May Compliments Corner

We have such an awesome community and I’m so glad that these compliments can highlight and celebrate that. Hope you enjoy! 

To submit compliments for next Frankly Speaking, visit https://forms.gle/gm1VfwtUXseKDK4w7

Hi Evan! Thank you for being such a wonderful person to lean on when I need someone to talk to. Thank you for always being supportive of me and letting me bounce my thoughts off of you. You’re such a good soul. I know you’ll go far :)

Hannah is a magical human who manages to cheer me up whenever I see her! This is true both in the everyday, and especially when I’m sad and need a shoulder to lean on. Thank you, Hannah.

Diego Alvarez is the first Oliner I ever met, and he made me feel, and still makes me feel, welcome and accepted at Olin. He can also spin fire like no tomorrow, and I will always aspire to that level of awesome.

Kyle Combes is such a gentle soul. He makes me feel loved and listened to, and continues to bring me joy whenever I see his face, even if it is over video chat and not in person.

Evan New-Schmidt is one of my favorite people. I think he really embodies what it means to be an Oliner: He is a very capable engineer, but also cares deeply about the community, always seems to have time for the wacky shenanigans that just scream ‘Olin’. He’s a super genuine and kind person and I find him very inspiring

Lucky is probably the strongest person that I know. He is the embodiment of work hard, play hard, and whenever things get tough, Lucky always steps up to the plate and doesn’t give up until the job is done, and I respect that so much

Rachel Won is a people person, and she’s just so passionate about… everything. Truly inspiring.

Kian, I cherish every REEEEEEEEE you’ve shared with me

Anna has such a great energy to her! Also 10/10 good barber

To my partner in all sorts of things: thank you for being you. You are incredible.

Anil is super hard-working, technically experienced, patient, and has been a great mentor and role model for me. Thanks for all you’ve done for me and the formula team <3

Has there ever been as smart and perceptive an Oliner as Ava?  I doubt it.

I cannot fathom how Caitrin does all the things she does, and at such a high level.  I want to be Caitrin when I grow up.

Mark Somerville is The Real Deal.  Seriously, people, I cannot fathom an Olin without him.  We are so, so lucky for his leadership.  (Never leave us, Mark!)

WAY TO GO Presidential Search team!  You ROCK!

Sharon Breitbart is the most unsung hero of Olin.  No one here appreciates her enough, but I DO!  Thank you for your amazingness, Sharon!

ERD?  Best of the best.

Carlos, thank you for being a fantastic friend, I appreciate you so much

No one knows what Lauren Taaffe does, but the whole college would fall apart without her.  Thank you, Lauren!!!

Sarah Spence Adams totally gets it.  All of it.

Thank you to Jon Adler for totally having our backs through all this messiness.  What would Olin be without you?!

Libby is a goddess nerd.

Rob and Jean – you have been so supportive of students during this time while still providing engaging class time. I always look forward to six microbes class <3

Prisha Sadhwani is such a kind-hearted and warm human, who’s always looking out for her friends, even mid-pandemic :)

Carlos, thank you for stepping up so hard when the class of ’22 needed you. I know you had all your own personal stresses to, and everything you did was way beyond the scope of the position you signed up for, but your energy never faltered, and you worked so selflessly hard, which I appreciate endlessly.

Erhardt, you inspire me every day. I think you’ve helped me find purpose and guidance and I’m so immensely grateful to you. I hope that I can be even a little bit like you!

William Derksen is very cute

Meg Ku – you impress me with all the crazy amazing things you accomplish, keep it up girl!

Micah has the best hair, always

Sam Daitzman, you bring me so much joy. Thanks for being my frienddd <3

Sam Young is an absolute legend

Who can? Emma Pan

Kristin I miss u so much <3 love you, even (and especially when) you’re being sassy

Jordan, thank you for all the free hug Fridays. You give the best hugs!

Dylan — your thoughtfulness and amazing ability to listen always makes me feel at home around you

Blake: you have a great sense of humor, and you always make me feel comfortable being who I am

Emma W, you’re such a wholesome kind of crazy!

Dhara: you have such a big heart I love you

AT, I’m so lucky that you are in my life!! I love how wacky you keep things and I love vegetable charades and worm-y karaoke! Can’t wait until we are back together in person!

