BJKS Podcast

65. Adam Mastroianni: Conversational doorknobs, improv comedy, and a very dumb academic revolution

December 10, 2022
65. Adam Mastroianni: Conversational doorknobs, improv comedy, and a very dumb academic revolution
BJKS Podcast
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BJKS Podcast
65. Adam Mastroianni: Conversational doorknobs, improv comedy, and a very dumb academic revolution
Dec 10, 2022

Adam Mastroianni is a postdoctoral research scholar at Columbia Business School. In this conversation, we talk about his work on conversations, his Substack/blog, his article Things Could Be Better and why he chose to publish it this way, improv comedy, and much more.

BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.). 

0:01:20: Did Adam fake having a girlfriend when he appeared on Come Dine With Me?
0:08:51: Adam's Substack called 'Experimental History'
0:10:51: Good conversations have lots of doorknobs
0:15:33: What can people learn from improv comedy?
0:23:10: Why did Adam start his Substack? / A discussion of academia, alternative ways of doing science, and the problems with academic publishing
1:12:26: Start discussing Adam's paper 'Do conversations end when people want them to?'
1:27:28: What makes for a good conversation?
1:29:59: Some words of advice from Adam

Podcast links

Adam's links

Ben's links

Rowan Atkinson saying words in a funny way:
Substack article on conversational doorknobs:
Episode with Joe Hilgard about scientific fraud:
Get me off your mailing list:
Dan Quintana's YouTube with Tutorials:
Adam's Rhodes speech:

Gilbert (2009). Stumbling on happiness.
Mastroianni, Gilbert, Cooney, & Wilson (2021). Do conversations end when people want them to? PNAS.
Mastroianni, AM & Ludwin-Peery, EJ. (2022). Things could be better.
Schwartz (2008). The importance of stupidity in scientific research. Journal of Cell Science.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Adam Mastroianni is a postdoctoral research scholar at Columbia Business School. In this conversation, we talk about his work on conversations, his Substack/blog, his article Things Could Be Better and why he chose to publish it this way, improv comedy, and much more.

BJKS Podcast is a podcast about neuroscience, psychology, and anything vaguely related, hosted by Benjamin James Kuper-Smith. In 2022, episodes will appear irregularly, roughly twice per month. You can find the podcast on all podcasting platforms (e.g., Spotify, Apple/Google Podcasts, etc.). 

0:01:20: Did Adam fake having a girlfriend when he appeared on Come Dine With Me?
0:08:51: Adam's Substack called 'Experimental History'
0:10:51: Good conversations have lots of doorknobs
0:15:33: What can people learn from improv comedy?
0:23:10: Why did Adam start his Substack? / A discussion of academia, alternative ways of doing science, and the problems with academic publishing
1:12:26: Start discussing Adam's paper 'Do conversations end when people want them to?'
1:27:28: What makes for a good conversation?
1:29:59: Some words of advice from Adam

Podcast links

Adam's links

Ben's links

Rowan Atkinson saying words in a funny way:
Substack article on conversational doorknobs:
Episode with Joe Hilgard about scientific fraud:
Get me off your mailing list:
Dan Quintana's YouTube with Tutorials:
Adam's Rhodes speech:

Gilbert (2009). Stumbling on happiness.
Mastroianni, Gilbert, Cooney, & Wilson (2021). Do conversations end when people want them to? PNAS.
Mastroianni, AM & Ludwin-Peery, EJ. (2022). Things could be better.
Schwartz (2008). The importance of stupidity in scientific research. Journal of Cell Science.

[This is an automated transcript that contains many errors]

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:00:00] So, oh yeah. One thing I forgot to say is that like I we're recording separate audio tracks for you and me, so that means basically you can, I pretty much then in the edit, mute whoever's not speaking, which means you can basically do, make as much noise as you want when I'm speaking. . Uh, if you need to drink, like I drink a lot, I always have like a cup of tea in the beginning and I'll drink that for the first 20 minutes or something. 

So there's lots of like this in the background. Um, so yeah, you can just do that when I'm speaking and no one's gonna ever 

Adam Mastroianni: Great. I'll get, I'll get my, my tambourine. Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. That, that tends to be a , a common prop I guess. 

Adam Mastroianni: I never podcast without my tambourine 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. Dunno what Tambourine was so funny. But some of the, yeah, that was a good choice. Choice of in. 

Adam Mastroianni: Some words, some words are just funnier, uh, and some words are funny. Any word is funny. If you'd say it the right way, is a thing that I learned at an improv workshop once. The, the guy running the [00:01:00] workshop said that, and I immediately was like, no, that can't be true. And he was just like, margarita. And I was like, okay. 

Yeah. Right. , any word is funny if you say it like that. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I think Ron Atkinson also has a whole bit about that, although I'm not gonna do that because I'll just mess it up. Anyway, tambourines aside. Um, I wanted to start with a very serious journalistic question, which is, so did you or did you not fake having a girlfriend when you appeared on Come down with Me 

Adam Mastroianni: Wow. Uh, I didn't realize there'd be gotcha questions in this interview. Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And also maybe what is come down with me and why I'm asking that question. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, right. So come down with me for those dear listeners who don't live in the UK or maybe have something to do during daytime hours. It is a extremely banal British reality television show where four strangers are put together and each of them takes turns hosting a dinner party over the course of a week. 

I, I think some versions of the show is different than that, but the one I was on was like that. [00:02:00] And I was on an episode of this in 2016, I think, kind of by accident. I was living in Oxford at the time, and I was in an improv group there, and someone posted on like our shared Facebook group being like, Hey, they're gonna make an episode in Oxford, like someone should sign up to do it. 

And I had never really seen it. I had never really hosted a dinner party before, so I was not a great candidate. But I sent in an application, they came and interviewed me and like, because I do improv when the camera's on, uh, like I can turn it on. And they, and they were like, Uh, they ask you all these questions to get a sense of like, would you be entertaining on a television show? 

Right? And so they were like, what would happen if, you know, there was an older woman on the show when she was flirting with you? And I was like, well, of course I'd return her affections, but only until the points were in, um, and, you know, repeat that for an hour and like, played guitar for them. I rad for them. 

And so they, uh, put me on the show and also, you know, in, into a situation where I had no idea what I was doing, but as part of it, you know, you have to film it in a place [00:03:00] famously, television takes place in the physical world. And I was living in like college accommodation at the time. So I had this tiny room with like a shared kitchen. 

And I asked like the people who lived on my same hall, like if I could for a day film in that kitchen. And one of them said, no, . Like, she was like, no, I have a lot of studying to do and I mean, to this day I can't fat. Someone is like, Hey, could I just for literally for like five hours, can I make a reality show down the hall from you? 

And she was like, no, I have a lot of books to read. Uh, I mean, good on her. Uh, much more serious scholar than me. And so I needed another place to do it. But the producers were like, well, we can only film in a place that is your residence. And so I was like, well, actually, you know, I'm like in the process of moving in with my girlfriend, who wasn't my girlfriend, she was in fact the founder of the improv group that I was in, uh, and had a very nice kitchen. 

But like it's reality tea, like no one actually cared, right? The, it wasn't like the producers were, were trying for any amount of actual reality. Uh, and so they just wanted an excuse to make [00:04:00] this work and so did I. And so I told what I consider A fib more than a lie. But yes, she wasn't my girlfriend. And, and remains not, by the way, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I mean the, the, you know, , the reason I just asked that is because I just, you know, I looked up some stuff about you and found this interview you did with someone talking about this, and I, because, you know, I hadn't, and I still haven't seen the episode of you with down with Me. So I was like, what is the story about you taking a girlfriend, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. I mean, at the time, usually that show is very, you know, light entertainment and nothing really happens. On the episode I was on, a guy had a meltdown and kicked us all out of his house and became a meme and a pariah instantly overnight, uh, like the episode went viral and to the point where it aired when I was like home for Christmas. 

And when I. On the flight to go back to London, someone like turned around their scene and they were like, Hey, you were you on that episode to come down with me? And then that kept happening for the rest of the time I lived in the uk. Uh, and it keeps happening like [00:05:00] at random places, like in the middle of nowhere in Ohio, someone like, uh, I was at a wedding and someone came across the room. 

I was like, where that episode come down with me? And, uh, so the, yeah. That, that's why it is continued to haunt me for the rest of my life and remains the, the most prominent thing I've ever done or might ever do. Nothing that I can do can, can top being in the background of a guy having a meltdown on national television, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I mean the main reason I actually brought this up is because I always wondered, and you kind of answered this already, but why people would want to be on these shows. It never, I mean, for, and I could never quite figure it out. I mean, I guess maybe for some people it's like you watched the show a lot, so it's like, oh cool, it'd be, you know, be nice to be part of that thing that I like. 

Uh, but I always wondered, and then, and then when I saw that you were part of it, I was like, okay, that really doesn't make any sense, Cause you don't seem like the person who would watch that a lot. But I don't know. 

Adam Mastroianni: No, not at all. Yeah, no, I thought it would just be like a stupid way to have a good time [00:06:00] and, and honestly, during it, it wasn't like, it kind of sucked cuz you're basically an unpaid actor for those four days. Like they, they find you during the day and film your reaction to like, the unveiling of the menu for that night and like saying something stupid about it. 

And then at night you're at these dinner parties or you're, you're hosting your dinner party and like it takes a long time. It's very stressful. You don't get paid for it except they give you 120 pounds to like buy the food for the meal. And I've spent probably 60. So in that sense I made money. Um, I didn't win, not to spoil the ending, but I did tie for second, there's only four people, which is to say the guy who called a woman a fat troll got fourth eye tied with the other lady. 

And the woman, the other woman got, um, got a thousand pounds and I came away with nothing but. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh, that's pretty good. Yeah, I mean, I did find it. I, I once my, my roommate at university, she had tickets for, in the uk it's usually, if you go, I dunno what it's like in other c. Um, if you have a TV show with an audience, then they just, uh, it's a lottery basically who gets those [00:07:00] TV tickets and so she applied for just some one channel and I think they just gave her randomly two shows or something. 

So, I mean, I had no idea what those shows were and I can't tell you what they was, some sort of quiz show, I don't know. But you know, I came along just out of curiosity to see what it's like for this kind of TV show to be taped. And I thought that was kind of an interesting, like not exactly behind the scenes because I was part of the audience, but uh, I dunno, I thought that was kind of interesting for that. 

And I assume for you was kind of even more Yeah. Because you're already behind the scenes. You were part of the scenes. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, you, you learn all of these like dirty little secrets about how television gets made. That show come down with me is extremely cheap to make because there's only one camera. And they hide this by like, there's, there's one camera person. And so you'll be like pouring some sauce into a pan or something, and they'll tell you to pause in the middle so they can get like a closeup of it. 

So it appears as if there's been two cameras the whole time. And this especially comes into play at the end of every night when they, it looks like on the show, each person gets in their own cab and goes home [00:08:00] and on the way they talk about the night and then they hold up a card with the rating. In fact, what happens is there's one taxi and we each take turns getting into it. 

