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Decolonise knowledge

As Paddy and I were walking the beautiful coastline north of Broome, he would point out things, tell stories, call out to ancestors, and sing songs that belonged to particular places. The songs were important because they were inspirational (in the original Latin sense of a truth being breathed into someone). Their significance was, and is, multiple: they are handed down from ancestors; they tie human and nonhuman worlds together and animate those connections; they are mnemonic and practical, reminding people, for instance, that this is the place of yarrinyarri, the bush onion.
But how on Earth does knowledge transfer work without a concept of mind? Understanding, for Paddy, was ‘hearing’ and that was the word he used (as in, ‘that man can’t hear’), equivalent to the French entendre, which also embraces the meanings of hearing and understanding. When children accompanied us on our walks, I also saw a certain experiential pedagogy in place. Children were not encouraged to ask lots of questions: respect for elders seemed to entail not bothering them too much. These kids were learning to pay attention and thus acquire know-how, which I like to define as practical knowledge-based skills, rather than ‘pure’ knowledge. It’s simply the difference between being told how to point out were South is, and walking outside and showing someone techniques for getting that orientation.

Brilliant piece on Indigenous knowledge.

Immigrants to the rescue?

Dr. Sahin, 55, was born in Iskenderun, Turkey. When he was 4, his family moved to Cologne, Germany, where his parents worked at a Ford factory. He grew up wanting to be a doctor, and became a physician at the University of Cologne. In 1993, he earned a doctorate from the university for his work on immunotherapy in tumor cells.
Early in his career, he met Dr. Türeci. She had early hopes to become a nun and ultimately wound up studying medicine. Dr. Türeci, now 53 and the chief medical officer of BioNTech, was born in Germany, the daughter of a Turkish physician who immigrated from Istanbul. On the day they were married, Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci returned to the lab after the ceremony.

From a short profile of the founders of BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer on their COVID vaccine.

One reason the polls were wrong?

A lot of people think that the reason why polls were wrong was because of “shy Trump voters.” You talk to someone, they say they’re undecided, or they say they’re gonna vote for Biden, but it wasn’t real. Then, maybe if you had a focus group, they’d say, “I’m voting for Biden, but I don’t know.” And then your ethnographer could read the uncertainty and decide, “Okay, this isn’t really a firm Biden voter.” That kind of thing is very trendy as an explanation.
But it’s not why the polls were wrong. It just isn’t. People tell the truth when you ask them who they’re voting for. They really do, on average. The reason why the polls are wrong is because the people who were answering these surveys were the wrong people. If you do your ethnographic research, if you try to recruit these focus groups, you’re going to have the same biases. They recruit focus groups by calling people! Survey takers are weird. People in focus groups are even weirder. Qualitative research doesn’t solve the problem of one group of people being really, really excited to share their opinions, while another group isn’t. As long as that bias exists, it’ll percolate down to whatever you do.

Fascinating interview at Vox.

Bring on sortition already

With all the angst about the electoral college in America, here's an interesting tidbit on how medieval Venice chose its doge. Not sortition but I'm loving how convoluted and random it is:

First, thirty members of the Great Council were chosen at random. Then nine of those thirty were chosen, again randomly. Those nine members picked the next set: forty people from the Great Council. And those forty? Twelve, randomly picked from their number, moved on to the next step. Those twelve chose twenty-five; those twenty-five were randomly pared down to just nine. Having fun yet?
This set of nine members chose forty-five more; eleven were picked – again at random – from those forty-five. The eleven chose forty-one members. Those forty-one (finally!) voted for the doge.