Thank you to Olin administration for caring about everyone’s mental health as well as physical

Emily T. has been amazing as a MechSolids professor and I appreciate her daughter’s guest lectures

Katie Goldstein is such a bright and radiant person

I miss hanging out and laughing with George

Skye’s zoom backgrounds always make me laugh

Shreya. That’s it that’s the compliment no explanation needed

Jasmine never fails to make me laugh

Anusha absolutely killed it as SG president and we all love and have so much appreciation for her

I’m always so happy to see when Kristtiya sends a video to the class groupchat

Maya A. is a kind and passionate soul that inspires me

Anil is a dope MechSolids NINJA that I really appreciate

Shirin is a caring and loving person

Reid is a pun god

Anya is always super cheerful and makes me happy to be around

Meg Ku you’re such an amazing and kind hearted person! I’m so happy and honored to be your friend

Nathan W – your determination and hard work inspires me all of the time!

Elias you never fail to make others smile!

Lynn Stein – thank you for being such a guiding light for me and so many people in our community. I appreciate you endlessly!

Reid you’re such a wonderful soul, always caring for everyone with infinite patience 

annie chu – you’re honestly such a badass and an incredibly hard worker

Maal! You’re such a endlessly sweet person, and also just have such an amazing aesthetic please teach me

Thank you to everyone who wrote kind words to me about this and in the form. I appreciate you so much and my heart is so happy!! Thank you thank you thank you!

            — Maia

SERV Activity Updates

The Daily Table: Emily Yeh

Daily Table is a nonprofit organization that makes affordable and healthy food available to people with low incomes. A group from Olin volunteers at Daily Table every Saturday (time TBD). If you’re interested, keep an eye out for an email to Carpe with more information!

 

Big Brothers Big Sisters College Campus Program: Justin Kunimune

Big Brothers Big Sisters has continued with its biweekly outings. As we approach the end of the semester, we prepare to say goodbye for our Littles for the summer.

 

Charles River Center: Emma Price

The Charles River Center is a non-profit organization based in Needham that works to improve the lives of people with developmental disabilities and help support their families. They have a variety of different programs for people of all ages, all with really fun activities (like zumba and yoga)!!

 

E-Disco: Micaela Chiang, Daniel Daughterly, Lauren Pudvan, Nicole Schubert

We have continued our monthly lessons at Schofield Elementary school. We hosted the 6th graders from Dana Hall and had them design for mythical creatures. We will be having students in the area come to Olin on April 29th to build and launch Bottle Rockets.

 

IgniteCS: Casey Alvarado, Emily Lepert, Brenna Manning, Vicky McDermott, Sophia Nielsen, Andrew Pan

We are hosting computer science workshops on Saturdays at nearby middle schools. Last semester we hosted two workshops at Dedham Middle School and Monsignor Haddad Middle School. This semester we hosted one at Pollard Middle School in Needham and will be returning to the Dedham Middle School. We are always looking for volunteers to help out at our workshops and for new members to join our curriculum design team!

 

The Food Project: Aaron Greiner, Gaby Clarke

The Food Project engages youth and works on food justice issues through running 70 acres of farm in the Greater Boston area and the North Shore. They work on advocacy, youth development, and much more. Their farms, which are largely run by youth and volunteers, produce food that is sold at affordable prices at places like farmers markets. They have volunteer opportunities at all of their farms throughout the week.

 

Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) Framingham: Ashley Funk

MCI Framingham is the Massachusetts Department of Correction’s institution for incarcerated women. They have a number of opportunities for volunteers, though getting approved as a volunteer takes persistence and patience (lots of background checks and paperwork). Currently, I am volunteering in the greenhouses and providing support for the gardening program where the women grow plants to sell to the prison staff.