It drives around the corner. We do our little spiel about why we're giving it a six. We get out of that taxi and get into a real taxi that takes us home. So that's reality television. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Well, I think, I don't know, even if, even if it continues to haunt you to this day, it does sound like it's an, it was an interesting experience to be part. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Always, always chase future fun facts about your life, I think is a good way to, to live life. Even if they're not good in the moment, they come in handy for, for the rest of your days. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Now I feel like I have to find some reality TV series to be part of it, because first I have to 

Adam Mastroianni: Everybody should do it. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: okay. Yeah, it's a new, what's it called? Bucket list. New item on the bucket list. Anyway, so, uh, I guess, I mean, there's a bunch of things, uh, we're gonna talk about today. Main, um, uh, this not really being one of them, um, but one of example, you have a, what do you call it, an, it's not, would you call it a [00:09:00] newsletter or more like an essay that's automated to readers or, uh, a ck 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. Uh, yes. Please subscribe to my essay that's automated to readers. Uh, uh, it's a huge problem cuz there's not a good word for it. Right? Like blog sounds too informal and too like 2004 newsletter sounds like it's about the news and it's not 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Oh yeah. Or something that 

Adam Mastroianni: CK I guess it, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: something, yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: yes. Yeah, yeah, exactly. It's, yeah, CK is, uh, accurate and yet like, doesn't actually give you any information because you could use CK to write about anything. 

Um, so I don't yet have a good word for what this is, other than a series of essays that are automated automatically sent to the reader. So, yes, that is what it is. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: seems to me there is this like new, since, since CK really came out, there's this like almost ecosystem of people writing essays again. And 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, so you have that and, uh, like to talk about truth, those parts. And then we have the, well, I guess one of the papers is basically also part of sub, um, from what I [00:10:00] understand. 

And the other is, uh, a paper about conversations. That you published, I dunno, a year ago, two years ago, something like that. Yeah. Maybe about the series of essays automat automatically sent to readers. The one piece I'd like to start with is called Good, good Conversation, have lots of doorknobs. It's a good title, I guess, because it's sounds vaguely confusing and intriguing. 

So maybe what is a doorknob in a conversation? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Uh, a doorknob is, is the way that I, the best way I could make sense of what psychologists call an affordance. So basically affordances are ways that you can interact with your environment. So like a, uh, I mean, a doorknob is an affordance. It allows you to open the door, uh, handles on things. I don't know why I'm thinking entirely in terms of things you can grasp with your hands, but basically features in the world that allow you to somehow interact with it or impose your will upon it. 

Uh, sidewalks are affordances. They, you know, they give you a place to, uh, to walk in, in a video game. Anything you can pick up, you know, has an, is an affordance, whatever. But I, I, but I think thinking about these things purely in the physical realm [00:11:00] limits the actual usefulness of that concept. I think conversations actually also have affordances. 

There are these doorknobs that you can grasp onto that opens the door to the next stage of the conversation or the next thing to do. And I think good ones have a lot of those doorknobs, a lot of those things that you grasp onto that propels you into the next. And in the article, I, I tried to sort of sidestep what the way I think a lot of people think about conversations, which is sort of a, a competition between givers and takers. 

Like, I'm, you know, I'm taking attention now, and I, and you give it to me by asking me a question. I give it back to you by asking you a question that, that these question askings or interruptions or making statements that this is one way to make a conversation go. But in fact, they're all subtypes of the greater type of conversational affordances. 

And so I try to give some examples of things in a conversation you can grasp onto and how you grasp onto them that doesn't have to boil down to we ask each other questions or we just make statements at each other. Uh, so that, that's what I'm trying to do in this article and what I'm inexpertly explaining now. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: [00:12:00] Yeah, I mean, so maybe to use one example that you, you given there of, uh, something that is not an afford or that doesn't have an affordance is the question, how, how many of your grandparents are still alive or are still living? Um, why w how does, how does that question lack doorknobs? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. There's nowhere to go from there. So if I say one, uh, what would you 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I say, 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, what's their name? . Uh, I, I have two. Great. Yes. Uh, they died. Um, and these are always of making affordances out of nothing, right? Like usually it, that kind of question, uh, that it's, it's a, it's a cul-de-sac. It doesn't go anywhere. 

So ideally, the, the kinds of questions that you want to ask or be asked, or the kinds of statements that you wanna make, allow the other person to grasp onto them and do something additional. Basically, it, it's, it's, uh, it's ju justifying the conversation. It's fattening it up for the slaughter of the next statement. 

Giving people something that they would want to talk about next. And just when I [00:13:00] see people talk about conversations, I just don't see them think, think about it this way. Like often people think like, oh, I'm upset that this person didn't ask me enough questions. Like they didn't take enough interest in me, or This person wouldn't say anything. 

Uh, you know, like I asked them questions and they didn't do anything. And I think part of it is because like there was probably a conversation that didn't have many of these doorknobs or affordances. There weren't things that allowed people to make the next move in the conversation. It was a bunch of, how many grandparents do you have? 

Who's your cousin? Like 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: How's the weather? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I, but that's what I think what I really. About the piece is that, I guess it, it's maybe, I mean, the, the nice thing about conversations is that they're relevant to anyone. But I think this is particularly relevant for me because, you know, I run a podcast where I interview people and it's not the thing why I have a list of questions and I just read them out loud and the person responds to 'em. 

But it's more conversational. And this is something I've really spent time thinking about, like how, what makes for a good interview. Because [00:14:00] one of the main one, one of the main criticisms you hear of interviews and that I also had when I started this was that people said, oh, I don't like this interview. 

They keep interrupting their guest. Right? Like they, they don't let them answer the question. They just say something. And I mean, I've heard basically, lots of people basically told me that, like when I started doing interviews, they're like, don't, don't be one of these people. Right. And I completely agreed, but it was kind of interesting to me that once I, you know, read your article on that, I thought, That's actually a much more intelligent way of thinking about this whole process and like how I can really not only keep the conversation going, but also make the guest feel like they're not like, you know, doing the entire heavy lifting of the thing by saying stuff. 

Adam Mastroianni: Exactly like you want to make it easy for the other person to say the next interesting thing. And there's a lot of ways of, of doing that. I mean, one is, is asking a, a question that unlocks something interesting. But another thing is making a statement that they can react to or honing in on something that they just said that you realize, like, is it a little bit weird or need to ex explaining and, and digging into [00:15:00] that. 

And this is the same kind of instinct that I think you hone when you're doing improv, uh, which is sort of where that that article was born out of, out of is you're always looking for the weird thing to then exploit. Um, like someone has moved in a slightly weird way or set or set a slightly weird thing. 

Often they're mistakes and those often become the cornerstones of the scenes that we do, uh, is noticing and, and expanding on those things. And when you do those things, when you do things that are slightly weird, uh, when you embrace your own mistakes, you actually make it easier for the other person to react to you as well. 

That's getting more into, into improv theory. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, I wanted to ask a bit about improv anyway, so maybe, uh, we, maybe we can just do that now. I mean, So, I dunno, basically anything about improv, but the one thing I've heard, and I maybe you can tell whether this is true or not, is that the first rule of improv or one of the first draws, is this, yes. 

And so when someone does something on stage, you kind of go with it rather than saying no. Is that part because there's no affordance to sue just blocking something. 

Adam Mastroianni: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And so that's the first thing that you'll learn in improv class, because if you, if you [00:16:00] don't do that, uh, you really can't do anything else. If I hand you a plate of spaghetti and say, you're a spaghetti, sir, and you go, that's not spaghetti, that's my grandfather's ashes. Now we don't know what's going on and neither does the audience. 

And so we're flailing. And so, yes, the first thing that you'll be told is, is like if someone says this is a plate of spaghetti, it is, and now react to it. Like, do something, uh, do the, and improv has done a great job of selling this, uh, like packaging this and, and, you know, doing workshops and, uh, riding books about this. 

And I think, I think all that's a great, like, it's a good rule to learn, but I also think it's like the most basic one. It's a bit like saying the first rule of riding a bike is like, try not to fall off. And I think most of the interesting stuff in improv comes after that. Like once you agree that the, these are the basic rules, or maybe a better analogy is it's, it's a little bit like making sure that everybody playing a game of basketball knows the rules and then everything interesting happens after that if they don't realize, like, you're not allowed to hold onto the ball and run down to the end of the court. 

Like you literally can't play the game. But that's not actually the most interesting part of playing basketball is making sure that all the rules are followed.[00:17:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Is then, I mean, one, one. Thing I was curious about was just because I saw that, you know, you'd done a lot of comedy and improv and that kind of stuff over the years. That kind of, what's something, maybe the affordances is part of that, but like what's something that I don't know, either you take from it or you think other people can take from it to apply in other situations? 

I mean, I can't really ask this much more specifically because I dunno much about improv, but yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Uh, something that, that has really stuck with me from doing improv for a long time is another rule that. I think it's taught a lot less, which is unfortunate because it is, I think, an even better one, uh, which is treat your scene partner like a genius. And in improv this plays out very specifically that like, it's not like, it's not that you're playing. 

The reality of the person you're playing with is literally in this scene, an extremely intelligent person. But you act as if every choice that they make is a good choice. You as the improviser do this, you, as you, as the, uh, as the character in the scene might hate the choices that they're making and react to them that [00:18:00] way. 

But by doing that, by treating their choices like they are smart choices, you essentially make them smart choices. This is all made up on the spot. The audience is looking to you to understand how they should feel about what's going on. If you look hesitant or like you're not having a good time or like you don't like the decision that was just made, the audience feels the same way. 

And those scenes suck. They suck to be in. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. You mean like someone does something and you just go like, yeah, yeah. Like for the second you look at them like, really this is, yeah, I 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Uh, and a lot of times, I mean, this requires going a little, uh, far out of your comfort zone. I, um, , I was in one show where, I, I kind of forget exactly the specifics, but it was basically set up that like my character had low blood sugar and, and someone needed to spit into my mouth to like, make sure I didn't die. 

And then she just actually spa into my mouth and like, I saw it coming and uh, and like I didn't really want to have my mouth spat in on stage, but I did. And like, I remember that scene because, uh, I don't know, the audience, you know, was both grossed out, but also [00:19:00] thought it was very funny. And that was a place I wouldn't have never gone to if I had been like, oh, I blow on blood sugar, but I actually, I have my insulin right here, 

And like, no problem. Uh, but instead I was like, yeah, no, that's a good choice. I am in trouble. Uh, we should really do something about this. And that, that makes for good improv scenes. But it also makes for, for I think, good relationships with people that, that not every decision that someone makes is 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: specific example, 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, yeah, sometimes you need someone to spit into your mouth and if that's what you like, I mean, if you haven't done it before, how do you even know if you don't like it? 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: mean, that's how you got your fetish, right? 

Adam Mastroianni: Exactly. Uh, you can't have a fetish if you don't sample a lot of activities, but if you treat people's, uh, people as if they know what they're doing, they often rise to the occasion. 

I mean, this is the idea behind self-fulfilling prophecies. But if you treat people like they don't know what they're doing or they have nothing worthwhile to, to say to you, it will become it, it will be the case. Right? But like you will make people stupider by the way that you treat them. You know? And it's not like you can turn every decision into an amazing [00:20:00] decision by treating it that way. 

Uh, and some decisions are bad and we shouldn't do them, but there is this huge leeway in the middle where the way that you, the expectations that you bring to someone have a big influence on what they actually go on to do. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Uh, I. One, one thing I noticed about the most basic rule of improv, the Yes. And I just had one like brief question about that. And the one thing I was curious about is that I noticed that, you know, one, one juror of people I really like watching is Colin O'Brien and Bill Burr. I think the two of them really like work very well together. 

And the one thing I noticed is that basically what happens is that Bill Burr will say something kind of controversial and then Quinn will be, wait, wait, wait, wait a minute. He kind of almost goes against it, right? He says like, wait, wait, that could be right. And then he repeats basically what Billbo said, and then Bill Burr will gonna end. 

