Carel Stolker discusses research impact
Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker retired on 8 February. If there was one theme running through his career, it was the links between the University and society. Before he left, Stolker spoke one last time to people from within and without the university about the societal impact of research. On topics ranging from Brexit to stress at work and from linguistics to science communication.
Linguists: crimefighters extraordinaire
‘Take a telephone threat,’ said Willemijn Heeren, Senior University Lecturer at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL). ‘I study the extent to which the speech material in such a contentious voicemail or telephone tap corresponds with speech material from a suspect, to determine whether it could be from the same speaker. If so, that could form evidence in court.’
Heeren has been working since 2015 with Tina Cambier, who works as a linguist for, among others, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), where she investigates whether refugees really do come from war zones by looking at the languages they speak. Here too linguistic expertise is used to solve a societal issue therefore.
How Brexit is bringing policymakers and researchers closer together
‘As policymakers we tend to think and work in processes. That gives you some structure and is how things work out in the professional practice. But it definitely narrows your perspective. Collaboration with academics or even just a chat with an academic can help you take a step back and get more of an overview or broaden your perspective – or even find a different one.’
Two psychologists on a date with the rector
‘Carel, do you remember I sent you a questionnaire in the summer about working from home?’ Pluut asks. ‘The results have just been published.’
‘Wow, that was fast,’ Stolker exclaims. Pluut’s main finding is that working from home blurs the boundaries between our work and personal lives, or rather between all the different roles and duties that we take on. These blurred boundaries cause emotional exhaustion. And that is a symptom of burnout. The findings will sound familiar to many a remote worker. But in one sense Rebel finds them surprising. ‘Before the crisis, working from home was seen as stress reducing precisely because it makes it easier to combine your work and personal lives.’
A podium for science
According to Julia Cramer, who conducts research into science communication at the Faculty of Science, you need a serious amount of courage as a scientist to appear on a talk show. ‘As a scientist you’re often sitting opposite someone who is very sure of themselves. But a scientist is more cautious, and all too aware of all that is still unknown about the topic. That makes you vulnerable, particularly on live TV.’
Amito Haarhuis, who is a real practitioner of science communication at Rijksmuseum Boerhaave, notes that at the beginning of the crisis politicians wanted to be led by science. ‘We’re listening to the science is how Rutte put it. I think that had a positive effect on public confidence.’
Corona and the gulf between citizens and experts
On this hectic Friday afternoon (the Rutte III cabinet has just resigned after the child benefit scandal, ed.) Carel Stolker, Tom Louwerse and Rozemarijn Lubbe discuss a very pressing issue: the gap between citizens and institutions. Even a cursory glance at a newspaper or the television will show that this gap has widened and that there is now a gaping chasm between citizens on the one side, and the media and the scientific world on the other. Social media is full of reports that the NOS broadcaster is spreading fake news and that coronavirus is a conspiracy. Stolker – himself a self-confessed avid viewer of Dutch current affairs programme EenVandaag – wants to know: just how big is that gulf? And can the scientific world play a role in closing it?