Saturday, June 23, 2018

Message to students: Five Things Worth Fighting For

When I think of scholarship, I am reminded of Jose Rizal - a medical doctor - and the very powerful observation he made when he was teaching in Dapitan: Knowledge without courage is useless.

  At that stage in his life he has already studied in Manila, Madrid and Heidelberg, but he must have realised that knowing is not enough. We must be wiling and ready to act on the implications of whatever it is that we learn. And informed by our knowledge, we must learn to fight. Fighting does not necessarily entail an enemy, or committing an act of violence. Fighting can be an act of defence, and a means to protect. I find fighting a useful metaphor to think about our lives. Building on fighting as metaphor, let me give you five things that I think are worth fighting for.

 The first thing that’s worth fighting for is your time. We always think of ourselves as too busy, only to realise that the next chapter of our lives will make us even busier. Feeling busy, however, is not about how much time you have, it’s about how you manage your time; in my experience the happiest people are those who are able to manage their time.

How much time do you spend brushing your teeth? 2 minutes? 5 minutes? Actually people spend 35 days of their life brushing their teeth, 3 1/2 years eating, 30 hours of their life crying, 10 months watching porn. These are just averages, of course, but they illustrate how much time we spend on mundane things.

How much time do you spend on Facebook? Studies show that Filipinos spend 4 hours in social media every day, which is the same time per day required to master a language in half a year; it is also the same amount of time required to read 40 novels a year. When we realise how much we can do in a day, we will be able not just to accomplish more, but live more fully.

Excellence is the best strategy for time management. Be very good at the things you do so you can do them quickly. If you’re used to reading books and academic journals, a reading assignment is easy. If you excel in writing, you can write a reflection paper in an hour.

Another strategy is being creative in the way you life. Caught in traffic? Instead of reading random stuff on Twitter, why don't you listen to a podcast, read a book? Fight for your time, and you will be a better scholar.

 Secondly, you must fight for your dreams. Life is too short for you to compromise on your dreams. If your dream is to get into medical school or law school, are you doing your very best to achieve it? If your dream is to be a scientist, a concert pianist, an editor of a magazine, are you are practicing the skills you need to move closer to your goal? Fight for your dreams, everyday. It’s not gonna be easy. But there best things in life never are. You need to fight for them - sometimes to a point of sacrifice.

Even so, don’t privilege your dream profession at the expense of your other dreams in life. Life is was never meant to be a dichotomy. It can be a multiple choice question where “all of the above” can also be a valid answer. When I was young I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to help people. But at the same, I also want to be a social scientist because I find the world fascinating. I also want to travel and climb mountains because I find the world beautiful. I also want to be a writer because I find beauty in words. Today, I am trying to do all of the above, and I will fight for it.  

Don’t let your career be your life. If you have other talents, pursue them! So no sacrifice who you are and what your passions are in the name of your chosen carrier. Draft that Youngblood essay! Write that song! Practice that piano piece! Play that sport! Run that marathon!

Again, don’t let your career be your life, and at the same time, don’t look at your life itself as a career. Our society’s metaphor for our careers is a ladder or a mountain we must climb, and we tend to apply this metaphor to our life itself: high school, then college, then med school, internship, residency, fellowship. But is it a ladder? Personally, I do not see life a climb from the bottom to the summit. I see life as a ridge, each stage can be beautiful, regardless of where it leads to. Yes, it can lead to something higher and better, but where are you right now can already a source of fulfilment. Keep dreaming, but don’t forget the here and the now.

What is your GWA? I’m sure it’s worth celebrating - or feeling relieved about - but let me also ask you: Are you happy now? Are you enjoying school, or did you enjoy it? Make sure you do so, and make sure you will if will continue your schooling. What’s the best course? One that you will find enjoyable. One that will not only prepare you for the future, but one that you will enjoy in the present. Wherever you are - in college, in an internship program, a graduate course, don’t think of it as just a means to a career - but as an end in itself. Many terminally-ill people your age have gone through college knowing that they may not live to graduate, let alone use their diplomas, but they enrolled, finding joy in every day in class. I will say it again: Don’t settle for anything less than a life lived with passion and excellence.

Third, fight for the people you love. In the name of scholarship, for the sake of an exam, we take our family and friends, classmates and mentors, for granted, but they will not always be around. Fight for your time with them. Our pursuit of our dreams can test our relationships, but relationships can also help us be better dreamers, giving us inspiration and encouragement. In med school, at first I wanted to go home every weekend, then twice a month, then once a month… but I made it a conscious effort to go back to twice a month. Relationships are always more important than grades.

