Details and Transcript

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Timestamps

  • 00:00 - Introduction

  • 00:59 - Segment 1: The Wheelbarrow (Short Story)

  • 09:23 - Segment 2: The Origin of "Turn The Tables" (Metaphor History)

  • 17:59 - Segment 3: Citizen Science (Communication Topic)

  • 28:53 - Segment 4: Talk With Cassidy Swanston (Guest Interview)

References

Theme Music​

Transcript

To my delightful family and friends. Near and far. Old and new. This is Kevin Mercurio on the mic. And welcome to the 34th episode of the Metaphorigins Podcast.

 

To show support if you like this sort of content, it’s very simple, please take 5 seconds to rate and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify or Google Podcasts or whatever platform you are listening to this on. It truly helps small, independent podcasts reach new people and grow the show with minimal effort. You can always leave a small review as well, and follow @metaphorigins on Instagram, that’s @metaphorigins, where I will be posting all of my updates, as well as on my personal website: kjbmercurio.com/metaphorigins. As always, I will hold another draw on my 40th episode for… yeah, something. I’m just not sure what yet. But stayed tuned for more information on this quaint… thing, whatever it ends up being!

 

We commence. Today’s expression is quite a fun one, both in its origin and creativity, used during moments of captivating defiance against defeat.

 

3. 2. 1. It’s a Friday night. You and the lads head home from your respective jobs to get ready for tonight. No, you won’t be hitting up a night club to get hammered while dancing to Dua Lipa’s Levitation. And no, you won’t be grabbing a table for three at your favourite diner, shovelling hamburger meat and taters while reminiscing about the differences of the pre and post COVID era. Like a lamer episode of Stranger Things, you and the boyos are getting together for your weekly night of Monopoly.

 

Created by Lizzie Magie and initially called the Landlord’s Game, Monopoly is an economics lesson disguised as a board game. Other non-economic concepts are also introduced like utilities, probability, and even jail. Players take turns rolling dice to move around the board to purchase and trade real estate, develop their properties, and experience modern capitalistic concepts of wealth, taxation and bankruptcy. Like your friend and arch-nemesis in the Hasbro universe Edwain put it, “Let’s face it, with today’s market, playing monopoly allows us to experience what it would be like to actually own your own property.”

 

Monopoly is one of the most profitable board games of all time. There are over 1100 versions of the game, most with just design changes but some having various rule changes to them as well. It is licensed for sale in over 100 countries, translated in almost 40 different languages. There is a World Championships hosted by Hasbro, the last one conducted in 2015 in Macau. There is even a film planned somehow based on the board game, originally announced in 2008 and to be directed by Ridley Scott, but has since bounced from one production company to another until, in 2019, landed at HartBeat Productions. Kevin Hart, the comedian, actor and owner of the company, is now set to star.

 

As prestigious table top gamers, you and your friends can hardly wait until the end of the week to roll the dice as fictional real estate moguls. It almost reminds you all of, back in the day, when lands were free and development was inconceivable. This flush excitement of freedom and entrepreneurship is quickly squared by the true obscure mentality of manifest destiny, to which you and your friends ground yourselves back to reality and remember that it’s just a game.

 

You arrive at your friend Edwain’s house. “Hello, nemesis.” You say with squinted eyes.

 

“Why hello, nemesis.” Edwain repeats with eyes practically closed.

 

“I’ve brought the ingredients for Monoponoachos. You got the drinks?”

 

“I think Nathan will be bringing the Monopojuice. He also mentioned he’s bringing a friend.”

 

You think about this for a second. Your group has never played a full 4-player game of Monopoly before. What are the strategies for not being connected to each player’s turn at all times? Should one purchase cheaper real estate early on the board, or wait for the more expensive ones towards the end? What if they chose your player token, the archetype of human invention, the race car?

 

After some time, your friend Nathan arrives with the Monopojuice and introduces his friend. “Hello, nemeses,” he says with shifty eyes, “This is Sasha, he’s a newbie at my work but loves to play the “board game with money”, as he describes it. I’ve brought the Monopojuice. Let’s game.”

 

You each take your respective seats at the usual triangular gaming table, but now instead of sitting in the usual triangle, you’re now in a weird square formation.

 

Nathan smacks his head. “Ah, shoot, I forgot to mention that Sasha brought a square game table for us to play on. It’s in the trunk of my car. I’ll go grab it.” When he returns, he sets up the table. It looks like an old, rectangular design with poles that connect to the table hinges, expanding the table by folding hidden flaps upwards for games with large parties. Sasha upon looking at the set table, immediately takes a seat on one of the sides.

 

We all choose one of the remaining sides, and then choose our player tokens. Because of the swiftness of Sasha’s seat decision, I quickly grab the racecar once Edwain lifts the Monopoly box lid. Edwain also rapidly goes for his usual choice, the epitome of wealth, the Top Hat. Nathan snatches his token, the happy, lucky and always smiling Scottish dog. Sasha, looking at the tokens, grabs the wheelbarrow.

 

“The wheelbarrow?” Nathan laughs. “No one chooses the wheelbarrow!”