Mother’s Little Helper: The Feminine Mystique’s Impact on Inclusive Suffering

“’Things are different today,’
I hear every mother say
Cooking fresh food for a husband’s just a drag
So she buys an instant cake and she burns her frozen steak
And goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper”

(“Mother’s Little Helper,” The Rolling Stones)

Now, I’m not a mother myself, but I feel that I’ve met enough of them in my life to feel justified in saying that mothers feeling unappreciated and overworked is dece. Over half a century ago, (because this has been going on for that long and longer), Betty Friedan wrote a little book addressing these very issues, called The Feminine Mystique, which is largely credited with sparking the second wave feminism movement. Good for Friedan and her book.
The Feminine Mystique has been critiqued for, among other things, how narrow its subject and intended audience is. There is absolutely nothing wrong with making something for a small audience or writing about a very uncommon subject. You can write an advice guide for former US Presidents on what they should do after the Oval Office. That’s an audience of five right now. You can craft an encyclopedia on Northern White Rhinos, of which there are ten still living. There’s nothing wrong with a small subject pool or a select audience. And while I won’t argue that Friedan was wrong in her choice to exclude anyone not straight, white, affluent, and female from her message, that cannot be the sole reason we decry the book.

That Damn Donna Reed
Through a somewhat roundabout series of events, I ended up starting to watch Gilmore Girls (and I couldn’t really stick with it). One episode that sticks out to me is the one where Rory, her mother Lorelai, and her boyfriend Dean watch The Donna Reed Show for their movie night. Lorelai and Rory provide constant, witty, sarcastic dubbing for the viewing, mocking how devoted Donna Reed and her TV daughter are to keeping the house cleaning and baking “an endless string of perfect casseroles” (Gilmore Girls, season 1 episode 14). When Dean comments that he thinks it’s a nice family concept, Rory uses the second half of the episode to show Dean how strange a 50’s nuclear dinner is, except that they both enjoy the evening and Rory learns that the real Donna Reed was actually quite revolutionary in the world of television.
Why do I mention Donna Reed?
For starters, The Donna Reed Show is a very clear example of both what a good deal of 1950’s home life was like and how we want to remember it having been. More to my point of not liking the book’s message, just because you think that how someone is living their life is wrong doesn’t mean that they have to join you in your sentiment, and you saying that your view is the correct one because you believe it to be that way is childish. Is The Donna Reed Show dated? Yes (it’s literally set in the 1950’s-60’s). Should we condemn how different women live their lives? No (society expects women to be everything all at once, so maybe we should focus on that). It’s good to go to college, it’s good to cook dinner for your family, it’s good to have a career, and it’s good to be a stay at home parent. A better book to The Feminine Mystique would have been Give Women a Choice in Their Lives.

On the Origins of Non-Straight People
On to the main event. I imagine that if you were to sum up every person that was part of any marginalized group, they would outnumber non-marginalized people several times over. And because we’re a species that has divided itself into fabricated groups, we feel the need to compete to be on top, we accept as an ingrained concept that not everyone can rise to the top together, we fight for ourselves and maybe our children or friends if we’re feeling generous.
To this point, Friedan, decides to spend a good portion of one of her later chapters “analyzing” and condemning homosexuality. I.e. she devotes a large portion of text to oppress a marginalized group while talking about how bad it is to be part of a marginalized group. “Homosexuals often lack the maturity to finish school and make sustained professional commitments” (Friedan, 229). She then goes on to explain that the Kinsey report found that homosexuality was least prevalent in college graduates and most prevalent in male students with a college diploma or less. And not only are gay men less mature and afraid of commitment, but they are discussed in the chapter entitled “The Sex Seekers,” a chapter in which Friedan discusses how women under the feminine mystique attempt to use sex as a way to feel fulfilled in their daily lives, but that it just manifest to hurt them, their marriages, and their relationships with their children. In fact, did you know that homosexuality is actually caused by an overbearing mother “who lives through her son, whose femininity is used in virtual seduction of her son, who attaches her son to her with such dependence that he can never grow to love a woman,” (229)?
Basically, homosexuals are a byproduct of female oppression, so when women are finally liberated, the evil that is homosexuality will be over. Awesome.

We Can’t All Have Freedom. Duh.

I’m not saying that it’s ever ok to marginalize anyone, but if it was just Friedan having her opinion, that would be one thing. It’s quite another to publish your opinion and then have that work become a central tenant of an entire social movement. Whether it’s cis white gay guys acting like they’re the only members of import under the LGBTQ+ banner or white middle to upper class women who can’t see how single women of color have issues that need to be addressed as part of feminism, Friedan’s work has helped to influence a culture where people only want to fight for people who look and live exactly like they do.
God forbid we be inclusive.

