Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 38 - Joan Meiners - FAIL FORWARD - Part 3 of 3

Yeah, I think that kind of plays into some psychology for us, not necessarily everybody. But I know, I've been, say, subject to this mentality at one time or another where it's like, not for, like a story or journalism in particular, but just the idea that I'm a part of this select group that understands this one thing that is so revolutionary and everybody else just doesn't understand, so that makes me special.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 38 - Joan Meiners - FAIL FORWARD - Part 3 of 3

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JESSE: Yeah, I think that kind of plays into some psychology for us, not necessarily everybody. But I know, I've been, say, subject to this mentality at one time or another where it's like, not for, like a story or journalism in particular, but just the idea that I'm a part of this select group that understands this one thing that is so revolutionary and everybody else just doesn't understand, so that makes me special. I think that psychology sometimes it's tough to get over. And part of the reason that these kind of I'll say ?? 00:44> necessarily the word I want, but these very biased agenda-driven, I’ll call them news outlets, although that's something a little more than they deserve. It exists now because it allows people to be part of this like narrow channel where it's like, “No, we understand the truth. And we are getting all the information and we have it right and everybody else is just crazy.” So, that's part of I’m kind of interested in figuring out how do we exist in this fake news era, Dave Chappelle refers to it as the age of spin. I like that moniker. But I think part of it too is I look at the kind of economic side of it from say, the papers standpoint. Well, they need to sell papers, and if you as a journalist just came out and said, here's the facts and figures, that's a very boring article to read. So, then it's like, your job is to make it more interesting for me to read but also to present the facts. And then I think when you don't have journalistic integrity, it can become spin or spun to the point where it's no longer really accurate anymore. JOAN: Yeah, so I like to think of the science nuggets of my journalism as kind of the vitamins, and I have to wrap them in like they're the nutrients and I have to-- they're your vegetables or whatever, and I have to wrap them in like more appealing, delicious stuff to get you to get the nutrients like into your body. I'm often taking this metaphor too far, but-- JESSE: It’s fine. JOAN: Because I always try to write something-- I think science is just inherently fascinating. So, I could write a whole piece that's just like, let me tell you about this crazy thing that happens in chemistry, and then I'll turn it into my editor and my editor will be like, nobody's going to read this like nobody. And we have to take out 90% of it and then tell a story that is about more fluffy stuff that people want to read. And usually they're right. And I like okay, I just got carried away with that science part of it. But it's like a different way of looking at it. And science is a story because it's done by people. There's highs and lows, there's wins and losses. I mean, it's just like a sports story, like you fail, and you fail and you fail and you're bad at science. And then finally, you got the experiment, right, and something goes well, and you figure out something and then you get to move forward to the next thing and like it's a triumph. And if you think of science as a story like that, I think you can pull people in and you can teach them something and you can kind of gain trust with your audience. But there is a lot of leveraging facts and science for political kind of agendas like you're talking about with the spin. And I've seen-- I've heard multiple stories about people, they're usually talking about their parents that their parents only watch Fox News or something. I only watch MSNBC on the other end of the spectrum. And they have all these kind of radicalized ideas because they're only consuming their information from one source. And I have at least one friend who said she just changed the channel and their parents started having a little bit more balanced opinions about things. And that kind of-- which is scary, right? But that kind of goes back to the point of try to consume all of-- get all of your information from a variety of sources don't get it from one source. And then my-- so, I used to come home from school. And tell my dad some fact that I learned, like, we'd be sitting around the dinner table and my dad would be like, “What did you learn in school today?” And then I tell him, “Oh, did you know that like, it's cost…” I was going to try to make something up. But I don't know, just some crazy fact that did you know that it's possible to like, recreate a dinosaur something and my dad would be like, “What middle schooler did you hear that from?” Like I don't believe you. Cite your sources. Who are you talking to, what do they know? What's your background? And so those are the right questions to ask and I guess I had that drilled into me from a kid. JESSE: Right. I was like, it sounds like you were being trained to be like, an accurate journalist from the time you were young, even though you didn't know it. JOAN: Yeah, to like question everything that everyone tells me. Like, well, how do you know that? Tell me how you know that. But yeah, that's what everyone should do when they get new information, assume that it comes from some crazy middle schooler until you can figure out otherwise. JESSE: