Some things you need to know about Google Scholar

Summary: Google Scholar is great, but its inclusiveness and mix of automatically updated and hand-curated profiles means you should never take any of its numbers at face value. Case in point: the power couple Prof. Et Al and Dr. A. Author, whose profiles I created following Scholar’s recommended settings (and a bit of manual embellishment). If you have a Scholar profile, make sure you don’t let Scholar update the publication list automatically. If you’re looking at somebody else’s profile, take it with a big pinch of salt, especially when they have a reasonably common name or when messy entries or weird citation distributions indicate that it is being automatically updated. 

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Taal in de reageerbuis

Gek op cross-overs van kunst en wetenschap, muziek en experiment? Ik ook. Daarom organiseer ik met mijn collega’s Tessa Verhoef en Seán Roberts een experiment op het Discovery Festival in Amsterdam — hét festival voor interessante kruisbestuivingen, rare muziek, en nieuwe experimenten. Ons experiment is vermomd als game en, afgaand op de pilots die we al gedaan hebben, erg verslavend.

Logo Taal_in_de_Reageerbuis

We noemen het “Taal in de reageerbuis” en dat nemen we vrij letterlijk. Proefpersonen krijgen van ons een tablet in handen gedrukt, een koptelefoon voor het geluid, en mogen via een app —een virtuele reageer-buis— met elkaar communiceren. En daar kunnen ze trouwens geen taal bij gebruiken die ze al kennen. Ze moeten dus from scratch een nieuwe taal bouwen — een minitaaltje dat evolueert over de duur van het experiment. Dat proces bestuderen wij om zo meer te leren over hoe taalevolutie werkt in echte talen.

De primeur is komende vrijdag op het Discovery Festival in Amsterdam. Een week later kun je ons vinden op het Weekend van de Wetenschap in het Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht. Zie voor meer informatie.

Better science through listening to lay people

Slides for a presentation given at the ECSITE 2013 Annual Conference on science communication. I spoke in a session convened by Alex Verkade (De Praktijk) and Jen Wong (Guerilla Science). The other speakers in the session were Bas Haring on ‘Ignorance is a virtue’, and Jen Wong on ‘Mixing science with art, music and play’.

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, 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.

Hyperlinks for material mentioned

Convenors and speakers


Thanks for the wonderful tweets — and feel free to get in touch!

*Grammatically judgements

I stumbled on a paper which is titled (according to the journal metadata and countless secondary sources) Grammatically Judgments and Second Language Acquisition. Read again if you didn’t spot the grammatically error in there.

I was just about to add it to my Zotero collection of articles with recursive titles1 when I decided to check whether it was really true — and alas, it was not. If you open the PDF (or look up the good old printed issue) you find that the title is actually spelt correctly.

*Grammatically judgements

No *grammatically judgements in this title

Dang! Well, good for the author that his title doesn’t feature such an embarrassing error. Even so, in these digital times, a metadata error like this reflects almost just as badly on authors, and may be just as hard to fix when it’s been propagated long enough through official channels (even with the DOI you end up with the wrong title). It’s long been known  that Google Scholar can be hopeless and misleading when it comes to metadata, but where’s our hope if even the journal themselves can make errors like this?

As a typo, “grammatically” for “grammaticality” is common enough, but it occurs mainly in miscitations by others of works like Schütze’s (1996) monograph on methodology. Below I provide the correct references for the studies cited in this posting. Hopefully.

*Edit: Gaston Dorren points out that I introduced another mutation in the title: adding an “e” in judgement. This is due to the fact that I’m most accustomed to British spelling, where judgement is more common than judgment. I’ll leave it like this for posterity.