Evolution and Creationism: An Ideological Battle

A “Change the World” analysis for Six Books that Changed the World (Prof. Rob Martello)

When Charles Darwin published Origin of the Species in 1859, he anticipated backlash from the religious community. His theories were at direct odds with religious teachings of creationism, the belief that humans were created by a higher power. His contemporaries had learned to jive with religion of the era, with the church even funding research demonstrating the glory of God’s design. Plate tectonics did not directly contradict specific religious teachings. Origin presented an entirely different ideological barrier.
Darwin’s primary argument was “descent with modification”: species and subspecies formed and diverged over long periods of time due to selective pressures placed on them by their environments resulting in evolution. As far as Darwin was concerned, humans had evolved in exactly the same manner. There were several problems with this theory that hindered its adoption. First, evolution stood in direct opposition to literal interpretation of the bible. In the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, God directly creates the world and creates man. A literal interpretation of Genesis is known as Creationism, and was the dominant belief in the western world in 1859. Opposing the religious majority proved difficult for Darwin and he was met with religious rebuke. Second, the theory of evolution implied that humans were simply a descended species no different from other animals, creating a psychological barrier to acceptance. As Stephen Jay Gould points out in The Human Difference, humans have a “continuing psychological need to see ourselves as separate and superior.” This psychological barrier might explain why Darwin was met with such criticism from the scientific community as well, spurning his work for being deductive. Darwin’s other works, which utilized a similar evidence based construction, were never as hotly contested. Finally, Darwin’s theory suggested that the universe operated in a cutthroat manner without divine intervention that rewarded good and punished evil. The idea that the world was random and violent created an existential barrier that was difficult to overcome, and many were not willing to accept this as the way of the world.
You might ask yourself: Do Darwin’s contemporaries’ reactions to Origin of the Species have any importance today? The answer is yes, because a large number of people still believe in Creationism despite the majority of world religions declaring that the Theory of Evolution and their religion can coexist. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago”.
Why is acceptance of evolution important? The Theory of Evolution combined with Mendelian genetics—together known as Neo-Darwinism—is perhaps the central tenet of biology. It is important for the general public to understand these concepts for a multitude of reasons ranging from public health and the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria to sociology and race relations in the United States.
How has creationism persisted in the United States? This question is a political and legal quagmire that has persisted for more than six decades and is due to the Young Earth Creationist movement.
Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old. The most conservative of Young Earth Creationists are also Flat Earthers, genuinely believing that the earth is flat and rejecting modern science. Henry Morris is the founder of the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) and “arguably the most influential creationist of the late twentieth century” (Scott, Antievolution and Creationism in the United States). Morris, along with John C. Whitcomb, published The Genesis Flood in 1963 which attempted to form a scientific argument for a literal interpretation of Genesis. While it was rejected outright by the scientific community, it was read by hundreds of thousands of people (Gordin, The PseudoScience Wars). The ICR was responsible for drafting bills at the state level for “equal time” representation of evolution and creationism in public school biology; these bills ultimately made their way into law in the early 1980s in Arkansas and Louisiana. By 1982 the Arkansas law had been declared unconstitutional but the Louisiana law bounced its way around the court system until 1987, when the “equal time” approach was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The serious consideration given to these theories and laws sowed the misinformation deep and is still dogmatically followed to this day. The most recent approach from Young Earth Creationists on the legal stage is to force evolution to be taught as a “theory,” leveraging the day-to-day interpretation of the word against the scientific term. A scientific theory is a system of ideas supported with data, analysis, and peer review. A day-to-day theory is one used to explain the world around us, independent of serious outside verification. This misinformation campaign has persisted to this day in states such as Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin among others (Scott).
The great irony of continued American belief in Creationist theory is that by the numbers, the percentage of people still believing young earth creationism is greater than the percentage of people belonging to religions that preach a literal interpretation of Genesis (Matsumura, What Do Christians Really Believe about Evolution?). The four largest denominations of Christianity in the U.S., along with several others, have all formally acknowledged the validity of evolution and its importance in the classroom, stating that an unfair treatment of the subject in biology class undermines a student’s education in the sciences.
As engineers and scientists at Olin, almost all of us accept the Theory of Evolution independent of our religious beliefs. We are able to do this without much internal conflict. Outside of our community though, there are many people who still believe in Creationism. Given evolution’s biological importance not only to medical advances, but also public health, it is important that we make an effort to change people’s stance on the matter. We can do this without compromising religious belief and improving the knowledge of the general public.