Is that something that only works because Bill Burr is a professional standup comedian or, um, 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, because he, but he, he still kind of repeats and just goes with it. Yeah. [00:21:00] I dunno whether. 

Adam Mastroianni: um, uh, I, I actually think, I mean, if you have a little bit of skill in improv, I, I think that's actually a great strategy. So this is sort of, I dunno if there's a great word for it, calling someone or pointing out a weird thing. And I think it's totally good so long as the other person commits to what they did. 

So often a great scene will come from someone saying something slightly wrong or like just making some big choice, and another person being like, what? And becoming the straight man. Like, I'm going to, to be in opposition to what you believe, and now I'm gonna put you on the spot and like, you're gonna have to defend it. 

And I really like being on both sides of that. That like, if I'm ever like, yes, you know, there, you know, there's like, you know, uh, there there's like 40 states in the United States, and someone's like, what? And it could have been just a complete mistake that I made. I'm like, yeah, 40, you know, 40 states. Um, and either we become, either we're in a reality where something has happened to the remaining 10 states, or I'm a person who like, refuses to believe that Nebraska exists or, or something. 

We're gonna discover what that is. But this is way more interesting [00:22:00] than, uh, than, you know, the, the scene we did where we're like, yes, all 50 states. Now we can list them. Here we go. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. Okay. I mean, uh, yeah, I guess I maybe don't have too much to say about this piece anymore. I just thought like it was a really cool way of, um, yeah, I guess it just really pointed in like a new perspective on something that I've been thinking about for a while, and I'll try not to be too self-aware of whether I'm affording you things or not during this conversation, but it's, it's bound to happen basically because now it's, it's just in my head, right? 

It's like, yeah, don't make dead end statements or, or don't like, the same with questions, like questions that are super specific and you just say like, three is your response or whatever. . Yeah. It doesn't really lead anywhere. 

Adam Mastroianni: and making statements can also be offering affordances. Like you don't have to have a question mark at the end to invite the other person to speak. Like if you make a point that, uh, that has something generative in it or something to disagree with, or something to expand upon, so long as the other person is doing their part as well, then they can grab that doorknob and push onto the next thing too. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So basically what [00:23:00] I, what we just did, right? Yeah. , and then you expanded on it. Yeah. Very nicely done. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. Yep. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Um, I had a kind of more general kind of question about, uh, I mean the most generic question almost, which is why you started doing a sub and Yeah. Kind of, yeah. Why, why did you do it? Is it that, I don't know, you saw everyone else do it and thought I want to do that too, or you are, I don't know, writing a book and you need followers or something. 

Like, what's the. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. There's a lot of reasons why, um, here, here's one way of, of telling this, the story. There are many, many stories that that went into this, but that conversation paper that, that you mentioned, not the post, but uh, this, this paper. Um, do conversations end what people want, want them to? And I published a few years ago when I published that paper, uh, it came out in a big journal. 

It got a lot of media attention. And the average article about my paper was like a little bit wrong, and some of them were like very wrong. And that was something that I worked on for four years. And I had written it with, uh, my advisor who's very good at [00:24:00] like structuring these papers and writing them very clearly. 

And it just felt like we had the best chance possible to, um, to like write a paper that people would, would understand and instead, like there were people in the middle who read the paper, didn't understand it, and then wrote the wrong version of it to people in general. And so what happened was, of all the people who encountered my research, the average person was actually worse off for that having happened, which is, which is like if you take science seriously is like a huge tragedy to work all this time and to produce something that you believe to be true. 

And, and now everybody actually believes more the opposite of it. And so I was like, how could I possibly do do that? And so one reason I wanted to start this sub was to write about research and about psychology in words that people can understand. So there didn't have to be a translator in the middle who would get it wrong and give people the wrong idea. 

I might still give people the wrong idea, but that's at least my fault. Like no one's, it's not because we're feeding this into a sort of bad Google translate. That's one reason. [00:25:00] Uh, but the reason why it's continued is basically when I'm writing in this mode, I feel like I'm in that scene in the original Indiana Jones where he like puts the staff into kind of the crypt and the light shines through like the ruby and it illuminates this place on the map. 

Uh, well, it just feels like I'm in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. It feels like that in a, in a more dramatic way, which is not how it feels when I'm trying to write a scientific paper. When I'm doing that, I feel like I am speaking a third language that I have sort of like a, uh, you know, a fourth grader's level of understanding about, and uh, and it's like, why? 

why work so hard to produce these papers that people don't read, or when they do, they misunderstand them because they have to be written in this way that is like deliberately dense and even misleading. I'd rather write in the words that I think are right. Uh, make it accessible to anybody, and in doing so, like actually come to understand what I'm writing or what I'm doing better. 

Because if you can't explain it to someone who doesn't have expertise in the domain, you don't actually understand what you're doing. [00:26:00] Yeah. So those are some of the reasons. Also, uh, I have some friends who blog under the name Slime Mold Time Mold, uh, which is a very funny name for a blog, and they, they would not, uh, stop bothering me until I started a blog. 

And so I did in part to get them to stop annoying me with it, which I'm glad that they did. Uh, it has changed my life. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: How, sorry. That's, yeah. Very obvious. Next question. How is it 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, , um, it, it has sort of made me believe that it is possible to do this. That I think all through graduate school and, and in my postdoc, I've figured like if you want to do. Psychological research and, and you wanna do it, you know, freely, you don't, you don't wanna do it at the behest of like Google or Facebook or something like that, where you're answering the questions that they want you to answer. 

You have to be an academic, like you need a position in a university. And it is, it is becoming more and more possible that like, that might not need to happen. That if you can find some way of, uh, of paying your bills otherwise, like you can keep doing what you're doing. Now, this is easier for psychology, where like, it doesn't take a [00:27:00] ton of money. 

Uh, like it's not that hard to get participants. Like, I don't know exactly what I would do if I was a biologist and I needed like, Petri dishes or whatever. Maybe it would look different. Um, but the idea that I could 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: not sure there, that's the expensive part for you. 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah, we do what we're running out of these Petri dishes, , um, and all these pipettes. Um, we need more cadavers. I 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I know what you mean. Yeah. Yeah. They, they are definitely very expensive parts of the, to their researching. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, like how cool is it that, that, like if you never had to publish in a journal again, but you've still got to do research. For me anyway, the research I would do, it would be very different. 

I mean, that, that's what I've been trying to do recently. And I think for a lot of people it would be very different, um, because it's like, well, suddenly I don't have to write in the form that's gonna be published in a journal. I can like do weird stuff. I can like be very exploratory and that can actually be transparent. 

So not to get too deep into the last post that I did, but it was, uh, uh, a research paper, but written in this way completely transparently. So like we put the data in the code and the materials [00:28:00] online. So if you wanna see exactly what we did, you can, but then we just write about it in a way that makes it most understandable. 

And we also, it also allows us to admit things like, we don't know why this happened, or we forgot why we ran. Study eight things you can never say in a paper, but you should say like, to not say them is a lie. And like as a scientist, like, you know, you gotta make a lot of compromises in your life, but you shouldn't compromise. 

something that you really value. And for me, like scientific integrity, like, uh, trying to discover the truth is something I really value. And so why would I ever want to do it in a way that makes me compromise on that? Now, maybe it won't work. I don't know. Maybe I won't, won't ultimately be able to make a living doing this, but someone's gotta try. 

And I would definitely like to live in a world where people are trying and hopefully some people are succeeding. And, and I started to figure like, okay, if not me, then who? And so that's what I. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: No, that, that's really interesting to me because I guess, uh, I mean there's like with your blog list for my, for the podcast, there's many different reasons. Uh, and I guess one reason why I'm still doing it is because there are so many reasons for why I'm doing this. [00:29:00] And uh, but yeah, one, one of them is also this exactly what you just mentioned, this idea of like, I really like doing research. 

I don't like lots of what happens with academia. I feel like the experience I've made, I may be not as bad as what many other people have said, but I guess maybe in Germany there's just the whole bureaucracy thing, which is probably not not less than another countries, let's put it that way. Um, and yeah, it's just like when you see where. 

I don't know. For me, it seems like when I, when I see new PIs, it seems like, and I dunno what this is like for even more senior people, but at least for new PIs, it seems like they really want to do science and they're really excited to have a lab and then they spend time filling in paper forms and forms online and sending emails and like, just doing anything but science. 

And I dunno, to some extent it, yeah, it seems to me like there's this trade of like, you can have your own group and explore your own questions if you're willing to just do something else for most of your days. And that's, I'm not sure that's a compromise I wanna do. And [00:30:00] yeah, so I mean, you know, same thing like, I mean, right now I'm, I'm not only not making money from this, putting money into this, uh, with the podcast, but um, 

Adam Mastroianni: That's called an investment. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. I, yeah, it's not a money drain, it's an investment. Um, but I mean it just doesn't cost that much. But yeah. But it's the same kind of idea. Like who knows? Maybe like if I continue doing this, people are like listening to us, then I'll have like a way of, I don't know, having like a part-time researcher position or whatever. 

Right. And then the rest of salary I can get through other ways. And then, yeah, exactly what we said. You have this freedom without the constraints that academia currently has for people who want to do science. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I think it makes, uh, it makes a lot of sense and it just wouldn't have been possible, I think, until very recently. But it's just becoming more and more clearer, clearer and clearer, I guess, that, that people are willing to pay for something that they value, even if they don't have to pay for it. I mean, that's the idea behind CK and Patreon.[00:31:00]  

And I think there's something like very beautiful about that, of, of basically recreating in miniature kind of the way science used to be done, that someone would have a patron and that would give them, you know, some freedom but also some constraint. Uh, and it's not like that's some perfect system or like, you know, we should go back to, uh, Medici's running, running the show. 

But it has some advantages and uh, and it certainly feels like at least the entire ecosystem shouldn't be what we have right now. And a lot of people are pointing out, and I've written about this as well, It really seems like a, on a lot of metrics, we aren't getting the same bang for our buck from science as we did pre 1970. 

That if you look at research output per capita, uh, per capita of researcher from 1970 onward, like we, we had a ton of researchers but don't actually seem to like get as much progress out. I wrote this, our article about how, why people, people think that's because like, ideas are getting harder to find. I think that's totally wrong, but I think it does have a lot to do with, uh, well what are those researchers doing all day? 

It's not research, mainly it's applying for grants, it's filling out [00:32:00] forms. It's doing all the things necessary to, to make a very bureaucratized version of research happen. , or it's all the time that takes to get something published. Like so much of my time over the past two years has been spent reading walls of texts sent to me by reviewers and writing walls of texts back to them. 

Things that it's not, it's not even the reviews themselves that I take issue with. It's the fact that like we could have gotten on the phone and done this in 15 minutes. But instead, this is going to unfold over the course of three months because like there was this one line that like, you slightly misunderstood. 

And now I have to read this whole paragraph about how you're wrong about that. And I'm just pleading with the editor to make this all go, go away. Like, man, what a waste of time. . Um, I, I read an article that, that apparently it takes 15,000 person years every year. The process of, uh, reviewing papers, it's like a billion and a da and a half hour or billion and a half dollars worth of time free. 

You know, most of these papers are, are never cited. Uh, and e even if they are, half of them are either fraudulent or misleading or, or, or whatever. So like, what is all this for? 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah, I know what you mean. Yeah. [00:33:00] I mean, I also wanted to review for paperwork. I thought like, it's fine. You know, like 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: like, I mean, I have to point out some things and there was some things that, you know, obviously like wrote some stuff, but there, my general impression was like, uh, just, just publish it, , you know, like just, it doesn't really make much of a difference. 

