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Memories of SSU

Debra H. Weiner

Student
Psychology/Physics 1974-1977

“About Barry Godolphin”

            When I attended Sonoma State in the mid-1970s, Barry Godolphin was teaching an intensive statistics and research design course in the Psychology Department. Working in groups of four or five with a more experienced team leader, students learned in half a semester a semester’s worth of statistics and research design. Then in the second half of the term we designed, carried out, analyzed, and wrote up a full psychology experiment. It was intense but we loved it, and it truly changed the course of my life.

            An anecdote will convey both Barry’s character and the atmosphere at Sonoma State at the time. One of my fellow research teams had an opportunity to present their work at a regional college psychology conference and Barry accompanied them to the meeting. Their experiment was a randomized double-blind study on “pyramid power” (hey it was the ‘70s): to see if people who meditated or rested inside a pyramid structure had different physiological measurements from people who meditated or rested inside a cubic structure. After their presentation, a professor from one of the other colleges, apoplectic with anger, confronted Barry.

            “How could you let them do such a thing!” he exploded.
           “Why, what do you mean?” Barry asked innocently. “Was there something wrong with the study design?”
           “No,” the man conceded.
            “Was the analysis done incorrectly?”
           Again the man acknowledged that he saw no fault. “But…but…,” he sputtered, “How could you let them do             such a thing!”

            Barry, of course, completely understood the man’s complaint: Certain topics just weren’t acceptable in academic psychology if the field was to keep up appearances of scientific respectability. In this man’s view, Barry had failed to educate his students on this essential element of scientific correctness. Barry was amused by the encounter; I think he got a kick out of getting the man to admit that the experiment was sound.

            What Barry taught us, more than statistics and research design, was the true meaning of academic freedom. Science is (or should be) a method, not a circumscribed body of “facts” that the scientific power elite allowed into the corral of truth while excluding those they don’t like. If the scientific method can be applied to address a question then there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.

            I came to Sonoma State from UC Berkeley because I wanted the freedom to study topics out of the mainstream. I sensed that if I stayed at Cal I would spend most of my time trying to get professors to let me do what I wanted whereas at Sonoma State I could do – and that’s exactly what I found. I gave up a scholarship and a diploma with superb name recognition and I never regretted the decision. Living on the East Coast I’m not in touch with SSU today but I truly hope that the spirit of academic freedom and open inquiry, which Barry both epitomized and engendered, remains alive and well.

            I graduated from SSU (then SSC) in January 1977 with a bachelors’ degree in psychology and a minor in physics. I then received a masters’ degree in biostatistics and am currently Associate Director of Biostatistics at Family Health International, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, where I work on contraceptive methodologies and products to prevent the transmission of HIV. In 2000 I initiated the Barry Godolphin Student Research Assistantship in honor of the professor who so profoundly influenced my life.