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How to Do Interdisciplinary Work That Works

Connor Wood: There’s always a tension between generalizability and contextual applicability. Yet several of the participants in last weekend’s colloquium are blazing important trails in combining the best of both worlds. For example, Uffe Schjødt advocated for a style of neuroscience that takes each sample of subjects as a complete population in itself — not representative of a larger population, but as its own complete population. That way, when neuroscientists draw conclusions from their studies, they can be honest about the fact that their conclusions refer specifically to that particular sample. If and when they generalize from such findings, they might be properly humble about any claims. Another way forward is illustrated by anthropologists who use quantitative methods and experiments while in the field. Joseph Henrich, Eleanor Power, Ben Purzycki, and Dimitris Xygalatas all fit this bill. Experts in the local cultures where they’ve done fieldwork, these anthropologists are adept at designing studies that fit the local cultural context while also saying something interesting about the wider human condition. For example, one recent empirical study on the relationship between religious beliefs and cooperation across eight different societies utilized this mix of ethnographic and experimental methods.

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