It's not gonna change the world. It's all right. But then instead it ends up being this like, yeah, long process of doing, doing it properly and. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I, I think everything should be published and then we should review the things that matter. This is a, a post that I'm gonna write in the future. That there's no reason to prevent something from being published in the first place. We think that we are preventing misinformation from getting out. 

Anyone who's ever read these papers knows that we have, we are not succeeding at doing that. Uh, or like go to retraction, watch and see like the hundreds of papers that have been retracted, which, which is obviously a super high bar. Most papers that are fraudulent or, or flawed in some way, never get retract. 

So it's clearly not providing like quality [00:34:00] assurance. A lot of these papers actually don't matter in the first place. We'd actually save a lot of time if everyone just ignored them. Or they might not get produced in the first place if everybody could just ignore them. But they can't because every paper must be reviewed. 

And in fact, some papers, papers are reviewed many times because they get rejected and then reviewed to the next journal and then reviewed to the next journal. So like why not just put everything out? And then if you think a finding is important and wrong, you can write a review or important and like needs to be explained further or, or whatever. 

Write a review that, that's what we were trying to do. My friend Ethan and I, uh, in this last post that I had published, that that's like, here is the paper. You can review it if you want to. Like, you can see all the methods in the data. If you don't think it's worthwhile, you can just keep scrolling. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I wanna talk about that a bit more in a second, but, uh, just briefly, the, uh, yeah, for anyone who's more interested in the fraudulent side and how we're not really correcting for that. I did an episode with Joe Hilgard that I put in the description, and by the way, I put like links to everything we discussed in the description. 

Um, but yeah, he basically had this data from, from some [00:35:00] Chinese researcher on a field that he happened to be interested in. And it was basically this one person said they collected like data sets with like, it was like three papers each with like two, 3000 people or something. And in that field, all the other papers had like 200, uh, people or something in it. 

And then he just had this like, year long protracted process of, okay, like, can I see the data please for this. The guy was actually dumb enough to actually send him his falsified data. So then he basically was like, okay, here's data what the data usually looks like from this field. And you'd have like normal distributions and stuff, and here's the data from this guy. 

And it was just like a square of data though, . It was just like, clearly he just typed in or whatever. And I think, I mean, I talked to Joe like one and a half years ago or something, and that was already like two years after he started the whole process. And I think some of the papers are still not retracted, right. 

So it's, uh, I mean, yeah, it's, it's not 

Adam Mastroianni: it's, it's carnage, uh, and like, and I can't believe 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Uh, sorry, and just very 

Adam Mastroianni: there is this idea.[00:36:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: sorry to interrupt, but like, one thing is he is dedicated to getting these papers retracted. Right. I have another thing. The reason I contacted him is because I saw a paper with major flaws in it. Like the, like some of the stats just don't add up. I haven't been bothered yet to contact the authors and say like, are you aware that this doesn't, like, literally doesn't make sense because it's, I just don't have the time to get around to it. 

So yeah, if it takes that long for someone who really puts his foot down on there, then yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, exactly Mo. Most of these will never, uh, because like nobody would bother to read them in the first place or bother to read them closely enough to realize that something's wrong and then do all of that annoying work for no incentive to get the record corrected. Which is why I think it's extremely unfortunate that I think among the public there is this idea that like peer reviewed research is held to some like level, like some quality assurance. 

And, uh, and like, basically it's not, I mean, you like, you know, you can't like photocopy your butt and mail it to, you know, P N A S and have them [00:37:00] publish it, but honestly there's eventually gonna be a journal where that would work. , uh, I mean, people have done this before, right? Like, uh, I think there was someone who got a paper published that, that was just like, are we allowed to swear? 

Um, there's a swear word in it. . Uh, I think pe I think it . I think what they wrote was, uh, take me off your fucking mailing list. Um, and I think they, did you see this? It's something like that. Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: can't 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, and it got in some predatory journal. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, but there's, but there's a difference, right? Like one thing, there's one thing is you have a pressure journal that literally just exists to make money. But the problem is that there's also in normal journals that, you know, you still have not exactly that problem , but others. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. And like all of this would be, I think, fine if it didn't have the facade. Quality on top of it, that like, if you weren't pretending that these things are trustworthy, if all of this was just like, look, these are just pe, these are people making claims. And like, if you really wanna know whether the claim is true or not, you actually have to do some [00:38:00] work. 

Like, you can't outsource your trust to someone else. And, and like, and if you don't wanna do that, that's totally fine. Like, you don't have to become a scientist or like be very involved in this process. But it also means you can't feel very, you can't have strong convictions about, you know, these scientific issues, like what's true and what's not. 

And that's fine. Like, I feel that way about virtually all of science except for what I do personally. Like, I don't know anything about quantum computing and like when people make claims about it or something, I just have to go like, well, I don't know, like, maybe it sounds plausible to me or not, but if I really want to make a claim, I actually have to do some work and gain some expertise to do it. 

And like, that's the price of admission. Like, I don't get to be like, well it was in science, so it must be true and good. It's like, honestly, if anything it, it might be the opposite because science is not optimizing for the most trustworthy research. It's optimizing for. That in addition to like research, you know, that's broadly interesting or something like that. 

So unlike a, another journal, like maybe it's less short, trustworthy. Anyway, uh, I'm going on a tangent here, but, uh, but I think it's [00:39:00] unfortunate that, that in, in the public people are like, oh, put peer reviewed research mu like someone has done some quality checks on it and it just hasn't happened. I mean, like, the most likely problem with a paper is like, something has gone wrong with the data either on purpose or just by mistake, right? 

One column got mislabeled or one line of code is wrong and nobody ever looks at that when they're reviewing cuz it's so tedious and hard and sometimes you don't even have to submit the data. So we can't pretend that we've like held these things to any standard if we haven't looked at the most basic ways that they could be wrong. 

And if instead what we've basically done is sort of like, you know, artistic criticism, they're just like, oh, I liked this about the paper and I didn't like that and like, this didn't add up to me as if it's a movie. Um, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Act great ending. Yeah. Um, I can't remember exactly how we got to this topic anymore, so I'll just make a hard break. Uh, so how much time do you spend on yourselves? Like is it something that's, you know, you do like an occasional, like, you know, Saturday a month or, I don't know, [00:40:00] like, I don't, I can't remember. 

Do you publish once per month or is it just irregular? I can't remember 

Adam Mastroianni: I, I publish, uh, one, uh, every other week. So twice per 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: uh, twice per month. 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, on average. Yeah. Um, it takes a long time and it feels like it is, uh, I mean, it's sort of like trying to, to answer a question of like, how much time do you spend on research? I mean, you can count the time that you spend with fingers on keys, but like, really the time that you spend is every waking moment of your life, having these ideas percolating in your head and rewriting sentences in your head. 

And only some of that is literally spent on task. So it feels like something that is always running in the background, whether or not I'm running it in the foreground as well. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah, I understand that. Definitely 

Adam Mastroianni: I, in part because, because like the way that I wanna write is like, I want to bake these ideas until they are. And it's a process that like really can't be sped up. 

There's no, there's just no way of doing it faster. Like it takes the time that it takes, and sometimes it's just like I stare at a paragraph for two hours and then I delete it . And that's what it takes to like produce the thing that [00:41:00] I'm, that I feel proud of. Uh, and I don't want to put out anything less than that. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I feel like that's, that's, uh, that's the sentence of someone who actually writes like that, you know, like that you actually, that it's probably gonna be your, what you write if someone says something like that, because that's not easy to do. 

Adam Mastroianni: Mm-hmm. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: know, the whole kill your darlings thing. That's, that's difficult. 


Adam Mastroianni: yeah, I, I found the way that I do it is, uh, I, I never literally delete anything. I copy and paste it to the bottom of the document, like below a, a line. And I know that, that a piece is getting closer to done when that graveyard is more full of bodies because it means that I've thought a lot about, about this and like I've thought down angles that turned out to be dead. 

And now I have found like the way to the end of this maze is a way that I feel about it. Sometimes it just fills up and I'm like, actually, there's not enough above ground. Everything's been buried and like this post isn't gonna work. Uh, and then I move on to the next thing. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. Uh, I have a question about like how you fit, basically how you [00:42:00] fit this in with, because you are still, what exactly you're doing research and teaching, or that's, um, maybe you could elaborate a bit on that later, but you are basically still, you have a, a job. It's not like you're actually already doing tack as a, as a full-time thing. 

So I'm just curious how you fit that in and in particular, or, oh, yeah. Maybe let's just, yeah, maybe let's just, I'll ask the other question afterwards here. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. So right now I'm a postdoc at the business school at Columbia, and the most formal part of that job is I teach two sections of the negotiation. To MBAs or Executive MBAs, people getting, getting Master's degrees in business. But a nice thing about this position is I only teach one, uh, semester per year. 

And, uh, and I teach all in the same day. So, uh, it's like this spring I'll teach all day Saturday, uh, and the rest of the time is mine to do research as, as I see fit. So some of the time I spend doing what I think of as like conventional research. I guess the, like the research that is, is destined toward a journal. 

Although more and more I'm trying to convince my [00:43:00] co-authors to not do that and to do the thing that I just did with this paper on CK. And so that's part of how I marry the two and, and like, uh, can do both at the same time. And now I can point out to, um, and I've, I've convinced, uh, one of my co-authors already to do this on a project that we're working on that I can point out. 

Like I posted that paper on Civ that, like the pre-print server or whatever, w just a way of, you know, posting PDFs supposedly permanently on the internet. And I didn't even promote it in any way. Like I hadn't posted it on the blog yet. I, I posted the day before because I wanted to link to it in my blog post, which was just gonna be the same thing. 

But like, and then I woke up to the next day that like, it had been viewed tens of thousands of times and like downloaded thousands of times because there's a Twitter bot that tweets out whenever someone uploads it, uh, uploads a new paper to that website and someone had just seen it, or a few people had seen it and started retweeting it and talking about it. 

And so like more people saw that paper than they would have if, if it got into whatever journal it might have ultimately gone to. And so now I can, I can point that out to my [00:44:00] co-authors and be like, this is gonna get more attention if we write it this way. It's gonna be way more fun and way faster. And so, like, what's the reason not to, other than we know that like this is the currency of our realm and like we're taking a risk by doing it this way. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, so just interpret. That's really interesting to me because, I mean, as I wrote to you when I invited you, so basically I was probably, I'm not respond, I'm not, I didn't retweet or anything. I'm not responsible for, for the spread, but I was like one of the first like 30 people or something to see your thing because I was literally wasting time on Twitter and then it just popped up the okay things, Scooby better. 

This thing just popped up. Right? And. For some. So sometimes this thing, you know, the sci I've bought tweets, things that aren't particularly good, you click on, you go like, what the hell is this? And then when I saw this thing called Thanksgiving better, I was like, well what is this? Like, this looks so unprofessional. 

Which idiot did that? So I just clicked on it. And such a really good, actually, this is really interesting. And then, you know, I realized that you were the person whose other stuff I'd already read, but I So the,[00:45:00]  

Adam Mastroianni: I'm the idiot. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. , exactly. Well, it turns out it wasn't an idiot. Um, but the, what I found interesting is then the next day, yeah, I went also and it was like 30,000 downloads or something, or two days later or something. 