Fighting for people means valuing our time with them. In med school one of my mentors was Dr. Quasi Romualdez, a former health secretary. He had so many great stories, profound insights, funny jokes, inspiring experiences; he used to tell us that the jeepney drivers of his time would let PGH interns ride jeepneys for free because they knew that they are serving the people. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, he was gone. Looking back, I feel that I should have written down his stories, interviewed him, and simply spent more time with the great man.

My sister now lives in the US and my father made a calculation that if they see each other twice a year, assuming that he lives until the age of 80, they will be seeing each other for only 50 times in this lifetime. Have you ever considered the possibility that you can actually count the number of times you will see the people that matter to you? The reality of course is that life is finite and all we can do is to count our blessings.

Fight for your friends, your blockmates, your orgmates, and of course, your profs. Treasure them, because they will not always be around. Someday, you will look at your friends and wish you can go back to the carefree times with them. Fight for your time with them so you will have no regrets when they’re gone.

Fourth, fight for the truth. Sometimes, the truth hurts; breaking the diagnosis can be painful for the patient, and in a different way it was painful for Copernicus and Galileo to reveal a different worldview, just as it was painful for Rizal to diagnose the social cancer of our country, Fighting for the truth can come at a price. In my column I get trolled and threatened when I express what I feel is the right thing to say, and it can be very painful.

But truth is always worth fighting for because it always wins. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but ultimately truth wins, and we must always be on its side. And of course, we must fight for truth not just because it always wins, but because it is the right thing to do.   In this age of fake news, how do know what the truth is? Equip yourselves with the means to know the truth, to critically appraise knowledge. A good scholar not only fights for the truth but knows how to defend it with facts, logic, reason. And when we finds ourselves on the wrong side, we should have the humility to accept it.

Finally, fight for those who do not have the means to fight for themselves. The nobility of knowledge lies in ability in improving people’s lives, and that’s what makes us relevant, whatever our chosen careers may be.

Let me end with a story shared my friend, an ophthalmologist, about his patient, a four-year old boy. The boy was diagnosed with retinoblastoma and needed to have his eyes removed. The boy was old enough to know that he was about to lose his vision, and told that my friend that he wanted to see his father, an OFW, one last time.

The surgery had already been arranged, but realising the significance of that final visual memory, my friend, at the time a resident, made arrangements for the surgery to be rescheduled, even if it would be inconvenient for all of surgical team. When the surgery finally pushed through, the kid then already-blind, was very thankful: “Salamat doc. Ipinaglaban mo na makita ko sya muli. Hindi ko na kakalimutan ang itsura ng tatay ko, and at hindi din kita kakalimutan.”

Not all our battles can be won, but even without victory over death and disease, we can give comfort, we can give hope.

And so, as I congratulate everyone here for upholding excellence and doing your best, I beseech you: fight for the voiceless and the powerless, fight for their time, fight for the people they love, fight for the truth that matters to them, and fight for their chance to pursue their own dreams. There are fights we cannot win, but we must keep fighting. There is victory in fighting for the truth. There is victory in helping others. There is victory in bringing the best out of ourselves.

But first and foremost, there is victory in a life well lived. Keep fighting for it, and I have no doubt that you will be good scholars - and even better persons.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

[Talk] H. Otley Beyer Museum Talk: Anthropology in the time of 'tokhang'

On April 24, 2018, as part of UP Diliman - Department of Anthropology's H. Otley Beyer Museum Talk Series (i.e. the "Beyer talks"), I presented my reflections about what the anthropology of drug use can do both for drug policy and anthropology as a discipline. I drew from ethnographic research I conducted from 2011-2013 as well a recently-concluded follow-up study in a tokhang-affected community.

In the talk I emphasised that anthropology can help deconstruct both 'drugs' and addiction', interrogate societal perceptions on drugs as well as government rhetoric, understand the lives of drug users, and identify hidden populations - towards informing drug policies and programs.

Thank you to Prof. Edwin Valientes of the Anthropology Department for organising the activity, and to everyone who attended! Hopefully events like this can encourage more academics to pursue an urgent topic in which our voices are crucial, both for the present and the future.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

[Talk] Folk Pulmunology

MANILA - As one of the keynote speakers at the 37th Annual Chest Convention of the Philippine College of Chest Physicians (PCCP), I talked about 'folk pulmonology', or patients' perspectives when it comes to their lung problems, in a 30-minute presentation on March 14, 2018.

