Who are these people I’m supposed to vote for?

I hope you are a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and that you just got an email about voting for various officers. I make it a point to vote the minute I get such things because it is important, but I don’t want it on my things to do list. If I do it right away, I don’t have to wonder if I did it, file the email, or any of that.

I wonder if you felt about it the way I did, though. That is that I cannot tell what matters to me from the information on the ballot. Only the candidates for president write anything in English, and even that is their puff piece, not what their colleagues might say they would actually do. The others have names and dates, a long list of them. We get to see what prestigious universities they attended, usually more prestigious than where they are now. We see what they have been elected to and what other committees they have served on and when. But they all have long lists. Why should I prefer Mr. Harvard over Mr. Stanford when what I’m really looking for is Ms. MSU, since I’m in complete agreement with Rich Lenski’s latest piece, even if he wrote it as a spoof.

I want to know which candidate has creative ways of inspiring the neglected, of combining service with innovation, of bringing real scientific thinking to our troubled country. I want someone who smiles and listens without interrupting to the newest graduate student. I want someone who understands consensus, who realizes we need everyone for the best decisions. I want someone who searches for bias in herself and others, and mitigates it. I want a self-starter with vision and collegiality, who does the job as it ought to be done, not as another notch on their ladder. I want someone who reinvents the job.

What I get instead is that I can vote for the person I know. I can vote based on gender. I can vote based on field. I can vote based on number and prestige of previous positions.

But I refuse to do so. What if I’m inadvertently preferring Mr. Horrible Jerk over Mr. So Amazing? This I just can’t figure out, so much of my ballot is blank. Maybe we should put the ballots on Yelp so the people that know these guys can endorse them, and we can vote for creative and delicious over food coma?

There has to be a better way. By the way, this also applies for the way head hunters help us choose our top administrators in universities. I won’t tell you whom a colleague was referring to when he said about someone leaving his university to go to another one, “Did no one talk to anyone?”


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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