And I assumed that this was because you linked in a, in your newsletter and that's why it got all those downloads or views or whatever. Right. But that's really interesting to 

Adam Mastroianni: No, to It would totally the, the other way around. Yeah. Yeah. And if I, uh, it was sort of annoying at the time too because I want to drive traffic to my blog where I'm gonna post the next thing rather than to this C archive page where if you see it, you're, there's no way for you to see the next thing that's. 

And so if I know that it was gonna happen, I would've done it the other way around. I, I guess. But, uh, but still it was, it was a very serendipitous, and, and it made me feel like this is possible that, you know, that people will read your stuff even if it doesn't come out in a journal. And in fact, they'll read it from top to bottom if you write it in a way that invites them to, that I think was the most heartwarming thing about doing this, is people would like post screenshots or react to things [00:46:00] that are at the end of the article. 

And I can't remember the last time I read a journal article from beginning to end and like, I don't want, it sucks. It's, it's so 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: really? I actually always do that , but I think I'm an outlier in that. Yeah, I dunno. I 

Adam Mastroianni: You do you like it? 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: uh, I mean I might skip over like some of the statistical details, but Yeah. Often I do. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uhhuh. Wow. Uh, well, you are a better man than I, um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, 

Adam Mastroianni: I despair whenever I find a paper. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, I mean, I guess it's, I mean, typically I haven't actually read that many papers recently, but I feel like maybe, maybe it's just because I was in the beginning of my PhD and I had, I was new to the area, so I really wanted to like, get a sense of what people were talking. 

Maybe it was something like that. But yeah, us usually , usually I do . Uh, maybe that's also why I have a strong preference over a shorter papers. Um, you know, if there's a, if there's, if it's, if it's two digit page, it's like, ah, am I really gonna read 12 pages of a paper? [00:47:00] So maybe, maybe it comes from that. 

But, uh, yeah, I, at least I used to, we'll see how long that. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, yes. Well, how many more papers you could write or you could read if they were all written like this, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I mean, but let's be honest, you have a very great ending. Like your last paragraph is a pretty great way of ending a paper. I think we, we also can't hold other papers to that standard. Right? Um, 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, no. Uh, and like you only get to do this the first time once, but I think there's a whole world here that hasn't been ex explored. I think there's a lot of untrammeled snow that comes from people speaking in their honest voice. And the thing about doing that is everyone has a different one. And so, like, there are so many people that I'd love to read the paper that they could write if they could be totally honest and, and write it as if they were telling it to me. 

Um, like those papers, I think it would be way more varied and interesting. So I think there's still a lot of innovation left. I, I think this is like completely the beginning. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, I mean, I'm curious, do you think that. It's really interesting. I saw one [00:48:00] person, so I did see a few people tweet about it and interestingly, one person was kind of a bit negative about it cuz one person was like, not that the article was bad, but said, can we please stop like raving about this article? 

This is just gonna inspire another wave of like, people doing exactly that. And, um, I think that was because 

Adam Mastroianni: I hope so. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: well that's the question, right? Because I think one reason why your article worked is because you're pretty good at writing, right? And I think lots of people I can, I can really see like lots of papers coming out in the style and you're like, yeah, you're, you're not that funny , you're just not that good. 

But do you also think that maybe the, I mean, one the actual thing I wanted to ask is like, do you, do you ex, I mean I feel like part of the reason why this got so much attention is because it was so unusual, but as soon as even you do a second one that's exactly as good, it's probably going, I don't know, is it gonna get half as much attention or is it, you know, because the novelty of an article being like that is gonna wear off probably pretty quickly. 


Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I think, uh, I mean, articles are gonna have to live or die on their [00:49:00] own merits, right? You like, they can't be a novelty every time. But I still think that that actually the challenge is gonna be producing an article that, that's interesting and the easy part is writing about it in a way that's accessible because it's hard to do both. 

Because if the idea of the paper. If you write about it in a way that's accessible, it's gonna be painfully obvious to everybody in a way that it's not. When you have this facade of the formal journal language around it, that makes it seem like things are serious and important when in fact they're not. 

I, I also think, I mean, yeah, I have the benefit of, you know, having a background in comedy. I write a lot and, and so this comes more naturally, but I think actually for everybody writing in their actual voice comes more naturally than writing in this fake, scientific voice. And they would write better if they allowed themselves to do it. 

I think it, it might take a little bit to get the rust off, but like nobody, we all have to be trained to write in this way. That's totally foreign to us. But we all speak to each other normally in our lives. We give talks that are a little bit closer to, to the way I think we should express these ideas. 

And if you wanna do [00:50:00] this, like you still get held to the same scientific standards, right? Like you can't write a paper using informal language and like refuse to share your actual methods and data and code. Like, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard than a standard journal article, which doesn't have to do that. 

Like often, you know, you might get a little badge if you do it. Uh, sometimes they'll make you do it, but often you don't have to. And so I, I think you, you also have to like do the, the things required for scientific integrity. And so if people did even just that, that would be a huge benefit, I think. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Is it almost because you don't have a kind of formalized, this was accepted into an article and it's slightly weight written facade to hide behind. I dunno. It seems like in a way it's, it's, it's easy to dismiss the whole thing as a joke, right? Like, oh, here's someone who wanted to write a funny article. 

But as soon as people actually take it seriously as an article, then you have to, yeah, your methods have to be completely solid. Otherwise, yeah, you just, yeah, I guess it's a more open, yeah, just more transparent way of conveying what you actually did because you don't have much time [00:51:00] behind 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. I, I also think someone said this about it that like, it feels more like a more appropriate tone for the level of evidence that we're able to provide that. What we did and what most of psychology is these days is we asked some stupid questions to people on the internet and here's what we found. 

And like we can pretend that we did something more serious than that. But like, that's an inherently kind of silly thing to do. And obviously I think there are things, important things we can learn from doing it, but that is what we did. And so to pretend that it was like some kind of very serious, uh, academic ex escapade is like not consistent with the quality of the evidence that we actually have to present. 

And then something that, that turned out to, to be very heartwarming is that like when you present, when you go low status and kind of another term from, uh, from improv, that like people actually wanna help you more than they wanna hurt you. If this had come out in nature, people would be pissed. Like they'd be like, this shit's in nature. 

Like this is bullshit. I can't believe this. And, and if we're just like, we are two dumb asses, here [00:52:00] are studies, people emailed me, like unsolicited reviews being like, here's how I think you can make this, this better in, in very kind language. Like they actually wanted to help us, unlike reviewers who always want to hurt you, 

So I'd much rather do science like, like that, like put it out there and if people think it's worth their time to respond to and try to make it better, that's the greatest honor that we could receive that. Like they weren't paying attention to it because they had to cuz they were assigned to review it. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, so I always assumed, uh, always meaning since you posted it two weeks ago, whatever, uh, I, I assumed that you were going to submit this as a formal article somewhere. Is that wrong then? Because now from talking to you, it sounds like, okay, so this is 

Adam Mastroianni: That, yeah. That is the end game. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: so what's your, okay, so then, I mean, that seems basically like. 

You are actively trying to harm your career by not publishing in, right? Because our currency is publications in, in academic journals. So how do you, how, like, how do you think about that? Yeah. [00:53:00] What's the, what's the thought 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. Isn't it the stupidest thing you could do? I, I guess I feel like I'm just stupid enough to do it because I believe in it, and I mean, it's a costly signal, right? Like, I actually believe this is the right thing to do and I'm willing to risk something to do it. Everybody likes to sit around and complain about all the ways that academia is bad. 

Nobody is willing to risk anything to ever improve it. And so like, it's going to remain bad in all the ways that people hate unless someone's willing to do something. And what I'm willing to do is look like a huge buffoon, um, in order to change it in the way that I think it should be changed. Now, I do this in part with the hope that like if academia doesn't work out for me, that I might be able to do something else. 

And like that career is, I think, furthered by doing exactly the thing that I think is right to. . And so, you know, if someone was just starting out and didn't possibly have that option, I don't know, I think I'd still tell 'em, like, still do the right thing. And, and I think doing the right thing will ultimately lead you to a life that is better, even if it isn't the life that you expected. 

[00:54:00] Cuz I don't know, I mean, my PhD advisor, Dan, put it this way, Dan by the way, disagrees with a lot of what I'm, what I'm doing here productively and politely. But we argue about this all the time. But I always quote him back to him, which is, uh, he would tell me in graduate school, he'd be like, the reward for compromise is the opportunity to compromise further 

Like, uh, it's like, yes, you can get an ac you, I mean, you maybe can get an academic job if you write these stupid articles and you spam them in journals and you do all the things you're supposed to do and your reward will be a lifetime of getting to do exactly that. . Uh, and people have this myth that like, oh, eventually you get tenure and then like, no, it doesn't work. 

Like, I just don't think you can actually live your life one way. You know, up until the time you hit like 40 and then suddenly switch and do some other thing. It just doesn't work like that. Not to mention you still have to work with people who are constrained by the system. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: exactly. That's, I think that's the main thing, right? You still have graduate student. And un unless they're like, I guess you could maybe be the first one to just have a cohort of, of graduate students [00:55:00] who do exactly what, like who don't care just like you because you've selected for them with your public persona. 

But , um, for most other people, that's not gonna happen. Yep. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, no, that would be my dream cuz imagine those people, I think don't make it in academia right now. We talk about the leaky pipeline and I think nobody talks about the fact that like we exclude all these people who are, who are just slightly weird is their problem or like they aren't willing to pretend the way the rest of us are. 

That like we're all doing something very serious and important all the time when we know that we're not. It always struck me as strange that like I didn't meet more strange people in academia. Like they had odd, like their personality had oddities, but their ideas were never weird. , they were always within like the mainstream because you have to be, you can't be doing like really weird. 

You can't get it published and you're gonna get kicked out. You're, you're not gonna get into grad school in the first place. Which I think is a tragic, like, some of those weird ideas, maybe most of those weird ideas are bad, but a few of them might be revolutionary, but we'll never get them if everybody has to do basically the same thing, just little variations on it, which I think is another reason [00:56:00] why we might, we might have way less progress or like scientific progress per capita than we did bef before. 

When I don't, I don't, I'm not gonna be willing to claim that like, you know, it was just kinda the wild west, but I think it was more so before where you could like do weirder stuff and still succeed. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And then maybe a, uh, a slight, not exactly a personal question, but then about you, like, how did you then, because you're, not only did you get into graduate school, you, you got into pretty good schools all along. So it sounds like you would be exactly the kind of person who would not, you know, who would follow the straight path along. 

Right. Not only because it's worked for you so far, and you've probably have now an easier path to continue along this path than others, but also because Yeah, I mean, you're the exactly the kind of person who shouldn't have weird ideas, right? but how, how did you manage to do both then? 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, I don't know, maybe, and, and maybe I'm, I'm not even that weird, like I'm weird enough I guess to, to try this, but, uh, I, I've always felt this weird paradox that like, you [00:57:00] would think that getting some kind of affirmation, like a credential from an elite university would make you more adventurous. 

Like allow you to take more risks. Cuz now it's basically like if you're playing like who wants to be a millionaire, you sort of like hit one of those points where it's like you're at least walking away with $25,000. So like now you can gamble, but it doesn't, everybody knows it doesn't work that way. 

Like the more elite your status, the less you're willing to take risk. Cuz you have more to lose. And so instead of expanding your opportunities, it narrows them to this tiny, tiny band of things that it's okay for you to. Which I think is a huge tragedy. It's just a huge waste of that opportunity. And I'd much rather feel like, okay, look, I feel affirmed. 