Sources:
http://theflatearthsociety.org/home/
http://www.gallup.com/poll/170822/believe-creationist-view-human-origins.aspx

Disability Isn’t…

An Open Letter From Your Friendly Local Inconvenience

This article is written with the knowledge and endorsement of the author of ‘Disability Is…’

Last month, Frankly Speaking ran an article about disability that made me, and a few other disabled people at Olin, uncomfortable and angry. A lot of that discomfort stems from what I see as the flawed premise: it is an article, written by an abled person after a one-semester class about redefining perceptions of disability and normality, that seeks to define “disability.” (I’m extremely wary of a class that lets students leave with opinions like this, and I would like to encourage students to be critical of class pedagogies and materials, especially those dealing with such sensitive subjects!) The article reads like a personal reflection, and indeed that is what the class assignment was—something much more appropriate to share in private than in public, because of the naïve and potentially harmful views it seems to espouse. How is the content of this article harmful to disabled people? For me, at least, it is easy to read it and feel like an object of curiosity, a metaphor for other people’s consumption rather than a fully formed being. For me, it is easy to read it and feel that as a disabled person I am the only one who doesn’t feel safe sharing my perspectives on what disability is. For me, this article is another reminder that I live in a world that seldom considers or tries to understand my perspective.

There were a few things I liked about the article; I appreciated the emphasis on the social construction model of disability. This model tells us that impairments are physical, neurological, or psychological conditions that make some functions more difficult; and that disability is a condition inflicted on us by a society that designs public systems for a specific set of needs that we don’t share, or that are directly contradictory to our needs. The second paragraph of the article is a solid representation of this model, and I was happy to see a public acknowledgement of it. The paragraph that directly follows it is more bewildering because the conclusion doesn’t seem to follow at all from what came before. It does not read as a well-considered train of thought. I understand very well what it’s like to be so excited about a new concept that you just have to share it—but when that concept is the lives of a historically oppressed group of people, you really want to take the time to make sure you’ve got it right.

“Disability is the reminder that we are all fragile, temporary beings on this planet…” the third paragraph begins. The author’s intention was to depict not the “truth” but the perspective of someone uncomfortable with disability, an intention which was not at all clear to me reading it. Directly following a textbook explanation of the social construction model, I read what sounded like the author’s own strongly-held opinion, and my reply is: the concept of disability was not created to remind abled people that this could happen to them at any time. It was created to give a name and cohesion to a group of people with impairments who suffer, directly or indirectly, because of them. The reason society makes things difficult for those with minds and bodies considered abnormal is not to remind abled people about the fleeting nature of their lives. It is because we are seen as inconvenient. More convenient alternatives to designing with our needs in mind include ignoring us, trying to breed us out of the population, imprisoning us in abusive care systems, and straight-up murdering us. This was the understanding I had when I read the paragraph about the social construction model; to jump immediately to what reads to me as both an insult and inspiration porn felt like a slap in the face.

Before I get to inspiration porn, a term with which some readers may not be familiar, I want to talk about the insult. “The sight of a disabled person creates an unease… I believe that one source of this discomfort is the inability to ignore the fragility of the human body …the inevitability of breakdown, death, and decay…” First, it’s a reminder I didn’t need; I am aware, almost at all times, that my existence makes people uneasy. I know from experience that I need to wear a heavy disguise to appear in public. Some people do not have the luxury of wearing a disguise, and is to these people that the author refers: those with visually apparent physical disabilities. To reduce their experience to their physical appearance, viewed through the eyes of abled people as an object of disgust, is mean-spirited. It was also certainly not the author’s intent, but again both word choice and choice of concepts needs to be considered carefully in order to avoid hurting the people you’re talking about. What I, very personally, would like to ask is empathy. This article is clearly written from the perspective of an abled person looking at disabled people, without the firsthand context of their experiences. When I see physically disabled people, I don’t suddenly remember my own mortality or how easily I could be injured and permanently impaired. I think about the incredible amount of inconvenience they probably have to go through in order to go about their daily business. I worry for their safety and mental health in a culture that devalues their emotions and personhood. The actionable result of this thought process is that I take care to amplify their voices when I can, to listen carefully to them, and to help them when they need help. It’s the same thing I would appreciate people to do for me.