The tough part of that is getting people to do that with themselves. Where it's like, this is what I believe and it's like but why do I believe and then you start going down this rabbit hole and you're like, “Who am I really?” And then you have existential crises which I have probably monthly. So, I don't know that that's-- I don't know if that's a better or worse plane of existence. JOAN: I don’t know like which one is more seen, I guess cuz. Cuz I am kind of like that. I have a lot of like, what do I really know is true. Like, what is one thing I'm totally sure is true? And sometimes I have a hard time coming up with you know, well, I think this because I think this because I think this. But is anything like undeniably true? And I'm a scientist so you would think that I would have more answers to those questions but it can-- once you really like drill down to it, it can be existential like you said, you start really questioning everything. And I think you should do that but it can you can drive yourself a little batty trying-- JESSE: Yeah, a little bit, batty. I mean, I think sometimes I think when you have a conversation with somebody of a differing opinion, which I think you should have, it can become tough because you're coming from two different basis of reality. And I mean that in the sense they like, say you're-- the two people in this conversation one believes God exists, and the other one believes that God doesn't exist. Well, the way you view reality is in two different places. So, depending on the topic, what you believe is possible can differ entirely. So, you may not even be able to find common ground in a certain conversation. And there's other conversations like, “Hey, what do you want to have for dinner?” that has nothing to do with those ideologies. It's perfectly fine. But I think about that sometimes too where it's like, okay, we're trying to have a conversation we're trying to find common ground. What's the base fact that you're coming from with this conversation? Like I often talk to people about since I'm in business or an entrepreneur and I do stuff like that, I often talk about money, people have certain ideas about money, or where money comes from or what it does or like, rich people, are they good or bad, and those things that-- those like behind the scenes biases sometimes force us to an impasse where we just can't find common ground because we're not even coming from the same place. JOAN: Yeah, I mean you’re totally right. And our country is a really good example of that right now. Many places in the world are really polarized right now with their beliefs about things. But I think no matter how little you have in common when you're trying to have that conversation with someone, you can still ask yourself and ask each other if you're open-minded about it, like, well, why do I believe this, number one? And number two, is it important? Why is it important to me that I believe this? Why does it matter that I believe this? So, sometimes it's okay to believe something just because you want to believe it. Like if you want to believe in a spiritual like structure that you can't totally justify scientifically, you can't drill down to exactly why you believe in it, you just do. But it provides you community and it provides you with this faith-based way of living your life, I think that's okay. You don't have to scientifically justify every single thing that you believe. But I think it is useful to recognize, well, other people believe different things. And that's okay too for them as long as you know, the impacts on other people are minimal and recognizing kind of the way that your belief system impacts others. JESSE: Right. Yeah, I think I'm like, you're kind of touching on it. And this is my personal philosophy-- well, it’s not my philosophy, but it's something I subscribed to is like something we learned early on as freshman in college, about John Stuart Mill and utilitarianism and the harm principle basically, is do whatever you want to do is long as you're not hurting anybody else. And I kind of combine that with I have this philosophy, I subscribe to that’s basically, if you give value first like value will return you. I can't prove that but it is functionally useful to believe it. Whether it's true or not, it helps me progress forward and I'm not doing any harm to anybody. I'm actually trying to provide help to other people. So, I kind of think about both that first part and the second part, not necessarily in saying everybody has to believe that aspect of value, but just there are frameworks, like he said, like a spiritual framework or philosophical framework where it's like, maybe it's not true, but it's useful, and that's okay. JOAN: Yeah. And that's kind of what we say about scientific models, too, right? So, a scientific model isn't-- It's useful in that it represents something that's real, but it's not itself real. Like you're-- and it's just like, like a drawing. If I draw you an elephant on my wall right here, like that's not an elephant, it's a model of an elephant. So it's not real, but it's useful if I'm trying to explain to you what an elephant is. So, yeah, there's like ideas that there's ways of expressing yourself or ways of subscribing to things that aren't, like scientifically real, that are still totally useful. And there's also different like levels of how what you do doesn't impact other people and does or doesn't. Some people would say that harm is if you're not doing anyone any harm if you don't strike them or something. And then other people believe that if you're not vegan, then you're doing great harm to everyone around you. And there’s all these different like, layers