Like I, I'm not, I don't doubt that I'm smart and I'm capable and I can do this, and people can tell me otherwise, and I won't believe them. I have, I have just enough in the bank to feel good. Now I'm gonna use that to actually do something other than just be like, who? But how can I increase my bank account of, uh, accolades, uh, until I die? 

And then what? They just all disappear. It just seems like a waste of [00:58:00] life. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So what's the, what exactly is the, maybe this is the wrong word, but like vision here or like what I mean like by you, you know, actively like now publishing some stuff that you probably could publish in very high journals, I would imagine by actively publishing somewhere else. Like what's exactly the strategy here? 

Is it, or is it just like, this feels right and I don't know where this is gonna lead? Or is it a kind of thing where you're like, okay, let's abolish the journal system and I'm gonna do it this way. Do you know what I mean? Like what, yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, I, I guess I have a half baked plan, which is predicated on the idea that, and I, and I think thank goodness this is true, it's not like there's someone at the center of all science pulling all the levers and deciding that this is the way that we do things. And so it's not like I'm advocating for that person to do something different because that person doesn't exist. 

All I can say for sure is, I think this is the, I'm sure that this is the right choice for me. When I write in this way, I do work that's better. I reach more people, they understand what I say, rather than misleading them with, you know, an article that's much [00:59:00] fancier, but ultimately puts the wrong information in people's heads. 

So I've no doubt that this is better for me. I think that it's better for pretty much everybody who does what I do, that they'd be better off if they did this, and I'd like to encourage them to do it. Um, but honestly, the group that I am most excited about would be inviting in people who currently like can't participate in the, in the process of science, because we've built such a thick moat around our ivory tower. 

That there are so many smart people out there who have interesting questions to ask and who aren't infected with all the assumptions that just like, sort of concretize inside their head and make it impossible for them to ask interesting, weird questions. Like, what if they could actually do science? I, I think there's this huge untapped resource out there that we've basically professionalized them out of, uh, out of being able to do science. 

If there's a way that I can invite those people back in that I think would be revolutionary, uh, and that's what I would be most excited about is, is creating a community of people who do that. And, and this isn't [01:00:00] historically unprecedented. I mean, the last thing, last post that, that I put up yesterday was a review of an autobiography of Francis Galton who, uh, is most notorious for inventing eugenics. 

So this isn't, uh, you know, a story about how to be a great person. But it was a window into a time when this was sort of the, the approach of science. Like it, like these learned societies back, the British Association, the, the Royal Society, the, their problem was that they were so exclusive, right? You had to be, be independently wealthy already and be, you know, a white English gentleman to be part of them. 

But, and, and that was true, I mean, of all of British society, right? So that wasn't a problem, uh, specific to science. But you had all these people who were, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: here, basically 

Adam Mastroianni: yes, exactly. But you had all of these people who weren't career scientists, but contributing to science because they were interested in it. You had people experimenting in their back gardens, um, or making little machines. 

All these things that we l lost. Um, now because the only way to, to be a scientist is to. Professionally, and I don't mean just get paid for it, I mean [01:01:00] go through all the steps that endows you as a professional credential scientist. I think that's too bad. And I think like we, uh, we've lost, like, it's hard to mourn for a loss that we didn't even know that we had, but we've lost something. 

Um, and I'd like to, I'd like to get it back for us all. Uh, I dunno. That's my, that's my hair brain scheme. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. So basically the way it was a while ago, but accessible to anyone. That's kind of the general idea. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. God, my supervisor's gonna hate that I talked to you. Um, Now, now I'm gonna have suggestions, Uh, but actually I had, uh, one questions like, um, what did people like Dan, uh, Gilbert or Tali Shard who you mentioned, the acknowledgements, like, did they comment at all like on the format or anything like that? Because I would imagine like, I don't know either of them personally, but I would imagine that they're a bit more steeped in the tradition of [01:02:00] publishing articles. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Uh, it's, it's funny if you, you know, read about Dan's life, you know, he, he dropped outta high school. He, uh, you know, toured around in a, in a bus. Like he didn't, I mean, and toured is probably a generous word for what was going on, but, uh, but like he didn't follow an established path to being, uh, a scientist. 

And I, and I think, you know, one of the greatest living psychologists today, and yet he and I really disagree about like what a good future for science looks like. I mean, he shares, I think some, like, critiques of the system. And, and I won't speak from him here, but I can, I can just speak to what we've disagreed about. 

And he told me about this recent paper, even when I was telling him how successful it had been, he's like, no one will actually take it seriously until it's in a journal. And like people are building on it. And I just disagree. I think that's wrong. I think like more people have seen this article than they, you know, probably by a factor of 10 than they would've otherwise. 

And it's, it's not even like, I think the measure of success for this paper is like somebody runs some follow up. I want it to be useful to people. If it [01:03:00] is, then they'll use it. And if it's not, then they'll move on. And if they move on, that's fine. Like, that's what science is. And, and I'm like willing to take that risk. 

Like if the only reason people would use my findings is if they had the, IM premature of a journal on them, then like it's a cheap victory. It's not actually winning like that. That's not actually a person who knows how to deal with the evidence that they've been given because there'd be no difference in quality of that evidence. 

So I guess I'm not, I'm not trying to recruit sheep . Um, uh, I wanna give people ideas that they can decide whether they're useful. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Okay. I guess maybe the only comment I'd have then is that I did not have the, I, yeah, as I said, like I, I assumed that this was a way of getting the findings out, but that you were also doing, uh, in quotation marks actual paper. Uh, so actually I would've also, not that I wouldn't have taken the findings seriously, but the, the preprint itself almost not because I would be waiting for the actual article in that sense. 

Um, so I don't know, maybe that that's, maybe that's a false [01:04:00] expectation there. But that would be my main comment, why I might not have taken it seriously, maybe that way. Yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, and this happens a, a a lot naturally with like, you go to a conference and you see a talk and like, for whatever reason the talk sticks with you, and then you're writing a paper and you're like, oh, it makes sense to like cite that thing. I saw at that conference a while back, let me see if the paper's out and if anyone felt that way about this paper. 

And they're, and they're like, oh yeah, I wanna, like, and they think that there's gonna be, uh, you know, the journal version of it. And they find that there's not, or they email me or something and they're like, I'd be like, that's just, that's the paper. Like, uh, I don't know. A journal might not like it if you cite it. 

Have, have you ever considered not publishing in one of them? They're stupid . Um, uh, uh, welcome to the, to the dark side. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, yeah. Okay. But then just like one very, very boring question, I mean, When you apply, I mean, is is the plan now you have a position and you hope by the end of that you've, through subs like, or whatever you're able to make a living and uh, or what's kind [01:05:00] of, because you know, as I said, like it is kind of the thing, like not publishing is a decision to basically substantially lower your chances of Yeah, unless you have like other, I guess you probably have other stuff that's going on that might lead to nice publications, but. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, I mean, I've, I've got, uh, my, my dissertation paper under review at a fancy journal and let's hope it comes out purely for the status reasons. But yeah, I mean I've, uh, I'm applying for academic positions right now and. I'd love to be given a shot to show how this could work to people on the inside. 

And I certainly have a case that I would make to them that like, I think this is so, this is like worth trying. Uh, and I'm willing to take the risk to do it. And I think the upside is huge. And I think the upside to an institution is, is possibly huge that it, that like, if this goes really well, then the institution where I call home like gets to benefit from that as well. 

And so I, you know, I mean, right now my record looks very conventional and if they're willing to give me a shot off of that record, I'd then like to make the case to them. Like if I start my position there as to [01:06:00] why I want to go in this direction in the future and, and like the success I've already had doing it. 

But if they don't wanna go for it, like, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, so the, the strategy is to kind of go in with, uh, I'm trying something weird, just you. Give someone an outsider's shot or like a, uh, let someone try something unusual. And because you have such a very successful traditional career until then, it's not like you're some random person. You walked in from the street, you're like, Hey, I wrote something. 

Do you wanna give me a job? Okay. So yeah. Well, on the backdrop of that. Okay, now I, yeah. Okay. 

Adam Mastroianni: And, and we'll see. But like, isn't it weird that, that, like what feels like the most revolutionary thing you can do in science today is just basically not follow a bunch of norms that pretty much everybody agrees are stupid. Um, like it, this isn't the the world I thought I was entering what I like, wanted to become a scientist like I thought. 

Uh, but it really does feel, I think like the most important issue of our time, like oth otherwise you look around the field of psychology and it. What are the important questions? Uh, right now, like it's, [01:07:00] it's not that we, we don't study things that are worthwhile. Like we study topics that are worthwhile, but I think there's no agreement on, on like where we should be pointing our attention. 

It's just a bunch of people fighting to get people's attention. It doesn't really feel like progress is being made. Maybe that's just the way it feels to be in a field at any point. But I think if you look back at the past 20 years, like what do we have other than just a taller stack of papers and if you looked into the next 20 years, like what do we expect to have other than a taller stack of papers? 

So it feels like we should be trying some high risk strategies and I wish I didn't have to be the one to take on the risk, but nobody else is doing it. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: One thing that always confused me was, , I've, I mean, I haven't been looking for this, but I don't know of anyone who made a YouTube video about their findings. I mean, you have like other people covering things and I'm sure there's like, I had this at the beginning of the pandemic when, you know, talks were no longer and that kind of stuff. 

And I thought like, wait a minute, why do I have to be invited to give a talk? I can just give a [01:08:00] talk and then put it on YouTube. And I mean, I dunno, I haven't done it, uh, probably because of, I dunno exactly how to do it and it sounds like work and I'm doing the podcast, et cetera. But this is, for me, it's like the big, like, you know, YouTube is such a big platform with so many videos uploaded and there is like popular science on there, but it's still from the traditional model of, you know, we take something that's kind of slightly poppy and uh, accessible. 

And then we talk about it the way they would on TV rather. Academics doing stuff. I mean, there are some, like I had Dan Quintana or Quintana on the podcast and he had like some tutorials where he walked people through, but that's still very different from saying like, here's my paper and presenting it as a, as a video on YouTube. 

And yeah, it's kind of crazy to me that I still don't know of a single video like that. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Like, uh, I, I know some professors at, at Columbia Business School who ha, who had a video made about one of their findings basically. I mean, it's, it's easier because it's, it's a, you know, it's a finding about negotiation and, and it's maybe [01:09:00] more applicable. But I think that would be great. And I, and I think if we took that seriously, if that was like a natural thing that people did, I think it would change the research that we would do. 

Because there's so much research that we do that we would be embarrassed to tell the public about. Because if you actually had to explain it in a way that they could understand it, they would see that it's a total waste of time. And so, I mean, this is what I think of as public science of like doing science completely transparently. 

Like give everybody the tools necessary to replicate what you did. Explain it in a way that anyone who's interested can understand it. And in so doing, you also make it possible for more people to do science. Like how could you learn how to do it if you can't see others doing it and learn from their example, which is part of why I, I think it's such a perversion that so much of what we do is pay walled. 

Maybe it's different in, in Europe. I, I don't know. But, uh, but like 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Subscribe to Elvie anymore in Europe, apart from the university I met in Heidel, Eck, I think it's one of two German universities, , that still subscribes to Elvie. So there's that. Yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: yeah. [01:10:00] Uh, yeah. They just wanna light, you know, a couple million dollars on fire to gain access to the research that that should be free to anybody. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, I mean, that's what I mean. Yeah. Okay. I mean, this is okay. I mean, I, I knew it was gonna be interesting talking to you, but I didn't realize fully how much kind of, uh, not exactly philosophy, but how much thought went, but like into the backdrop of why you published this on site archive the way you did. 