Drawing from the work of Prof. Michael Tan and Prof. Anita Hardon, I introduced the talks with concepts like 'hiyang' and the idea that cough is a particularly "socially-disruptive" disease because it is both 'visual and auditory'. I stressed the value of language, referencing dying terms like dalahik and dahak that could enhance the specificity of history taking and help build rapport between doctors and patients. I also mentioned explanatory models such as the 'hot-cold syndrome': the lungs is viewed as a 'hot organ' and can therefore be affected by the cold.

I proceeded by presenting some insights, including the explanatory role of medicine: patients consult doctors not just to get well, but to find out what's happening in their bodies. I then concluded with a question: "What possibilities lie when we think of pulmonology not just as a profession that cures lung diseases, but one that allows patients to breathe better?"

Many thanks to Dr. Eric Moral and all the members of PCCP for giving me a chance to share my insights! This topic is something that only clinicians and anthropologists can do working together and I hope doctors will pursue the many research possibilities  - towards "culture-guided medicine" in the Philippines. 

[Workshop] Pharmaceutical becomings, Tokyo, Japan

TOKYO - Upon the invitation of Prof. Yosuke Shimazono of the University of Osaka, I came over to Japan to join a workshop entitled " “Pharmaceutical becomings: Emerging subjectivities in the age of pharmaceuticalization". Held in AEON Compass, Yeasu Conference Hall,  the workshop's other speakers included Prof. Shimazono (Osaka University) who talked about the use of immunosuppresants, Junko Iida (Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare) who discussed palliative care, and Miho Ushiyama who reflected on the 'de-pharmaceuticalisation' of people who refuse to use steroids to treat atopic dermatitis.

The abstract of my presentation, which was about height and growth supplements in the Philippines, is as follows:

In the Philippines, a class of vitamins and nutritional supplements that are growing in popularity are those that are colloquially known as pampatangkad (height enhancers) or ‘growth supplements’. Marketed for children and teenagers and imagined to contain “hormones” or “growth factors”, these products contain the legal disclaimer that they have “no approved therapeutic claims”, but their imagery - of measuring sticks, teenage basketball players,  young beauty queens, and scientific terminology (i.e. “Chlorella Growth Factor”) reinforce the perception that they are pampatangkad.

My presentation seeks to make sense of these products’ emergence and popularity in the Philippines - as part of a broader study that looks into how height figures in the everyday lives of young people in the country. My first insight is that these  products are involved in the ‘co-production’ (Jasanoff, 2003) of the notions of height: they not just reflect, but also reinforce, the meanings and materialities of tallness and shortness in the Philippines. Imagined or real, however, the efficacy of these products requires a conceptual framework, and this is accomplished by the reification of the idea of a “hormone” in popular imagination.

Interestingly, the panelists say that they do not see the same pervasiveness of the value of tallness in Japan, citing anime and TV shows that depict smaller people defeating big enemies, and the absence of height requirements for jobs. Surely, a comparative survey of the meanings of height in the region (and globally) would be a very fascinating research direction.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

[Talk] Millennials and Social Media

On February 23, 2018, I joined Dr. Chester Cabalza in a talk held at the Development Academy of the Philippines, which reflected on the 'new media' today - particularly social media. Part of the 'Kartilya Series', we engaged with an audience that was composed of film graduate students and college students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

My talk, entitled "Millennials and Social Media", discussed the three major social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), and raised questions to the audience, including the blurring of a person's various networks (i.e. familial, personal, professional) on Facebook, the possibilities of alternative identities on Twitter, and the rise of 'the visual' due to Instagram. The talk drew together some themes I raised in some of my essays, such as "In Search of Instagrammable Moments" and "Life and Death in the Time of Facebook".

"Will these social networks survive?" My response to this question, raised by the audience, is tentative, given how we have failed to predict the demise of Friendster, Multiply, and many other web-based entities. The challenge is not so much to prognosticate the future of social media, but to be aware of how rapid changes are - and we often use these platforms without the time to reflect on their ramifications.


[Talk] Being Filipino in Five Senses

On March 7, 2018, I had the opportunity to share "Being Filipino in Five Senses", an overview of the cultural history of the senses in the Philippines with the Museum Volunteers of the Philippines' History Program, which was held at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Rockwell, Makati City.