of the things. I mean, but that's what makes people interesting and complicated and our society is so diverse, and there's so many different opinions. That's why there's so many interesting stories to tell. JESSE: Before we run out of time, I'm jumping here, but you talked about I think this is for your dissertation work but correct me, when you were tracking the bee populations. How do you do that? This is a personal curiosity cuz I’m like, how do you track 50,000 bees? JOAN: One at a time. So, I had-- it was just me and a field technician that I had with me to help me do my work and it was just the two of us for two different five-month flowering seasons in the field, and we literally just walked around the field, timed our movements through a habitat and caught any bee that we saw, usually one at a time within that. And then after two years we had caught 52,000 bees and identified them and characterized the habitats that they came from and written down what flowers they were visiting, and just amassed this huge data set that we can use to understand why there are a lot of bees in some habitats, why there aren't very many bees in other habitats kind of how they're sharing resources, what's a good area for bee biodiversity, what kind of-- like if you're going to build a parking lot and you have five different habitats to choose from; what's going to be the least impactful to the bee population, like those kinds of-- the data set that we amassed is able to answer those kinds of questions. But yeah, it's very slow, laborious process. And that's why they have grad students do it. You don't see like ?? 15:07> out there catching bees one at a time very often. JESSE: So, is that like a catch and release? Or is it like a catch and you keep it in and catalog it? JOAN: Unfortunately, it's the latter. Yeah, but they all go into a curated museum collection and they're used by lots of-- that data is used by lots of different projects and the specimen are kept and they're used by lots of students to learn how to identify bees, and there is a reference collection. And I worked in one of the largest native bee museums in the world. It's housed at Utah State University. And they have, I think, getting close to 2 million pen specimens in the lab. So, 2 million bees that are like on a pen with a little label and barcode in a glass drawer and the glass draw is slid into like the stacks basically like library roll the stacks over and yeah, I mean, it's an amazing thing I think. And it's just a wealth of knowledge that is accumulated like one bee at a time. JESSE: It seems like a lot of work to accumulate 52,000 bees, let alone approve millions of bees. And then at some point, I'm like, when is enough bees enough bees? Like is there a point where they say, we don’t need more bees like we're good? JOAN: I mean, I reached that point personally. I was like, I don't ever want to see another be. I just want to like understand my data that I already have. But there would be a point at which you have too many bees from one location. But there's so many locations in the world that we still don't know anything about the bees that live there. And we're not going to know how the bees are-- the bee biodiversity is changing what species are being lost, how the overall numbers of bees are increasing, decreasing, staying the same. We're not going to know that unless we have multiple samples and time from the same location. So, there's an effort right now that's just recognizing, and this was part of the work that I did in grad school is just, I did a literature review to see how many places actually had been thoroughly surveyed for bees in the US in natural habitats. And there were only 23 places. Some of them are in national parks, some are in ?? 17:40> some are in protected areas, but like unaltered habitats where we actually know what's going on with the bees, there's only a handful of places. And so when we're trying to figure out if native bee species like solitary bee species are declining, the same way that we know that honeybees are, we have relatively few data points and we really need a lot more information which means more bees. JESSE: Out there collecting with nets. JOAN: Yep. JESSE: And as we're running out of time, I have a-- you get to be the first person for season two here of the podcast. So, I've changed my kind of ending question. I used to ask people about recovery food if you listened through the whole of the other episodes. This year, I'm not asking people about that. I’ve decided to be a little more esoteric, which is very characteristic of me. And I am curious on your opinion of what the purpose of sports is. JOAN: I would say confidence in yourself. I would say that that’s the number one thing I gained from sports is learning that I ask something from my body and I give it what it needs to do that and then prepare adequately, like I can expect incremental results. And that gives you confidence for every other thing that you want to do in life. JESSE: That's a great answer. It's a great way to start off the year. Joan, if people want to find you, kind of keep up with what you're doing with your journalism, maybe higher you, see your bee research, where can they find you? JOAN: I'm on Twitter, my handle is BeeCycles. So, that's B-E-E, and then cycle like a bike wheel, plural. And I also have a website that's just my So, J-O-A-N, that’s And I'd love to hear from people. So, I always am looking for new stories to tell and stuff. So, yeah, it was great to talk to you. JESSE: Yeah. Thanks for spending some time with me today, Joan. JOAN: Yeah. Thank you. Go to Part 1 Go to Part 2

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