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Jan 09 2009

The Intern From Area 51

Some of you may know me as the ScienceBlogs intern. Others of you may be saying, “Who the fuck is this chick?” Well, I’m only the adorably nerdy science girl of Seed by day. By night, I’m still an adorable, but I work at a grungy Internet café in Brooklyn and sometimes I have to hold it down when people are assholes (which is usually).

Since I’ve worked at the Internet Garage, I’ve damn near lost my faith in humanity. Why? This is how it goes:

Customer comes into the IG. Customer sees computers, becomes afraid. Customer wanders over to desk where I sit looking very busy with the interwebz, which I always am. Customer eyes various signs on desk. Customer mouths words of signs to self: “SELF SERVICE… To use a computer, you must first get a ticket at the PAYSTATION behind you…” Customer looks at me (looking busy). Customer looks at large neon pink arrow sign reading “PAYSTATION” pointing the way. Customer spins in circle. Customer looks at me. Customer removes money, thrusts it towards me. Customer says: “Can I get like ___ minutes on a computer.”

Me: Motherfuck! “You need to get a ticket from the Paystation right behind you.”

The only thing that restores my faith that the human race is not completely hopeless and intolerable altogether is going into work at Seed where I get to interact with scientists and computer nerds all day.

Anyway, these interactions at the IG are what usually cause my /palmface moments. Today I had a special customer, too. It was a late-20s woman who came in to fax something and was talking with my boss, Bryan, a punk guy from Westchester with sleeve tattoos and a perpetual Yankee’s hat. Earlier that day, Bryan was complaining to me about some acid reflux he’d been having and he brought it up again in front of the woman.

“Why don’t you drink some milk or something,” I suggested to him.

“It won’t help,” the woman interjected. “His Chi is off.”

Me: /deadpan stare. “His what is off?”

Woman: “His Chi. It’s off-balance. I’m an acupuncturist so I know about these things.”

I was amused at this point. I looked at Bryan. He was slightly cringing, knowing what was about to happen.

Me: “And, what is a Chi?”

Woman: “Oh, you know. It’s the life force of the human body. It determines our health.”

Me: “OK but, what exactly is it? What is it made of?”

Woman: /hesitates. “Uh, it’s something between energy and matter.”

Me: /snort. “Something between there huh… so like, photons or something?”

Woman: “Look, it’s been proven to exist for thousands of years, OK? Nobody knows exactly what it is but they know it’s there.”

Me: “Well if you don’t know what it is, then how do you use it to treat your patients? How do you know that what your doing s having an effect?”

Woman: /with the smugness. “Because they feel better, and they come back for more. So that proves that our treatment of the Chi really works.”

“Have you ever heard of the motherfucking PLACEBO EFFECT??!!!!1!!” I wanted to scream, but at this point Bryan was shooting me warning glances so I proceeded to busy myself with something in the desk drawer until she left.

“Something between energy and matter!?!!” I exploded when she was out of earshot. “Is she fucking serious?”

At that point another customer waiting to fax something started laughing. “I could tell you were about to lose it when she said that,” she said.

“Hey, if it makes people feel better, what the fuck does it matter if it’s psychological or whatever?” Bryan said. “If you saw this woman’s paycheck you would vouch for the Chi too.”

“Fuck that,” I said. Bryan’s used to me being lippy by now. It’s the beauty of the manager/employee relationship in Brooklyn. “It matters if this woman is claiming this shit is proven to work to naïve patients who go see her instead of getting the real medical treatment they might need.”

At that point we both just said “whatevs” and he gave me a cheery good-bye. Sometimes, this place leads me into encounters with the most painfully disconnected people on the face of the world. It has become clear that there are people out there who will never absorb science into their operative belief systems. There are others who understand science, but will never go on the line to advocate for it because they don’t give a shit if other people understand or like it. And then there are people like me and the scientists I work with at Seed, who put themselves out there every day to make the others come around as much as they can.