Because as I said, I just assumed this was like, you know, you, you like writing, so you feel like, oh, let's write up a funny way of doing it. And then lots of people read it and then I'll publish the article. I didn't realize that there was that much of a backdrop to it, and I guess 

Adam Mastroianni: No. It's even dumber. It's even dumber than it looks 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay, well that you just wanna revolutionize. Yeah. Yes. I wanna revolutionary science by, uh, Not publishing 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. The stupidest way. Pos Yeah, the stupidest way. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. But no, the, the, the reason why this seems like there's a bit more to it than I initially imagined is that, you know, as I said, I, I basically try and see whatever I [01:11:00] can find about my guests. And in your case, I found this speech you gave when you had the, uh, when you got this Rhode scholarship and, um, I dunno exactly what the speech was for, or whatever, I dunno exactly what the context of that thing was, but you did kind of have this fairly impassioned, let's say, um, appeal to people, to, you know, if you're a Rhode Scholar, don't just like, go down the traditional path, but like, do something with this, do something unusual and Yeah, like I wanted to ask you anyway, like whether, you know, whether you've been doing that, because I think you used the phrase, uh, people should be stirring some shit up. 

And I was like, have you been doing that? But is that then maybe in, in line with that or 

Adam Mastroianni: It's taking me a long time, but I feel like I've finally found my stirring stick. , um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: And the pot in 

Adam Mastroianni: and I mean, and yeah, and I don't re, I don't regret any of the things that I did so far. Like I had a great experience in graduate school. I, I had the best advisor I could possibly have. I really lucked out in doing that. 

Uh, I mean, [01:12:00] you and I know that, that that's not a given. A lot of people have a bad time. It's like, I'm glad, I'm glad that I did that. Like, you know, I, I don't wanna throw bombs just for the sake of throwing them. And I, and I feel, I guess, thankful that, like, I found a thing that I think is worth throwing bombs at. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. You found a good target. 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, yeah. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Okay. Yeah. So, um, I mean we've been talking now about revolutionizing the system, et cetera, uh, but going back to some slightly more common ways of doing science. I mean, you had, as I mentioned the article called Do conversations End when people want them to, and I'm not sure, are you familiar with BE'S law of. 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh oh. Is, is this like, if it asks the question and then title, the answer is no. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah, exactly. . So your, your, uh, paper entitled. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, yeah, you pretty much summarized the first, i, I copied it from Wikipedia. It says, be's Law of Headlines is an adish that states any headline that ends in a question mark can be asked with a word no. [01:13:00] Uh, so you have a paper called Do Conversations and When people want them to, and the answer is 

Adam Mastroianni: uh, the answer is no. Yes. Better's law stands 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. So maybe, um, yeah, I'm wondering whether you could like just briefly summarize kind of what you did in the paper you found, and then maybe also you mentioned that lots of the reports of that got it wrong, so kind of what people got wrong about it. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Um, so the idea behind this paper was people have conversations every day. Every conversation has to have an end, and that ending seems pretty fraught because, uh, you know, if you leave before the other person wants to leave, you risk offending them. If you stay too long, you risk trapping them, and they have the same fear about what they might do to. 

And at the same time, people aren't very clear about what they want. And so basically we wanted to know like, how do people land this plane, if at all? And, and there's a bunch, a bunch of ways that it could happen. And it turns out none of those things are, are the way it does happen because conversations don't end when people want them to. 

Uh, we found this in two studies. One, it was in the lab where we brought people in and had them talk as long as they wanted to, and then [01:14:00] afterward report if there was a point when they wanted the conversation to end. And if so when, and then guess the same thing for the other person. And people told us that there, that the difference, I mean they didn't tell us we did this calculation, but the difference between what people wanted and what they got was about half of the length of their conversation. 

So if, uh, which doesn't mean that they wanted to talk half as long because some people wanted to talk longer. And that's the big thing that so much of the reporting got wrong is everybody assumed that we found that people want to get out outta their conversation sooner. And it actually turns out to be a really difficult question to answer, like on average that they want to go sooner. 

Well, the answer is yes by a little bit. If you look at the percentage of people who said they wanted to go sooner versus later, it is the majority. . But if you think about what it means to say that you wanted to continue, that's, that's different from telling us how many minutes earlier you wanted to go, because one is a prediction and the other is a report on your experience. 

So it's hard to make those things commensurate. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: So you mean like you, because you know exactly when you want this to end, but you don't know exactly how much longer you would. Yeah. Okay. 

Adam Mastroianni: exactly. So like, you know, you ate [01:15:00] a bowl of ice cream. How much less ice cream did you want to eat? Well, like half a bowl. How much more ice cream did you want to eat? I don't like, I can guess that it would be another bowl, but I might be wrong. And another problem with making these things commensurate is if we talk for 10 minutes, I can only tell you that I wanted to go up to 10 minutes sooner. 

I can't tell you a negative number, but I can tell you that I wanted to continue. I mean, we let people say they wanted to continue for up to an hour, but you know, theoretically they could have told us they wanted to go on forever. So one of these is bounded and the other isn't. It's unclear how we could put these on the same. 

All of which is to say like, yes, it does tend in, uh, in the direction of people saying that they wanted to go sooner. But I think really the solid finding is people wanted to go at a different time than they did because still about a third of people said that they wanted the conversation to continue. 

And by the way, these, these results are identical when we survey people about the last conversation that they had, which is overwhelmingly with people that they know really well. So this isn't just about talking to a stranger for the first time. This also happens in people's living rooms. And we found it happens for two reasons, [01:16:00] at least two reasons. 

One is people don't wanna talk for the same amount of time, so it's really hard to both get what we want if I want to go at a different time than you want to go. And two people don't know when the other person wants to leave. So when we, when we had people guess when the other person wanted to leave, they were off by 60% of the length of their conversation. 

And again, that, that's absolute value. So it, they underestimate on average a little bit, but mostly they're just off. And so if I don't know what you want and we don't want the same things, it's very unlikely that we're gonna get what we want. And that seems to be two critical reasons why conversations don't end when people want them to. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. But so, so the main, yeah, so the main misunderstandings were really not that it was, it's just like whether it's more or less, um, rather than people, the people reporting that they just wanted it to be less, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes, yes. And so the, all these articles that were like, oh, conversations go on too long, which isn't what we found. Mainly some of the, some of the articles too were, were, there were like conversations on the phone go on too long, which is nowhere in the paper. All these [01:17:00] conversations were face-to-face. All this data was gathered before the pandemic. 

But then what you find when there, there's a lot of media coverage, is a lot of the media coverage is of the other media coverage. And so people start writing articles based on the original wrong article. Um, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: changed like a small detail here and there and then Yeah, 

Adam Mastroianni: yes. Yeah. It's a game of telephone. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, yeah. Is, yeah. I mean, what I found, I found this part actually, it's, it's kind of funny that they've misrepresented this because the, you, yours is one of the first paper where I, I. Regularly seed sort, like, sort discussions about what the mean means in your paper. Like I, I rarely remember seeing a paper that really said like, well, the mean is this, but actually that doesn't really mean that much because, you know, some people want to be longer, some less, so it averages out more or less. 

So it's kind of funny that they didn't pick up on that because it's a pretty big part of your results section. Um, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yes. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, it's it's not like you're hiding 

Adam Mastroianni: the people writing these articles. Yeah. Uh, I mean, are they gonna, you know, read deep into the results section to like really understand it?[01:18:00]  

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Uh, I'm curious, so you, you mentioned on your website that your, uh, uh, the article got covered by media and you mentioned the Holy Trinity of, uh, science, namely the General Natures Science and Jimmy Kimmel. I'm wondering did any of those get in? How does that, like, do they get in touch with you before, uh, do they just like report on it or like, do they ask you like some questions about it? 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, I forget what sciences and nature did. Um, there, there were places that, that like interviewed me or, um, uh, I think it might have been nature that like commissioned a professor to like write a commentary on it, basically. But yeah, Jimmy Kimmel, I never heard from, I just got a text one day that someone was like, oh, they mentioned your paper on the show last night. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Like what? 

Adam Mastroianni: and yeah, . Yeah. And they're like, they don't, you know, they don't mention our names. They're just like, researchers at Harvard found that, you know, something, something conversation. And then it was like some terrible joke. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Or even like Harvard University found, always loved when it's like Yeah. Especially like if I consider now because I'm in Hele bag and it's just like, I'm just in a room [01:19:00] like the university, like I'm just a dude in a room talking to other people in the, in the adjacent room, right? Like this, I'm not exactly sure what the university is doing here other than providing that room, but yeah. 

Um, But, uh, yeah. Uh, very simple. Oh, very generic question. But I was curious about, in this case, which is like kind of how the idea for the article came about, because it seems like such a, in the positive way, really seems like a kind of question a child might ask because it's like so simple. It's like about one of the basics of, um, I mean, I don't know. 

Like I, so, so I don't know like the, the literature on conversations, right? I dunno how much lit. 

Adam Mastroianni: Mm-hmm. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: lots of it, but this seems like such a simplistic and almost naive question to ask. I'm just curious. Like did, yeah. How did that come about and how did you decide to pursue it? Then also 

Adam Mastroianni: It really seems like a, a, a theme in my research career is like, just be really dumb and, and it seems to work out like, yeah, it is such a basic question. It is [01:20:00] wild that we don't have an answer to it, but also our field is really young and I think, you know, we have very quickly moved on to all these questions that we need all, all these sophisticated methods and, and analytic techniques to answer, but like, there are still very dumb questions that we don't know the answers. 

Where this came from was both tons of conversations with Dan, my advisor. But, and, and this may be, uh, anachronistic, is that the right word? Whatever it is. But sort of the way I remember this happening is I was at Oxford before I started my PhD. I was putting on my bow tie for a party cuz every party there is black tie. 

And I just remember thinking like, I don't wanna go to this party cuz I know inevitably I'm gonna be talking to somebody and then I'm gonna want to be done and go talk to somebody else. And there won't be like a graceful way of executing that maneuver, you know, unless your drink is empty, right? Like that's the one kind of out that you have. 

And then I was like, wait, why do I think that I uniquely am the one who wants to leave? What if we both wanna go, but we're both trapped there because we think the other person wants to stay. So like I had the same idea [01:21:00] that all of these media articles had after running the study. The difference was after running the study, I knew that I was wrong. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: That's good. You learned something 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, exactly. Imagine spending four years and thousands of dollars and all these participants' time and uh, to, to learn something is pretty cool. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, yeah. No, I just find it really interesting because I'm also like now in the, in the final stage of writing about an article that also seems to be like so simple about some of the basic thing in the field and sometimes it just feels like you're like, like number one, I always have this feeling like someone must have done this before. 

Like there mu like I must have just not found it. Um, and the other part is also like, in a way we think this is a really cool thing because it's about a basic property of it and it has sometimes pretty large effect. But so that's like really exciting, but also like, this is like such a simple question, like they could easily reject. 

