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Better science through listening to lay people

Mark D.
June 08, 2013

Better science through listening to lay people

We all have them: intellectual blind spots. For scientists, one way to become aware of them is to listen to people outside the academic bubble. I discuss examples from social media and serendipitous fieldwork. Social media helps academics to connect to diverse audiences. On my research blog ideophone.org, I have used the interaction with readers to refine research questions, tighten definitions, and explore new directions, but also to connect science and art. In linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork in Ghana, I have let serendipity shape my research. Unexpected questions and bold initiatives from locals led me in directions I would never have anticipated on the basis of expert knowledge. Ultimately the involvement of lay people led to methodological innovations, changes of perspective, and most importantly, a host of new questions.

Presented at EC2013 in a session convened by Alex Verkade & Jen Wong on 'Playing dumb: Escaping the shackles of smartness'.

Supporting material at http://ideophone.org/better-science/

Mark D.

June 08, 2013
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  1. Better science
    through listening
    to lay people
    Mark Dingemanse
    Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen
    ecsite Annual Conference
    Göteborg, June 6-8, 2013

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  2. What is the goal
    of science?

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  3. ‘Finding
    answers’
    What is the goal
    of science?

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  4. Asking
    the right
    questions
    What is the goal
    of science?

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  5. scholarly libraries
    scholarly journals
    scholarly conferences
    scholarly peers

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  6. scholarly
    questions
    scholarly libraries
    scholarly journals
    scholarly conferences
    scholarly peers

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  7. scholarly
    questions

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  8. Escaping the bubble

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  9. October 2007:
    PhD student starts research blog.
    January 2008:
    Boss calls meeting with PhD.

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  10. “Don’t be stupid and
    give away your ideas.”

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  11. ideas beget ideas

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  12. * synaesthesia: a blending of the senses, e.g. letters > colours

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  13. Synaesthesia had been on our mind — how is it
    expressed in societies without writing?
    The comment connected linguistics to neuroscience
    and creativity — and helped us reach a tipping point.
    The next year, we pioneered a cross-cultural research
    program into synaesthesia.

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  14. February 2009:
    Science publishes a letter.
    It started out as a blog posting.
    Later that year
    Journalist ‘reads blog every week’.
    Radio & TV appearances follow.

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  15. February 2009:
    Science publishes a letter.
    It started out as a blog posting.
    Later that year
    Journalist ‘reads blog every week’.
    Radio & TV appearances follow.

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  16. What started as a simple blog
    turned into a free exchange of ideas
    helped to connect to diverse audiences
    and snowballed into science communication

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  17. What started as a simple blog
    turned into a free exchange of ideas
    helped to connect to diverse audiences
    and snowballed into science communication

    View full-size slide

  18. What started as a simple blog
    turned into a free exchange of ideas
    helped to connect to diverse audiences
    and snowballed into science communication

    View full-size slide

  19. What started as a simple blog
    turned into a free exchange of ideas
    helped to connect to diverse audiences
    and snowballed into science communication

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  20. Soon after
    Boss calls meeting with PhD.
    ‘Blogging not so bad after all.’

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  21. I do on-site fieldwork in Ghana, West-Africa

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  22. I do on-site fieldwork in Ghana, West-Africa
    Documenting the language and culture of the Mawu people.
    Studying ideophones—words that sound like what they mean.

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  23. kɛlɛnkɛlɛn
    the cloth shines
    ‘glittery’

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  24. sinisinisinisini
    the basket is put together
    ‘closely woven’

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  25. How to study these
    complex, elusive words?
    Scholarly wisdom
    ideophones only found
    ‘in informal, funny stories’
    Scholarly methods
    taking field notes
    recording stories

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  26. Quite unrelatedly:
    A practical request

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  27. “You should help us record
    our mourning songs”
    Timothy ‘T.T.’ Akuamoah

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  28. The mourning songs turned out to
    be chock-full of ideophones.
    A simple, practical request led
    to a crucial research finding

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  29. What started as scholarly fieldwork
    was quickly repurposed by my Mawu friends
    turned into a mutually beneficial relationship
    and led to serendipitous research findings

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  30. What started as scholarly fieldwork
    was quickly repurposed by my Mawu friends
    turned into a mutually beneficial relationship
    and led to serendipitous research findings

    View full-size slide

  31. What started as scholarly fieldwork
    was quickly repurposed by my Mawu friends
    turned into a mutually beneficial relationship
    and led to serendipitous research findings

    View full-size slide

  32. What started as scholarly fieldwork
    was quickly repurposed by my Mawu friends
    turned into a mutually beneficial relationship
    and led to serendipitous research findings

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  33. Questions are the
    fuel of science
    We’re privileged
    when people ask
    questions.

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  34. Questions are the
    fuel of science
    We’re privileged
    when people ask
    questions.
    We’re privileged when people ask questions
    not because we can then go into ‘explanation mode’
    but because they prompt us to think anew

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  35. Science gets better
    when we listen to lay people
    and look at things with new eyes

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  36. Thank you.
    Mark Dingemanse • ideophone.org • Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science

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