Inspiration porn is another important concept in any discourse about disability, coined by Stella Young, a disability rights activist, in 2012. I took the following definition from Catherine Soper’s excellently succinct article on the subject.[1] “Inspiration porn is a term used to describe society’s tendency to reduce people with disabilities to objects of inspiration. You’ve all seen the memes… [such as] a picture of a small child running on prosthetic legs accompanied by the caption ‘what’s your excuse?’ These images make the people viewing them feel great, but often they take images of people with disabilities simply living their daily lives and make them extraordinary.” Another article by Elizabeth Heideman[2] adds, “Inspiration porn turns people with disabilities into mere objects, placing their physical differences on display and reassuring the viewer that ‘If these people can live with just one leg,’ for example, ‘I can do so much more without a disability.’” The idea of defining disability in terms of abled people’s reaction to it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Disabled people do not exist as an inspiration to try harder, a reminder of any kind, or the impetus for a philosophical realization. We exist as nothing more or less than people.

I would love to create a culture at Olin that supports disabled people and amplifies our voices. I would love to create a culture at Olin where I’m not afraid to mention the specifics of my disability, for fear of spending half an hour trying to explain my point of view, heart pounding, growing more upset until I have to end the conversation abruptly. I want to feel safe at Olin, and I want to feel like people are willing to respect me, and others like me, as more than design challenges or edge cases. I want to make this school safe for everyone who comes after me, and I want your help. Challenge your own assumptions about what disability is. Think critically about the perspectives you are given. Do research. Listen to the voices of marginalized people, and don’t speak for us. What we want is what you want: the support to do what’s worth doing, and what we love. Thank you for all your help.

Keeping My Promise

In memory of my friend

I still don’t know the last of his last day.
I might, forever, want to know the last of his last day.

Nevertheless,
I wish he was loved with sincerity,
Regrets his decision,
Never had the short end of the stick,
Didn’t leave in the pain of being evilly envied,
Knew how much we loved him.
I wish his last weekend wasn’t a lonely one.

For the star that’d forever be shining in Princeton, I write in the words of prayer…

Death is such a heavy word. Someone once told me love is a heavy word, but that was before I felt the loss of a loved one. I could reject a bad love, but with death, I had no choice but to accept it. It feels like you’d be living in Princeton forever, surrounded by fellow “Princetonians” you loved, busking every weekend in front of the fancy school buildings that don’t exist at Olin, and posting sweaty soccer pictures wearing the proud orange P on your chest.
I was eating a burger at Dunn-Gaherin’s with my friends the night you left. I called you an asshole as a joke for going to an Ivy League school, being on tv shows, singing like Freddie Mercury, and being goddamn handsome on top of all of that. I couldn’t feel more stupid thinking that was the last thing I said about you, thought of you as. As much as the handsome perfect asshole you were, thanks to you, I won’t ever be singing the Bohemian Rhapsody as a joke. It was your favorite, thus it will hurt for all those that loved you.
Although this is not what I thought I’d be writing about, here’s to our promise that one day I’d take your word for it and try publishing anything on anywhere. I will always love you. Till I see your beautiful smile again, rest in peace.

Science Isn’t Truth

We’re living in a time of falsehood. Between ‘alternative facts’ and a disturbing preponderance of fake news, the lack of common ground truth precludes productive conversation. I don’t have the solution to this. But I believe a small part of the solution is understanding the logical framework for separating science from untestable, irrefutable claims. To that end, dear reader, I’d like to tell you about the philosophy of science.

If your secondary education was anything like mine, then you were probably (implicitly) lied to about science. For me, science was presented as a ‘body of truth’ — a set of equations and facts to memorize and regurgitate for the exam. In college this view got a bit more nuanced — the equations we worked with were good approximations in particular settings, but lacking compared to some underlying truth. My mental model of science was still one of verification though — propose a hypothesis, then confirm it through experiment or rework if necessary. This model, however, is totally wrong.

