Mobbing (and cancer), Part Two

In this post we’ll look at the little that is known about what to do about mobbing. But first we’ll do a bit of recapping:

Mobbing is group bullying, and in mobbing-prone institutions it can reach 30%, with the male to female ratio being 47 to 53. (The previous sentenc has been revised in light of comments 1 and 2.) It is typically very harmful to its victims. The victim may be expelled from a group’s community of who deserves basic respect. Approximately 12% commit suicide; other people develop heart conditions, ptsd, and other serious illnesses.

One question the earlier post looked at is why people someone works with might in effect attack her when she is at a physically and psychologically very low point, such as receiving quite dangerous treatment for cancer. It is not uncommon for cancer patients to experience this even though an expert on cancer and society tells me that – apart from lung cancer – this is no sigma attached to having cancer. The literature on mobbing suggests one is looking at the situation the wrong way around. Mobbers, like robbers, look for opportunities, such as when one is careless or less able to defend oneself.

Another thing mobbers do is to write letters to colleagues and friends without telling one anything. These may be the product of their own fantasies and they are often libelous. And I have been sent one from someone who was sent it by a mobber. I’m changing the names and indications of the situation in order to protect identities. You may need to know that Frost, described in the letter, has affiliations with the departments of both the writer and the recipient.

Anyway, here goes:

Dear Professor Adams,
Congratulations on your impressive new grant and the project it enables. As with all children, the likelihood of success depends very much on the qualities of their parents.

Thus we are totally dismayed to see that the notorious Professor Barbara Frost is listed as a co-PI. Her self-promotion and pursuit of more stipends are now legendary. She has failed dismally in every office that she has held – just ask around. Her record of “Do it my way or else” has created innumerable problems. She has shown an inability to complete anything – look at her publication record. Her wooing of members of the senior administration when she held various faculty leadership positions and seeking promotion to full professor was both absurd and successful.

It has amused us to reflect on which exams in your department she might be able to pass – given that she is apparently is a member of your department. Your project will have a major credibility problem so long as she has any position of power or influence. We will be interested to see what transpires and what credibility it will acquire.

Some interested colleagues.

Just about every sentence is false, but that does not diminish the effect the letter has on its recipients or on the subject of the letter. Suppose you lived in an atmosphere where such a thing was no surprise; we might even expect it would badly affect your health.

So why do people do these things, and what can be done to stop it? The news here is not good, going by Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions, the most recent book on the subject.

According to the authors of the above book, there are two major factors in the causes of mobbing: narcissism, even pathological narcissism, on the part of at least some of the mobbers and an administration that places protecting themselves and the institution above protecting employees. I think that in addition to narcissism, other psychological elements can play quite a role. Some people do not, for example, understand how harmful their behavior is. There may also be other elements: some people really cannot understand that one might do something simply from the joy of creating something; for such people, one must be acting to promote oneself, even if, as the actual facts reveal, the victim must be terrible at promoting herself since the mobbers obviously do not know what she accomplished.

What should the victim do?

The authors seem to think that psychotherapy is something a victim should seek, but they warn against dealing with any therapist who is largely ignorant of mobbing. They think that an inexperienced therapist might well start to blame the victim. In addition, they think victims should seek redress and that the therapist should know this, and know how it is to be done. For example, they think that most internal human resources people will be hopeless at dealing with the situation, since they will in the end seek to benefit the institution, not the victim.

Families may also need to be more supportive than they are inclined to be. It can be very hard to think a beloved partner couldn’t do something, just as parents unfortunately may blame a bullied child for not being more popular.

What should an institution do?

Institutions can do a lot to create a workplace that values respect and the recognition of dignity, but it is hard to see how to get that started where it is absent except by legal action, which can be very, very expensive. Even lawyers who will take a case on contingency may well require advance payment to cover basic costs in case of a complete loss. The sum can easily be more than academics normally envisage handing over to someone.

If you are fortunate enough to be in a position where you can do something positive about mobbing, the book is a great resource. It also carries a lot of information for victims, but the problem is hardly easy to resolve. The literature on how to deal with the pathological narcissist in the workplace has a constant refrain: there is nothing you can do and you need to stay away from the person as much as possible. Consider leaving your job. Remember, your health may well be seriously at stake.

Reader query: sidewalk behaviour?

A reader writes:

There was a study that showed that women are more likely than men to give way on a footpath/sidewalk. Can anybody point me toward the study and/or online info on it?

This study, both reader and I think, may have been discussed on this very blog. But we can’t find it!

Petitioning for Gender Equity at Conferences

This is a truly exciting time, with hundreds and hundreds of philosophers signing up to pledges supporting, in one way or another, the Gendered Conference Campaign. The NewAPPS one, with very specific demands and commitments is here. Our official one is here. And now there’s a new interdiscplinary one from Virginia Valian and Dan Sperber.

Hopefully this means there’s something for everyone. The outpourings of support for the cause are really amazing me. Maybe things really are beginning to change!

Women Doing Philosophy of Science!

Lots of them, at the British Society for Philosophy of Science.


Unless otherwise indicated, meetings are held at 5.15pm in room T206, in the Centre for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, Lakatos Building, Portugal Street, London WC2 and tea and biscuits are served at 5.00pm in Room T16.

15 October 2012 Elselijn Kingma (KCL) – Disease and Dysfunction
26 November 2012 Emma Tobin (UCL) – Domain Specificity in Protein Classification: A Problem for Monism
28 January 2013 Anna Alexandrova (Cambridge HPS) – Determining what Well-Being is: Psychometrics and Philosophy
11 March 2013 Sabina Leonelli (Exeter) – Integrating Data to Acquire New Knowledge
10 June 2013 Pat Bateson (Cambridge) – Plasticity, Robustness, Development and Evolution

Facebook Group for LGBTQ Philosophers

Rebecca Kukla writes: “I just started a facebook group for LGBTQ-identified philosophers. It will only be cool if it has lots of members. Please get in touch if you’d like to join, and please have others – particularly grad students – friend me and let me know they are interested. It is a ‘secret group’ so no one can see it on your timeline. Anyone who self-identifies as a philosopher with a nonstandard or marginalized sexual or gender identity or orientation of any sort is welcome.”

It’s open to all philosophers, including students, but at the moment it’s not open to allies. If you’d like to join, find Rebecca on FB and send her a request!

Update: Apparently there’s more than one Rebecca Kukla on FB. She writes: “I list myself as at Georgetown, in Washington DC, and my facebook profile pic is a Hello Kitty version of Alex from Clockwork Orange.”

Gun Permit v. Student ID

A new voter ID law in Tennessee excludes student IDs as a valid form of identification– but no worries if you own a gun. Your gun permit will do just fine.

More from the Huffington Post on Tennessee situation and the broader voter ID trend:

In the last two years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed dozens of bills that erect new barriers to voting, all targeting  Democratic-leaning groups, many specifically aimed at students. The GOP’s stated rationale is to fight voter fraud. But voter fraud — and especially in-person fraud which many of these measures address — is essentially nonexistent.

None of the new laws blocks student voting outright — although in New Hampshire, Republican lawmakers almost passed a bill that would have banned out-of-state students from casting a ballot. (The leader of the State House, Bill O’Brien, was caught on tape explaining how the move was necessary to stop students from “basically doing what I did when I was a kid: voting as a liberal.”)