  1. Ellis, Rod. 1991. “Grammaticality Judgments and Second Language Acquisition.” Studies in Second Language Acquisition 13 (02): 161–186. doi:10.1017/S0272263100009931.
  2. Fischer, Carolyn. 2001. “Read this paper later: procrastination with time-consistent preferences.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 46 (3): 249–269. doi:10.1016/S0167-2681(01)00160-3.
  3. Fromkin, Victoria A. 1975. “A linguist looks at ‘a linguist looks at “schizophrenic” language’.” Brain and Language 2: 498–503. doi:10.1016/S0093-934X(75)80087-3.
  4. Schütze, Carson T. 1996. The Empirical Base of Linguistics: Grammaticality Judgments and Linguistic Methodology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  1. Also in that collection, though for different kinds of recursion: Fromkin’s 1975 A linguist looks at “a linguist looks at ‘schizophrenic’ language” and Fischer’s 2001 Read this paper later. []

Bourdieu’s food space, updated

Food writer Molly Watson from Gastronomica provides us with an update of Bourdieu’s food space, where different types of food are arranged spatially along two dimensions: economic and cultural capital. The beautiful illustration is by Leigh Wells .

Note the four versions of “homemade pickles” appearing in all four regions of the chart. Molly Watson observes:

What I found rather glorious was how, when I thought through any single food item (i.e. yogurt), it couldn’t really be placed in one specific location. Rather, specific versions of it would belong in different places. Such are the choices and range of our foodstuffs. Such is the ever-widening world of human taste.

The original chart appeared in Bourdieu’s 1979 Distinction (translated 1984 as Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste).

    Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The Albert Einstein Award of Excellence: another ABI scam

Last year’s post on the Great Minds of the 21st Century award continues to attract attention from people who want to find out more about the American Biographical Institute (ABI) and its vanity awards.

Surprisingly, there are still people clueless (shameless?) enough to list vanity scams like this on their CVs. Thankfully, the ABI decided to nominate me again this year, this time for another honour: the Albert Einstein Award of Excellence for 2011, no less. Here’s an excerpt from their letter: Continue reading

The clay tablet tradition of African comparative linguistics

Found this gem in a review of Paul de Wolf’s (1971) The Noun Class System of Proto-Benue-Congo:

This work falls within the ‘clay tablet’ tradition of African comparative linguistics, and, like other things in the same tradition (Meinhof, Greenberg), it has the properties of being inscrutable and yet at the same time, in broad outline, convincing. The two together make an infuriating whole. (Kelly 1973:716)

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The Basque word for their language is Euskara or Euskera, earlier Heuskara. The first part of this word is the Togo R. word for “Akpafu”, Likpe be-fu “Akpafu”, Bowili o-vu-ne “Akpafumann”, Santrokofi o-fu “Akpafumann”, Akpafu ka-wu, ka-‘u “Akpafu”. The early initial Basque h is from k, as can be seen from ka-wu, ka’u. The a has changed to e in this lexeme. The consonant between e and u has been lost. Basque lacks the semivowel w, which drops out here in Akpafu ka’u. See Lafon (1960 : 92) for confirmation from placenames etc.: Ausci, Aoiz, Auch.

The second part of the word, ka or ke is a word for “speak”, Niger-Congo gue “voice, language”, Ewe, Ga gbe “voice”, Agni guere “language, speech”, Yoruba i-gbe “loud cry”, Gbari e-gwe, e-gbe “mouth”. The e is for original a in this word. Niger-Congo e is secondary. Compare Niger-Congo ka, ke, k’e “to speak”, which is related. The final sylable -ra is the Niger-Congo article. No clearer proof could be found that the Basques were originally the Akpafu!

Thus says mr. GJK Campbell-Dunn “M.A. (NZ), M.A. (Camb.) Ph.D.” in a most interesting document titled “Basque as Niger-Congo“. (Just to remind you, Akpafu is another name for Siwu, the language I’ve been doing fieldwork on over the last three years.) I mentioned this story over a year ago in the comments of an excellent post over at Glossographia titled Debunking and de-Basque-ing, but I never got around to posting about it here. In his post, Stephen Chrisomalis notes that “There is probably no culture or language that has attracted more pseudoscientific attention than Basque.”