It's saying like, Come on guys. Really? That's a question , like this is your big finding. Um, so I don't know. It was kind of nice seeing someone else also ask a very [01:22:00] simple question. Um, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Um, , uh, if the journal says no, have you tried not publishing in journals? 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. I'm not sure how that's gonna go down with my supervisor, but also, I mean, to be fair, for me, it's also a thing, like this is for me, like the one from the things I'm doing during my PhD, where I have the highest hopes of it, you know, being accepted into a p prestigious journal and yeah, if I want to get a postdoc, this would, it would help 

Adam Mastroianni: No. I, I get it. I, yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But yeah, I mean, to be fair, I never really considered it, to be honest. That's, that's maybe the interesting thing about talking to you today is that, uh, , I've, I've, I've, I've gained an entire new way of ruining my career now that I hadn't even considered before. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. This one's more fun. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, 

Adam Mastroianni: Uh, and look, you can, you can always like, you know, like publishing it, I think the right way is not inconsistent with publishing it in, uh, you know, the hated way that we all do. Like, you can do both. Like, like you expected me to do, like I, you know, I could have done it. Uh, I just could not bring myself to [01:23:00] write the worst version of that article. 

And we tried, Ethan and I tried to write it and it just felt so bad, 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: that, uh, that we couldn't do it. Um, so 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I mean, I, I 

Adam Mastroianni: maybe that is a gateway drug. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. And I, I will also say like, if I ever, let's say in some hypothetical scenario, this podcast, you know, actually, you know, it ends up paying a lot of money, then Sure. I'll, I'll, I'll be with you. Uh, if I don't need a salary, then , uh, 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. No, I know how it goes. You gotta eat. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah, exactly. Uh, anyway, I had one, a brief question about the kind of, What, what you make kind of, of the consequences of the conversations paper. 

So I mean this idea that conversations don't usually end when people want them to now on face value, this seems like it's a sucks, like it's pretty bad aspect of life. Uh, because you know, something we do a lot seems to never really be satisfactory, at least with this in regard to this one aspect. Um, but I'm just curious like how, [01:24:00] whether there might be like some some real benefits to this. 

And just to give like two examples. Like if it takes, you know, let's say that the conversation takes longer than you want it to. I mean, often I feel like getting exactly what you want to is not the best idea because you often dunno what you should want. Right? And like sometimes you, you're in a conversation and then you know, it only becomes interesting 10 minutes after you kind of would've left if you could've already. 

And then in the reverse, it's also like if the conversation is shorter than you want to, I think this is like from theater, this, or I guess this is like in any kind of entertainment like you want. to leave people wanting more. You don't want, you know, you, you kind of want people to leave the experience and go like, ah, I wish I, I, I wish that continued. 

Right. But you don't actually want it to continue Right. Uh, until you get bored with it. So I'm, yeah. I'm just curious like what you make of that. Um, yeah. Kind of what it means 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah, it, uh, it, it did turn out that, um, the people who say that they wanted to leave the conversation before it ended enjoyed that conversation less. [01:25:00] I mean, that the causality can obviously go either way. Um, maybe that is why they, you know, um, but there was no difference. I mean, these are smaller groups, so we don't have as much power to detect a difference if there was one. 

But we couldn't detect any difference between the people who were left wanting more and the people who got exactly what they wanted. Which I think goes to show that like, I mean, we went in thinking that getting cut off was bad, you know, to, to leave a conversation thinking that like, oh, I wanted to talk to them more than they wanted to talk to me. 

Seems like an aversive state to be in, but I agree with you. I think it is, uh, I mean, and it could be that some people felt that way and some people felt what you just described, which was, uh, it was life wanting more. I, I could have danced all night. I feel so good. We don't know, but, but I think both things are, And so, yeah, it's hard for me to to say like, like what the takeaway from this paper is other than like, now we understand that the ends of conversations are a train wreck that everyone experiences and then mostly enjoys because, uh, because like it, yeah, I, I think like, it could have benefits, it could not, and, and I think you'd really have to do more to, to figure out like, which it is. 

[01:26:00] Yeah. And I feel now I can feel hone like honestly telling you that most of the time when people interviewed me about that paper after initially came out when I was in a different state of mind about science, I had to pretend that like, yes. And now we know how to like, have good conversations. We don't like, uh, I have an additional fact for you about how conversations work. 

I think it's pretty counterintuitive. It certainly isn't what we expected. And for me, that's all I really seek from science. Like, I, I think it's really hard to actually give people actionable advi. Like you, you really have to run a lot of studies before, uh, you should feel comfortable telling people to do something differently than what they're doing right now. 

But you only need to run one study to change people's understanding about something. And that's what I hope to do. The most. Um, and that's what psychology has done for me so far. Like, I became a psychologist in part because I read my advisor, Dan Gilbert, I read his book that was all about how people are bad at predicting what will make them happy. 

Yes. Uh, and like, you know, it doesn't mean that like that happens in every situation all the time and like, you should live differently. Knowing that, it just, it just gave me a sense of [01:27:00] peace knowing that the bad things in my life probably won't turn out to be as bad as I think they will be. And those feelings won't last as long. 

So what do I do differently about that? I don't know. Just live a better life, which is pretty good. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I guess it's also like it's enough for a paper to establish one thing. You don't have to establish the consequences of that thing and you know, all sorts of other things. , you kind of just said you don't know, uh, how we become better conversationalists or have better conversations and, uh, but I was kind of just curious just because we did talk about it at the beginning with the affordances slash doorknobs in conversations. 

Yeah. And I guess you've probably also done a fair amount of reading about conversations, at least some stuff that I'm completely unaware of. So I'm just curious, like, what, what would you say makes for. A good conversation or a good conversational list, or what can we do differently? 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Um, it, it's funny that, like my answer [01:28:00] to this question is gonna be mainly based on intuition rather than anything that I've read. Mainly, I, I think part one would be what has been found in various studies, which is like, , you should probably just have them. They are more enjoyable than people expect them to be. 

That effect seems to be pretty robust. I find it in my own studies too, so like worry about them less. And I think in a conversa, like the key to having a conversation is just like, listen more, strategize less. Like think about yourself less. Try to create and look for those affordances. But really like conversations are really cognitively loading. 

I don't think you can do much strategizing on top of them. And so I think the more that you are in the moment and paying attention to the person picking up on the affordances that they create and trying to make affordances for them, probably the better that that you're gonna do. And I guess if there's one more thing it, it is that, um, I think a mistake people make, and I think there's some evidence to back this up, is worrying too much about. 

Being intimate with, with someone else, like sharing additional information. But we know from other research that this is actually the way that [01:29:00] relationships form that I reveal something a little bit more intimate about me and you do the same. And, you know, we build up this fast friends paradigm. This appeared in the New York Times as like the 40 questions that fall in love. 

But it is actually a way of making people friends with each other in the lab. But like, you can't start that positive cascade un unless you're willing to open a little bit. Um, and if they don't do the same. And people are, I think, afraid of, of not being reciprocated. But those fears are generally overhyped, uh, or overblown 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: But I think also the key word here is escalating. Sharing intimacies, not just going forth, throttle into it. used to step by 

Adam Mastroianni: yes. No, don't, don't be good with, I killed my grandfather . What do you think? Although that's, that's a conversation I'd be interested to have, although through some bulletproof. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: I was about to say. Yeah. Yeah. I hate this . You might wanna some distance to the person. Um, okay. I mean, uh, change of topic here now. Um, kind of last few questions. It's just, I'm curious some [01:30:00] general kind of, uh, advice. I guess part of why I'm doing this podcast is because I can learn from people who are one or two steps off ahead of me. 

And maybe we can start this by, I'm just curious. Like, I mean you've, we've, you've mentioned Dan Gilbert, a few, is it Gilbert or Joe Gilbert, right? Yeah. Uh, you've mentioned him a few times now, um, cuz he was your PhD supervisor and I don't know like what's something that you learned specifically from him or maybe something you think that he does particularly well or, yeah, I dunno. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Um. . When I started my PhD in our first meeting, uh, Dan told me, he was like, someone asked me recently what percent of my life goals have I achieved? And I told him, 140%, I've done more than I ever thought that I would. And I don't, like, I don't feel like I have anything to prove, or I just wanna have fun. 

So like, let's just talk about interesting ideas. And that's what we did for the first six months of my PhD. And then like, you know, we'd often talk about an idea and kind of talk it to death and we'd be like, ah, okay, not that one. Sometimes he'd be more likely to say that than me. [01:31:00] And as you could see, that was getting a little frustrated that we weren't like, you know, starting a research project. 

He told me the story of him talking to his advisor, Ned Jones. Dan came in one day with this idea he was all excited about and he tells it to Ned. And uh, and you know, Dan goes, okay, do you think it would work? And Ned goes, yep. And Dan's like, okay, should we do it? And Ned goes, Nope. . He's like, why? That's like, because it's not worth our time. 

And that was a very illustrative story for me because no one had ever put it explicitly that like, something could be like an, like an experiment could work. And not be worth running. And that's something that obviously when you say it, people will agree with it. But I have found when I talk to other people about it, that like there's this idea that basically just do your first idea. 

And I think like you instead should, um, you know, I have a document on my computer called the Ideas Graveyard that is filled with all of the ideas that I've discussed or like somehow thought about that I haven't done. And I think like, basically you should throw away almost every idea you ever think because like these ideas [01:32:00] really matter and good ones are hard to find. 

Uh, and the only way that you find them is by looking really hard for them. And that looks like generating a lot of ideas and throwing out all the ones that are terrible. Um, that has served me well so far. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: uh, do you do that intentionally? Is it something you do like sitting down to, I don't know, let's say you. , you're finishing a project and, well, I don't know, like is it, do you always have like projects going and then you Yeah. Like how do you then come up with new ideas if 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. Uh, as time goes on, like your, your pipeline gets fuller and fuller, right? And so, like, you are generating fewer ideas, so, so you maybe need to do less of this. Like, it's much more important at the beginning. But really it's, it's something that's less intentional and more just being honest with myself, but just like, do I really want to commit to this idea for like the four years it's gonna take to finish it? 

And the answer is almost always no . Like, I don't wanna just make a paper to make a paper, like, I'm gonna marry this idea, basically. And like, I don't wanna get married to someone I hate. That's, that's like a recipe for being [01:33:00] depressed. Yeah. It may be even worse. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: yeah. At least you can rev Revel in the hatred. 

Adam Mastroianni: Yeah. And at least you can be like, okay, I hate this, but it's gonna be over. But I think some, like a mediocre idea, like you always keep hoping that it will be good and it always keeps disappointing you. That is worse. Yeah. So that is the advice that I would give is throw away most of your ideas. Um, and then I guess from my more recent experience is, uh, be dumb Uh, there's actually a great piece on this. Uh, my friend slime, old time old wrote it called The Scientific Virtues, and the first one is stupidity. And at first when I read that, that piece, at first I disagree with it. And now I've come to think of it as like the most important thing that I've read in a very long time. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Wasn't there, sorry to interrupt, but wasn't there like a commentary in, I dunno, what journal like in, in academic journals and it was called something like The Importance of Ility for Research and this fairly senior academic, I think said like most of my main findings came because I was already dumb and messed something up or something like that. 

I [01:34:00] can't remember. I'll see if I can find it and put it in the description, but yeah. 

Adam Mastroianni: I totally believe it. Yeah. 

Benjamin James Kuper-Smith: Well, I think that's something that I, and many of the listeners can definitely feel like we can achieve , that that's one of the piece of advice that feels very, you know, it's within grasp. 

Adam Mastroianni: I agree.

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Start discussing Adam's paper 'Do conversations end when people want them to?'
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Some words of advice from Adam