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  1. 1
    scicurious

    You’re nicer than me. I would have asked for proof, ask how many people find that acupuncture DOESN’T work, and not let up on things like where Chi comes from. I might even have asked rather sweetly what exactly was “off” about Chi during acid reflux, and how that differed from what is “off” about Chi in cancer. Put her through her paces and watch her trip.

  2. 2
    Toaster

    I have always been amazed at how some of the nicest and sweetest people could become such asshattery-spouting douchebags when they’re dealing with an employee in a service-based business.

    Perhaps some “MORON” cards could help. Just get some business cards printed with “Pardon me, but I couldn’t help notice you’re a complete and utter MORON” in prettyfancy typeface and hand them out as needed. More efficient and leading to fewer facepalms.

  3. 3
    Greg Laden

    I’m always nice to the service people, having spent some time in that context myself, and with at least or 4 of my current closest friends having been in such positions for at least some of the time I’ve known them (including the present). I mean, you never know. Two years ago I went to my best friend’s wedding. She was my best ‘man’ at my wedding, and I made the cake for her wedding. She had been for a lot of the time I knew her a waitress, going back and forth between grad school, serving, and traveling around the world. She would never work for expensive resturants because the clientèle were intolerable.

    So I get to the wedding and I’ve got to put the cake somewhere, which means talking to the catering staff. So I go from one catering staff person to the next, being directed along to the most likely person to help me out, and lo and behold, my dear friend L.R. since it happens that she worked at that time for the caterer!!!

    So these are two people that I have the highest regard for, and either one of them could have been (and in fact has been) my server at a table here or there in the Twin Cities. It is easy to remember that a person who is serving you is a real person who deserves your respect no matter what if you think of it this way.

  4. 4
    Paul Gowder

    Perhaps if your chakras were better aligned you wouldn’t be so annoyed at the customers.

  5. 5
    JLK

    @ Toaster

    Comedian Bill Engvall feels exactly the same way. That is the premise behind “Here’s Your Sign….”

  6. 6
    PhizzleDizzle

    I happen to be a rational, scientific person, but also believes in the mysteries of Chi and acupuncture. Maybe it’s because I’m Asian and it’s hard to imagine that an entire medical system of a very old society is totally bogus. Besides, if someone can be Christian and a scientist then you can believe in Chi and be a scientist too.

    Anyway, just wanted to point out that not everyone who thinks in a logical scientific manner believes that acupuncture is totally whack. :)

  7. 7
    octopod

    Yeah, same here — although I’m pretty sure that traditional Chinese medicine is 50% chicken soup and 40% bullshit, I kind of suspect that some of those things actually do work in a non-placebo way.

    There’s one root that is tested for efficacy by shaving a bit of it onto a blood sausage, and if the sausage de-coagulates, it’s a good sample. This is (surprise) used as an anticoagulant. Again, not sure what the fuck is actually going on, and I’m no biochemist, but something interesting is in there.

    Also, what do they use for moxibustion, and why does it smell exactly like cheap weed?

  8. 8
    Greg Laden

    Well, chicken soup totally works, so if Chinese medicine if 50% chicken soup it’s pretty good . As long as the other 50% isn’t toxic.

    As they say, “Nothing is better than homeopathy”

  9. 9
    chezjake

    Hey, has anyone ever done a controlled study of chicken soup versus any other kind of soup? I personally feel that a good, thick leek and potato soup or a really good clam chowder makes me feel better than any chicken soup. And that’s not to say that I haven’t had really good chicken soup — my grandmother’s Penn-Dutch “chicken pot pie” was to die for (pot pie here being the Penn Dutch term for heavy duty home made noodles).

  10. 10
    Greg Laden

    Yes, there has been at least one double blind control study of chicken soup, but there are problems inherent in the process because you can’t really do it blind. So the one study I know of was not very well funded and probably done more as a joke. But the chicken soup did exhibit curative properties.

  1. 11
    Comrade PhysioProf’s ScienceBlogs Upgrade PARTAY!1!!!!11!!!!111!!! « Comrade PhysioProf

    [...] Intern of ScienceBlogs posts on The Intern From Area 51. The Intern does all kinds of crazy shit to keep ScienceBlogs running smoothly, and also prevents [...]

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