I’m not intent on debunking Campbell-Dunn’s story here; I think the quotation above speaks for itself just fine.1 But I do want to draw attention to the irony of this particular case. There you are, author of such groundbreaking works as The African Origins of Classical Civilisation, Maori: The African Evidence, and Who were the Minoans?: an African answer. The natural next step in your illustrious career is to solve the Basque enigma once and for all. Since the general thrust of your work is to link everything to Africa one way or another, you set out to discover that Basque is in fact a Niger-Congo language. A look at the rich lexical material in Westermann (1927) provides ample inspiration. Let’s pick one of the Togo Remnant Languages, you think — after all, Basque is sort of remnant too. Akpafu. Euskara. Hey, why not. Let’s just see what we can do… no-one’s going to notice, right?

Well, I noticed. And I just want to say it loud and clear: Graham Campbell-Dunn’s work is crackpot science. Don’t believe it; don’t even read it. Siwu and Euskara are fascinating languages that deserve of serious research. But they are most certainly not related. Although… come closer, I have to tell you a secret…
[spoiler show=”show secret” hide=”hide secret”]Both Basque and Siwu have lots of ideophones! (See Ibarretxe-Antuñano 2006.) Sssshhhh, don’t tell mister GJK Campbell-Dunn!



  1. Ibarretxe-Antuñano, Iraide. 2006. Sound Symbolism and Motion in Basque. Lincom Europa.
  2. Westermann, Diedrich. 1927. Die Westlichen Sudansprachen Und Ihre Beziehungen Zum Bantu. Berlin: In kommission bei W. de Gruyter & co.
  1. See the comments below for some of the problems in the reasoning. []

Great Minds of the 21st Century: an ABI scam

Just got this letter, on official-looking paper with an official-looking stamp:

Dear Mr. Dingemanse:

You have been nominated to appear in Great Minds of the 21st Century, a major reference directory including just 1,000 of the world’s top thinkers and intellectuals. (…) The ABI is contantly engaged with research centers throughout the world as well as its own global network of research advisors sitting on an international board. When the Institute is compiling a volume, these factors come together to point out individuals, through personal nomination, who deserve the recognition of inclusion in a biographical volume. Your contributions to the field of science have warranted the high regard of nomination for Great Minds of the 21st Century.

That’s impressive — but it sounds just a liiiiittle bit fishy, doesn’t it? As it turns out, the American Biographical Institute, which sends out these letters, has been in business for a long time. Continue reading

Some miracle of cloning

See what I just did? Made another me.

“See what I just did? Made another me.”
Darwin (Marvel Comics), panel from X-Factor issue 37.

There is a very quirky sentence right in the first chapter of Richerson & Boyd’s (2005) Not By Genes Alone that unintentionally defeats the very point they are making. After explaining why ‘culture is essential’ (the chapter title) and noting the influence of Darwin’s population thinking on biology, there is the following remarkable aside:

[I]f through some miracle of cloning Darwin were to be resurrected from his grave in Westminster Abbey, we think that he would be quite happy with the state of the science he launched. (p. 5)

Note how that statement in one breath essentializes biology (Darwin = his genes alone) and totally ignores culture (Darwin’s clone = Darwin now as then).

It would be a great miracle indeed if the encultured product of a cloning operation on Darwin’s remains would view Darwinism as ‘the science he launched’ and be happy with it! 1


  1. Richerson, Peter J., and Robert Boyd. 2005. Not by genes alone. How culture transformed human evolution. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.
  1. To see just one of the reasons this wouldn’t work, it is enough to turn back to the preceding page, where we read that “[T]he most fundamental questions of how humans came to be the kind of animal we are can only be answered by a theory in which culture has its proper role and in which it is intimately intertwined with other aspects of human biology. (p. 4)”. []