Looking at the sensory vocabularies and metaphors (i.e. 'kapit-patalim'), and the ways Filipinos engaged the world through their senses makes for a very rich topic for cultural history and anthropology. One example of this exercise is an essay I published, entitled "The Filipino sense of smell".  Here's a passage from this exploratory piece:
Sniff kisses, for their part, are part of a broader body language. If you look at romantic scenes in Filipino movies—or if you reflect on your own romantic experiences—the act of sniffing is likewise privileged. We experience each others’ bodies not just with the visual (seeing) or the tactile (touching) but also with the olfactory (sniffing). And from a neuroscientific perspective, this again makes a lot of sense, as the olfactory bulb—the part of the brain responsible for smell—is a component of the limbic system, which is the seat of memories and emotions. Scents, then, allow us to memorialize experiences and bodies in a more sensorial, sensual way.

Surely there are many more materials waiting to be unearthed, dealing with the tactile, the olfactory, the gustatory, the auditory, and the visual - and this is a research interest I intend to pursue in the future.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Essays on colorism in the Philippines

A billboard for a whitening product suggest that fair skin is 'kutis mayaman': skin of the rich.

With the ever-increasing proliferation of skin whitening products - as well as fair-skinned celebrities - colorism, or discrimination based on skin color, will always be a salient topic in the Philippines. This is one of my research interests as part of the Chemical Youth Project and here are some essays I have written about it:

50 shades of white: This overview of skin whitening in the Philippines references its precolonial roots ("Colonial mentality alone doesn’t explain the phenomenon of skin-whitening") as well as the medical and social risks of the practice of skin whitening

Tall, white, and handsome: In this article I focus more specifically to skin whitening among Filipino males. I underscore the problematics raised by the practice: "By shaping the way people people view their skin - and that of others - will its colour, which is determined by genes, occupation and lifestyle, become another layer of inequality?"

(Un)fair skin: This is another review of skin whitening two years after "50 shades of white", adding the concern over simply viewing the debate as white vs. brown: "I worry, moreover, that by going against the whiteness of the artista and the artistahin, and pitting it against the brown-ness of the “typical Filipino,” we are reifying skin color as a marker of difference and national identity."

The politics of physical appearance: This article does not just focus on whitening but references the fact that even our politicians are not immune from public scrutiny of their physical appearances - including their skin color.

Some interesting scholarly works:

Glenn, E. N. (2008). Yearning for lightness: Transnational circuits in the marketing and consumption of skin lighteners. Gender & society, 22(3), 281-302.

Hunter, M. (2007). The persistent problem of colorism: Skin tone, status, and inequality. Sociology Compass, 1(1), 237-254.

Mendoza, R. L. (2014). The skin whitening industry in the Philippines. Journal of public health policy, 35(2), 219-238.

Peltzer, K., Pengpid, S., & James, C. (2016). The globalization of whitening: prevalence of skin lighteners (or bleachers) use and its social correlates among university students in 26 countries. International journal of dermatology, 55(2), 165-172.

Monday, January 15, 2018

[Second Opinion] Reflections on a flat earth

by Gideon Lasco
Philippine Daily Inquirer

In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” the protagonist, Jose Arcadio Buendia, becomes obsessed with astronomical knowledge and devotes countless days and  nights observing the sky. In one of the most memorable scenes in the book, he emerges from his seclusion and announces to the public that the world is round, like an orange.

The people react with ridicule, thinking that he had lost all reason. It was only after the wise gypsy Melquiades returned that Buendia was vindicated, praised as a man who independently discovered something already known outside their village.

Today we consider it a given that the world is round, but very few of us can actually offer impromptu proof of it. Of course, there are pictures, but suppose you were to be transported to ancient Egypt. Can you convince the pharaohs that the world is round, without reviewing college physics?

This is one of modernity’s paradoxes: We know a lot, but much of it is second-hand knowledge. We know that we’re made up of cells, molecules and atoms, but few of us have actually looked through an electron microscope. The DNA in our imagination is but an illustration—a representation that bears little resemblance to the real DNA.

I have no problem with this epistemology (that is, how we know what we know), because that’s the foundation of our modern, specialized society. I don’t need to know how microchips work, but I can use a laptop. I’ve never seen them myself, but I believe in the existence of Uranus and Neptune.
But while the specialization of knowledge has benefited us greatly, our detachment from the original means of knowing what we know — i.e., through direct observation—means that knowledge itself has become a matter of trust, and that we can easily be misled into believing, or disbelieving, anything.

