Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Curious Case of Professor Miller's Tweet

Jason Mazzone

University of New Mexico psychology professor Geoffrey Miller recently asserted via his Twitter account that you have to be thin to complete a dissertation. Criticism was swift and loud. Inside Higher Ed quotes a nutrition professor at UC Davis--one Linda Bacon--urging the University of New Mexico to take "disciplinary action" because, among other sins, Miller's tweet showed allegiance to students "who may have discriminatory attitudes." In response to the numerous complaints about the tweet, the chair of Professor Miller's department has vowed (by video "interview" nonetheless) that "we"--presumably the university--"will investigate and take appropriate measures."

You don't have to have spent much time on a university campus to recognize the performers and performances of this oft-aired drama: Professor says something stupid. Offense is taken. Stupid comment is circulated, causing more offense. Complaints are filed. Demands for justice are made. Campus officials promise an investigation and (notwithstanding a little thing called the First Amendment) raise the possibility of punishment. Nothing of importance ultimately results. The incident is forgotten. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The only interesting question in this ritual is why, out of the surely millions of offensive (or potentially so) remarks made annually in educational settings, only some, like that by Professor Miller, generate widespread attention and condemnation.

Perhaps the amount of attention is purely random. But perhaps not. I see that Professor Miller has authored a series of articles that, at least according to their titles, are not likely to have earned him Colleague of the Year from those who populate modern American academia. A few of the post-tenure works listed on the CV of this evidently prolific author: "Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap-dancers: Economic evidence for human estrus?;" Intelligence and semen quality are positively correlated;" "Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males;" "Female orgasm rates are largely independent of other traits: Implications for 'female orgasmic disorder' and evolutionary theories of orgasm;" "Women who prefer longer penises are more likely to have vaginal orgasms (but not clitoral orgasms): Implications for an evolutionary theory of vaginal orgasm;" and "Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by waitresses in family restaurants." I have no idea whether any of these studies are sound (and I definitely lack the inclination to find out). But I'd wager they made a lot of noise.              


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