thesis may draw faulty conclusions, but I can’t see any grounds for complaining about it having been written in the first place.

    People who write for the public necessarily give up some control over how their writing is used. If you don’t like that, keep a diary in your sock drawer.

  12. I don’t mean to be nasty or unsympathetic, but I think there are two key points here:

    First, when you voluntarily and intentionally put something onto the public internet, you explicitly make it and object of public discussion. You can choose to retain copyright over it, but academic analysis of copyrighted works is permitted as a form of ‘fair use.’

    Second, academics aren’t constrained to writing about topics where the creator has given consent. Imagine if novelists or poets could refuse to have their work compared to certain other novelists or poets, or have your work interpreted through one conceptual frame or another. If they could do this, it would impoverish the academic discourse and put an unjustified restriction on free speech.

  13. Wow, I spent some time last night reading through everything and was really fascinated by all this. Definitely lots of food for thought, and so much to think about.

    Times have definitely changed since I wrote my thesis (many years ago!!), the internet was still new back then and I definitely was not able to use it for any research.

    Thanks for making everyone aware of this situation.

  14. You raise good points, Milan. I think the issue here is the fact that in personal blogs like mine, the difference between the published work and the person at the keyboard is a fine and fuzzy line. To have the blog scrutinized is one thing — to have my personal life scrutinized is another. And yet, you are entirely correct — that may simply be one of the risks of putting it all out there.

    The medium is evolving so fast, we barely have time to consider these ethical and moral and intellectual ripples. Being the subject of someone’s master’s thesis was never in a million years what I might have conjectured would come about as a result of the blog — I’m almost afraid to wonder what else never occurred to me!

  15. I have to agree with Milan. And I’ve said it before on my own blog – we have no idea how the words and photos we post on our blog are going to be used. It’s up to us to make the choice of what we want to make public and what we want to keep private. I have no issues with how this woman wrote her thesis. As Milan says, you do not need to contact the authors of works you cite in your academic papers for permission to cite their published work. That’s ludicrous. Eithics don’t even come into it. And so what if she’d contacted you first? You’d still have no idea what she was going to say about you. Would you then insist on having editorial rights over the content of her thesis? In any case, I’m sure she’s delighted by all the publicity her paper has gotten. As she said in her comment, it’s probably the most read thesis in the history of academic theses.

  16. 100% Agree with Milan and XUP. I read blogs on occasion for entertainment and am constantly amazed by the lack of ‘filter’ and if people even realize that all those details are in the public domain. I would be more concerned about my employer reading about my life and *their* analyses or inferences! (not directed at you specifically, but in general). you must be pleased with the traffic to your site.

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