One example is the idea that the earth is flat. Though the ancients have long postulated that the earth is a sphere, this did not enter mainstream thinking until the Middle Ages, and by the time Magellan’s fleet circumnavigated the planet there was little doubt about its shape and size. The definitive moment, of course, was when human beings finally saw Earth away from it — that is, when satellites and astronauts reached space.

Today, however, some people — including Shaquille O’Neil and Kyrie Irving — still believe that the earth is flat. When a PhD student in Tunisia submitted a dissertation defending this “worldview,” It caused an outcry in the Arab world. “How does one explain such stunning ignorance of basic astronomy, coupled with such brashness and insolence — rejecting Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, Hubble, and everything in science?” one writer wondered.

An important requisite of these beliefs is their rootedness in people’s mistrust of the “establishment”: Just like moon-landing conspiracists, flat-earth adherents claim that world governments and hegemons, aided by academics and the “biased media,” are hiding the planet’s nature to perpetuate their domination.

A second requisite for the formation of unscientific beliefs is a community that believes them. When you have other people believing the same things that you do, you feel affirmed, making you firmer in your convictions. The PhD student was mocked by academics (her submission was rejected), but she may find community among those who interpret the Quran in a certain way. In turn, she provides them with a scientific vocabulary by which to legitimate their beliefs. This brings us to a third requisite: “expert” legitimacy.

All of these came to the fore during the solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, which believers took as evidence — not a refutation — of a flat earth. Again, we saw narratives of conspiracy (the moon and sun are “Nasa holograms”), the use of expert-sounding or arcane language (i.e., “Zetetic astronomy”), as well as an entire community affirming such beliefs.

I’m sure Earth wouldn’t mind if some humans think it is flat, and to a certain extent, neither should we. But what of the far more dangerous things people are believing?

Originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: http://opinion.inquirer.net/107643/reflections-flat-earth

[Second Opinion] Rediscovering our maritime consciousness


by Gideon Lasco
Philippine Daily Inquirer

ABOARD THE SULTAN SIN SULU — Here I am on a balangay, with the crew of coast guard personnel led by veteran adventurer Fred Jamili piloting us across Manila Bay. Today’s trip will be quite short but this wooden watercraft — an exact replica of the ones excavated in Butuan — is actually capable of making overseas journeys. From Maimbung, Sulu, where it was built, it has sailed to Manila via Basilan, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, and Bacolod.

Next year, if all goes according to plan, this same boat will set off for China.

What the “Kaya ng Pinoy” team is doing is quite extraordinary for our time, but in the past, such feats would have been commonplace. As expedition leader Art Valdez reminded me, people from Butuan and Sulu are documented to have sailed to China long before the coming of Magellan. One balangay found in Butuan was dated to 320 CE.

Astoundingly, the boats were built without blueprints. And, as with other Austronesian peoples, navigation was done by an instinctive knowledge of trade winds, ocean currents, and celestial bodies.
Today, however, we seem to have lost our maritime consciousness. We see this in the fact that many Filipinos don’t even know how to swim. Emergency physician Ted Esguerra, also onboard, laments that eight Filipinos drown every day and many of these deaths could have been avoided with basic swimming skills.

We also see this in the neglect of our waterways. William Henry Scott wrote that in pre-Hispanic Philippines, “communities were connected, not separated, by water.” Today, even as we struggle with land transport issues, waterways are neglected, even treated as dumps for both domestic and  industrial waste. Related to this is our lack of concern for our nautical borders — the same attitude that led President Duterte to dismiss Sandy Cay as a mere “sandbar.”

I suspect that this disregard of our maritime culture also seeps into our everyday choices—from the sports we play to the food we eat. Unlike the Japanese who have elevated sushi to haute cuisine, many Filipinos still consider seafood inferior to meat. When I was on Babuyan Claro island, our Ibatan hosts apologized for the food they were about to serve, before showing up with huge lobsters.
All these considered, our land-oriented world view — partly a legacy of the continental-minded Spaniards and Americans — has led to diminished appreciation of our country and our place in the world.

Of course, our maritime culture lives on among our seafarers — known as the world’s best — as well as in coastal communities like that on Babuyan Claro, where the people have 10 different words for sea conditions, such as “abkas” for breaking waves and “lomanlana” for smooth waters, which fortunately greeted us through much of the 11-hour boat ride from Claveria via Calayan Island.
It also lives on, to a certain extent, among our divers, marine biologists, surfers, dragon boat paddlers, and many others who have explored our islands and developed an intimacy with the sea. Because they have learned to appreciate our marine beauty and biodiversity, they know what is at stake in protecting them.

