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Concluding Remarks

Removing Barriers in Scientific Research: Concepts, Synthesis and Catalysis

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Understanding Cultural Traits


This paper concludes a book on ‘cultural traits’ which features 20 contributions from the most diverse disciplines, from cultural anthropology to archaeology, from psychology to history, from economics to musicology. The paper dodges the attempt to make a conceptual synthesis, arguing positively for such avoidance. Borrowing a term from the U.S. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, the paper likens the book, Understanding Cultural Traits, to a catalysis meeting, i.e., a lowering of disciplinary barriers that influences the disciplines’ culture of data, broadens the scientific vision, and generates scientific collaborations. Catalysis is not alternative to synthesis. It is a different phase of scientific progress, one that can be hindered by an obsession for concepts and by an urge to close the discourse.

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  1. 1.

    The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) is an American NSF-funded collaborative research center operated by Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University (see Cunningham 2005; Sidlauskas et al. 2009; Rodrigo et al. 2013).

  2. 2.

    Interdisciplinary syntheses exist, and they may eventually “erode disciplinary boundaries or create new fields of study”.

  3. 3.

    Also in consideration of these documents and official declarations, Sidlauskas et al. are however optimistic that a new cultural shift is leading synthetic science to receive more support than ever (Sidlauskas et al. 2009: 874).


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I thank all NESCent leaders and staff, in particular Allen Rodrigo and Joel Kingsolver, for their great generosity in letting me interview them. My research on NESCent, synthesis and catalysis was supported by the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent), NSF grant #EF-0423641.

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Correspondence to Emanuele Serrelli .

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Serrelli, E. (2016). Concluding Remarks. In: Panebianco, F., Serrelli, E. (eds) Understanding Cultural Traits. Springer, Cham.

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