Friday, February 27, 2015


What happens when you are (burp) wrong?

My dissertation was, by all measures, an abject failure.  Everything that could go wrong did.  Here are some of my conclusions:
  • XRF analysis does not help parse out sources in chert.  
  • Fractals are not helpful in distinguishing production and consumption areas.  
  • Use wear analysis is great.... except for where confounded by midden burning, because burned chert mimics wood-wear. (And every piece of chert we recovered was burned.)
  • And on, and on...
Every single analysis I attempted failed to produce usable results.  And each chapter that I wrote essentially resulted in the statement: This analysis failed to shed any light on the ancient Maya, because...

I am, as a result, very sympathetic to people for whom the data do not deliver desired outcomes. I identify with those who fail more readily than I do with those who succeed. 

So, today, when I got hiccups, I had an odd recollection. (Bear with me.... I'll make the connection in a second.)

It was 1982.  I was a pre-teen, and I got the hiccups.  No sugar around; no peanut butter.  (Both are old stand-bys in my household).  Dad turned to me, and said:

"The reason you have hiccups is that there is air trapped.  You can burp it out, and the hiccups will stop."

Huh.  I didn't know that.  So I tried it.

"hic- BURRRRRP!"

"hic- BURRRRRP!"

"hic- BURRRRRP!"



Fifteen minutes later, Dad, who by this time had become quite peeved with me, responded "THAT'S ENOUGH!!"

Our little scientific experiment was over.

Nobody enjoys getting proved to be incorrect.  I get it.  Dad, particularly, was not fond of being wrong.  And his response was predictable, if I had been reading the signs at all. (I was notoriously bad at reading those signals.)

But what if his response had not been irritation at a smart-ass kid (which I was, beyond any doubt), but a laugh, followed by some additional hypothesis testing?

Pretty sure this was not a belch.  But maybe....
In other words, what if we celebrated failed experiments?

We celebrate the successes, right?  Someone makes it to the Olympics, invents a cancer cure, successfully runs for office, and what do we do?  We throw them a party, complete with a second line.  We hold parades for the team, we give trophies.

But what about the failed business venture?   Who celebrates that?

Or the reply to the submission to the magazine that begins, "We regret to inform you"?

Or the comedian who gets off the stage after having bombed (that  one is particularly painful)?

I don't know how to emphasize this more.  So I will try changing fonts.


The best story in our society is the one where the hero originally failed, and then persevered.

Be part of that story.

Celebrate some failed projects.  Find someone who tried their hand at a passion, and party with them.  That co-worker who wants to sing?  Go to the next gig, even if you can't stand her voice.  That friend from yoga who is trying to sell a new-and-improved mat?  Listen, and encourage.  The sister-in-law going back for her PhD? Keep your negative comments about PhDs (and especially its process) to yourself, and  cheer her on.

Even if it ends in tears... the following of any dream begins with hope and love and joy. And the celebration of that path, from the start to the finish, should be a focus of our parties.