How can we make the rest of the nation feel the same way? “First of all, we need to overcome our fear of the water,” says Russ Tabuniar-Jamili, a crew member of the Sultan Sin Sulu, recalling how even she was discouraged from going swimming as a child. “But where do we even start? Some people don’t even want to join us aboard because they don’t want to get dark!”

One place to begin is right where we are: the balangay itself. “It anchors us to who we are as an island people,” says Everest climber Carina Dayondon, another crew member, as the winds propel us across the bay. By restoring the balangay to its proper place in our history and presenting it as a living, tangible, seaworthy vessel, perhaps more Filipinos will be reminded that the waters around us are waiting to be embraced and explored.

And perhaps some of us will realize, at long last, that while our archipelagic nature may have held us back as a nation, it can be also our strength — if only we can rediscover and reclaim our maritime consciousness.

Originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: http://opinion.inquirer.net/107114/rediscover-maritime-consciousness

[Second Opinion] Is ‘Myers-Briggs’ the new horoscope?

by Gideon Lasco
Philippine Daily Inquirer

ISTJ, ISFP, ENFP, ENTJ… If you’re wondering what those four-letter acronyms in people’s social media profiles are, they’re personality types under the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Developed by the mother-and-daughter team of Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers based on ideas of Carl Jung, it’s actually been around for decades, but has grown in popularity only recently.

The MBTI’s 16 personality types are based on four dichotomies. The first is about “Attitudes” and classifies people under E (Extraversion) or I (Introversion). The second is about “Perceiving Functions”: either S (Sensing) or N (Intuition). The third looks at how people make judgments — either T (Thinking) or F (Feeling). And the fourth is whether one is J (Judging) or P (Perceiving) in the way one relates to the outside world.

According to its proponents, each personality type has distinct characteristics: ENFPs “enjoy new ideas and challenges, value inspiration” and ISFPs “enjoy adventure, skilled at understanding how mechanical things work.”

With that chart as starting point, companies have taken to using the tool in human resource management and team-building activities. And many authors have used it to make various inferences about one’s personal life, from “Here’s the Kind of Relationship Each Myers-Briggs Type Thrives In” to “The Myers-Briggs Types And Whether Or Not They Need A Hug.”

Much has also been written about the MBTI and career choices: A CNBC article claims that ISTJs make good chefs, ISFPs good jewelers, and ENTJs good physicians. Interestingly, though, within the medical profession, some works (and career guidance manuals) suggest that ENTJs make good OB-GYNs, ISFPs good anesthesiologists, and ENTJs themselves good neurologists and cardiologists.
But despite this wealth of literature, the MBTI has been critiqued by psychologists as having little or no scientific basis. Some find the idea that people belong to dichotomies (i.e., introvert vs extrovert) highly problematic (Jung himself said people fall somewhere in between). Others point out that it does not account for cultural differences or other personality traits.

Then there are questions of reliability and utility: A study done by Prof. David Pittenger, for instance, found that 50 percent of people who retook the test after five weeks ended up in a different personality category. Pittenger also found “no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation.”

Meanwhile, defenders say it’s the overuse and misuse of the MBTI that’s problematic, but the test itself, when properly administered and correctly interpreted, is valid and reliable.

Regardless of its scientific basis, what can explain its appeal?

The first is that it contributes to people’s sense of identity. This is particularly important in our “postmodern age,” when many no longer identify with religions, ideologies, or even their line of work. Having a vocabulary by which to articulate one’s personality can contribute to what the sociologist Anthony Giddens calls “identity projects.”

The second is it affirms people—and this is where the similarity with horoscopes lie. As Brian Dunning wrote, the MBTI, like horoscopes, are popular “because they virtually always tell people just what they want to hear, using phrases that most people generally like to believe are true, like ‘You have a lot of unused potential.’” If you read the descriptions of the 16 MBTI types, they’re all positive—and any of them could make you feel better about yourself.

Personally, I find (over)reliance on the MBTI, particularly by employers, disconcerting; Myers herself warned against using it to screen job applicants. But I wouldn’t worry too much about the way people use it in their everyday lives. Just as people gamely participate in Facebook quizzes that “reveal” one’s previous reincarnation—or “Game of Thrones” character—people can look for their horoscopes or personality types without necessarily subscribing to their full implications.

As Arthur C. Clarke could very well have said, “I don’t believe in Myers-Briggs. I’m an ENTJ — and we’re skeptical.”

Originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: http://opinion.inquirer.net/106407/myers-briggs-new-horoscope