Public Healthians and Anthropologists -- in a teleconference-off

Gotta work on these post titles -- never my forte. Though since I know that not even my father is reading this blog (thanks, Dad! I feel so loved), the odds of anyone else doing so seem slim, as well.

Yesterday I spent a number of hours in my role as "consultant" to a public health research project. Originally wooed by being told I would be the "architect" of the study, the reality is, of course, more base. The LA people have been great, and they were receptive to anthropological methods (or what public health people like to call, often dismissively, "qualitative" methods) and really did give me a lot of free reign. (Though in retrospect, I learned from the project coordinator, with whom I work the most, and whom I really like a lot, they had not intended to do this part of the project and it just got dumped on the director's desk. Thus, the sense of independence and liberty comes from a desire not to have to take care of it themselves...but as long as I get paid, I'm pretty pleased.) But then, there was the CDC.

I've known, since my own days in the public health research world, that the kind of work I do is baffling and not highly valued to the epidemiologists/traditional science researchers. They love statistics! Counting! Denominators! Risks! And I think those things are also highly subjective measures, though you can try to front-load the subjectiveness by making it all very well-defined at the outset. Still, if I said, all white girls who live in the Los Angeles area, well, not all white girls might consider themselves white, or I might live in L.A. but actually have residence in, say, Baltimore...and then, the categories that the researcher thought were self-evidently defined suddenly are still skewed. Ok...these variations are perhaps rare, etc, but I do think it's important for the public healthians (and some of my best friends are public healthians...though in my mind, the good kind) to not make such clear divides between us and them. Though a number of my friends are trying to fight the good fight by showing how "qualitative" methods can radically enhance information about data sought, we are mainly seen as an amuse-bouche to the more hearty main meal. (Which, let's be fair, is mainly just counting stuff.)

In the course of the conference call, when we were discussing my proposal, for which I have termed anthropology practices as non-alarmingly as possible, it was clear that the bigwig at the CDC felt that the methods were too labor-intensive or not collecting "useful" data. They were also very concerned that in conducting observations in the clinic that the researchers would "influence" the behaviors of the providers. This concern with objectivity really irks me. It's naive at best and over-simplifies and reduces research methods at worst. I have learned in working on projects not to get overly attached to my ideas, especially when I'm low on the totem pole. So I've tried to remain zen about the major reworking.** Though, I suppose in this instance, I'm the one who's going to analyze the data and write the paper, so if it's not something I find well-designed or well-thought out, I'm going to be the one to suffer the consequences.

On the upside, after the conference call, we had a postmortem discussion in the director's office. When I first met in her office months ago, I got a kick out of seeing her glass dildo standing upright on her windowsill so that the light streams through it (no, I don't mean that it's actually "hers"). I noticed this time that she has tacked a vulva puppet up on her bulletin board. While I'm sure I could analyze to bits (urgh, unintentional pun) the material differences between the glass object and the plush puppet, mainly, I'm just happy to be working somewhere that these things are de rigueur (crap, potential pun again). Even if they are public healthians.

** I do sort of enjoy their resistance. I get a big kick, as many who do not read this blog know, out of making persuasive arguments to demonstrate that I am RULER of all LOGIC, and that those triflin' arguments can be poked apart. This makes me an obnoxious friend/relative, but an excellent pseudo-lawyer. I also write very good contracts.

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