This Verificationist perspective on science trips on a very old philosophical issue: the Problem of Induction. To illustrate — Europeans used to believe that all swans are white. They had observed many swans, found only white samples, and drew a generalized conclusion that all swans are white. But when they eventually explored Australia, they made a discovery which caused their theory to crumble: black swans. The problem is in thinking a theory confirmed by limited observations; a ‘proven’ theory purports to hold for an infinite set of cases, but experiments are necessarily limited to a finite number. How can we logically place trust in scientific theory?

Enter Karl Popper with his 20th century work “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”, where he laid out (among other things) the idea of Falsification. Popper argued that science should not be conducted by attempting to prove theories true, but rather by attempting to show them to be false — to falsify them. In this approach, a theory is never accepted as truth, but instead gains more credibility as it fails to be shown false.

Practically speaking, why does this matter? First, it gives a logically sound formulation for doing science. Second, it allows us to separate science from ‘pseudo-science’. Popper was a contemporary of Freud, and noted that Freudian Psychology was flexible enough to incorporate any new observations; Freud claimed to be able to explain any behavior of a female in terms of penis envy. This sort of theory is not falsifiable, and therefore does not deserve to be called science. A scientific theory disallows particular behaviors (e.g. perpetual motion); such a theory has some predictive capability.

Admittedly, this doesn’t solve the problem of outright falsehood. If we don’t agree on what observations were made, then the inferences we draw will be completely different. But understanding Falsification allows us to determine what kind of claims can be refuted, and separate out junk purporting to be science. If I’ve piqued your interest in the subject, I recommend both Popper’s book (a dense read) and the Crash Course YouTube series on Philosophy (an absolute joy).

Disability is…

Disability is the rebellion against normalcy, intentional or not. To exist outside the thin frame of defined ‘normalcy’ and demand equal treatment is a challenge to the entire concept of normal. It is acceptable to reside outside of normal as long as you are striving to lessen this gap. To exist outside of normal happily is a front, an offense against those who have worked for their entire lives to be seen as normal.
Disability is a social and political construct. Before entering Investigating Normal, I believed that a person could only be disabled by some event that occurred in their past, or some ongoing condition. It had never occurred to me that, in fact, it was society that disables these individuals due to its inflexibility and unwillingness to consider these less frequent but equally important cases when designing infrastructure or products. The only thing preventing a wheelchair user from entering a 1-step doorway is the designer who decided that the 1-step was necessary, but did not create a system for a wheelchair user to ascend easily.
Disability is the reminder that we are all fragile, temporary beings on this planet. Humanity collectively believes that it is immortal. Many individuals go through their day-to-day lives believing the same. They see others around them playing along and create a personal reality where there is always a tomorrow and there a few barriers to growth and happiness. However, the sight of a disabled person creates an unease within that person that is not easily sourced. I believe that one source of this discomfort is the inability to ignore the fragility of the human body; the inability to ignore the inevitability of breakdown, death, and decay that we will all one day experience. It is this flag that causes some aspect of this discomfort, and many people come to believe that this person must live a miserable life being reminded of this end everyday.
However, Disability is not a pitiful existence. Disability is only a different way of experiencing the world. As Alice Sheppard, an artist/dancer who happens to be a wheelchair user described during her talk on her experience, many of us will never experience a wheeled existence. Many of us seek out wheeled transportation, as thrill or efficiency. She lives it. She feels every push, every bump. She is much more in-tune with the force of gravity, with the texture of the ground. She knows many feelings that walking people will never experience. There is nothing wrong with Alice’s existence. It is only different.
Disability is up for debate. I remember some of discussions that arose after the last time we were asked to define what “Disability is…” , as well as the readings around Alison Kafer’s Feminist, Queer, Crip, where we could discuss in-depth what disability could mean. This was another ‘woah’ moment for me. Disability went from a medical definition, to a socio-political one, then broadened to a unformed, personal definition. I am excited to exit Investigating Normal without a single formed definition. I am excited to engage more and continue to morph my outlook on these ideas.