 

After distribution of the initial cash so that all players start at the same level (I mean, just like real life right?) the game begins. Based on the initial dice rolls for turn designation, Sasha starts, then Edwain (the voted banker), you and then Nathan. Rolling a low number, Sasha lands on Baltic Avenue, one of the first properties, and purchases it.

 

“Baltic Avenue?” Nathan laughs. “No one buys Baltic Avenue!”

 

As the game progresses, you see, since you are sitting directly across from Sasha, that he’s been making good social relations with the other players. With Edwain, he allows him to stay on his properties without paying rent, and Nathan is just amused by all his choices, laughing hysterically. Polishing off your glass of Monopojuice, you gaze at the board and realize that Sasha has accumulated a lot of real estate. He practically owns a property in each coloured group you own, halting your property development, not to mention he controls the railroads and all the utilities.

 

“How is this possible?” You announce in frustrated anger as you land on yet another one of Sasha’s properties.

 

“I like-a money.” Sasha says, smiling.

 

On his turn, he lands on one of the last available properties, Boardwalk. You notice, as Nathan continues to laugh at Sasha’s choices while Edwain stuffs his mouth with Monoponachos, Sasha purchases the property with money that wasn’t in his usual pile on the table. You have an idea and call a break.

 

“Break?” Nathan laughs. “No one calls breaks!”

 

As they all fill up their glasses and relieve themselves, you quickly turn the table and adjust the board. Immediately, you notice a secret compartment that, upon inspection, is loaded with Monopoly money. In order to access it properly, you need to back up your chair, hitting the former triangular gaming table in the process. Sasha and your friends return to the room to see you turning the other table as well.

 

Sasha sits down and right away asks, “You, turn-a the tables?”

 

Sitting down, you scratch you head. “Yeah, I, uh, felt my side was a bit clunky. I ensured not to mess the board up though.”

 

“Why both tables?” Edwain asks.

 

“Oh just for some more room I suppose, for all of us, heh heh.” You laugh nervously.

 

“Turn the tables?” Nathan laughs. “Whatever, let’s game.”

 

Without an unlimited cash flow and many bad rolls, Sasha is forced to sell property after property to stay in the game. About an hour later, even while you are in jail, Sasha lands on your hotel and is bankrupt.

 

“Game-a sucks-a!” Sasha shouts in frustration.

 

“Ouuu, better luck next time.” You say, collecting your profits.

 

“Bankruptcy?” Nathan laughs, and continues laughing for the remaining 6 hours left of the game.

 

And 6 hours is being optimistic. We now return from the world of capitalistic quandaries and face real life capitalistic hardships. Oh god, how dreadful. Anyway, hopefully you caught that odd scenario in which I had realized halfway through writing this story that TWO tables had to be turned at some point. But how did an UNO reverse card for a table signify the switcheroo of one’s misfortune?

 

What’s the origin to the expression, “turn the tables”?

 

*Theme Music*

 

 

Most of this information was obtained from many articles discussing its often misquoted usage and the origins to this expression. All sources will be mentioned in the description.

 

Let’s take a moment to think about the greatest comebacks in history. There are so many stories that it’s hard to even count the categories they fall under. Like the 10000 m run in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, were Finnish runner Lasse Viren fell halfway through the race but still managed to finish first in world-record time. Or perhaps the Battle of Thermopylae, in which considered one of the most famous last stands in human history, which due to King Leonidas’ army fighting to the death, helped the rest of the Greek army to defeat the vastly oversized Persian army in the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. Or maybe less obvious ones. Malala Youssef speaking out both against islamophobia after her bout with terrorism? Eddie Murphy’s return to cinema? Sinead O’Connor’s recently published autobiography? Elon Musk investing a majority of his fortune on the advancement of space exploration in the early days of SpaceX? Despite their success before and after, they were identifiable underdogs at the time, something each and every one of us could relate to during our own pursuits of happiness.

 

There’s something redeeming about betting it all for something you truly believe in. Success or failure, your act of trying puts you ahead into a category of people that deserve respect and admiration. By choosing to continue onwards through debilitating self-doubt, guided by rectitude, these people inspire generations of others to change the world. Yes, sometimes these perspectives get warped by inhumane values, yet I would argue that for every major advancement in our civilization there will always be counter forces leaning towards the opposite. It is our responsibility, as part of the same global community, to retaliate against these extremes.

 

In your own life, how many times have you taken the opportunity to reverse one’s struggle, or your own, when presented with an unclear path? I suppose that’s the extenuating aspects of certain failures, that the path is always surrounded in mist. If your intentions are justified and moral, why would that matter? If anything, you demonstrated the will and fortitude to identify these reversals of fortune, and you chose to do it. We should always congratulate ourselves and others when this chance is taken.

 

This, I believe, is at the heart of today’s expression “turn the tables”, defined by Lexico as “Reverse one's position relative to someone else, especially by turning a position of disadvantage into one of advantage.” Other variations of this expression often uttered are “turning the tables” and “oh how the tables have turned”. This expression resonates with us as we feel joy when those who struggle succeed, which is why it populates our culture. There’s a Disney+ show called Turning Tables where women in various fields come together and talk about their experiences in their respective industries, some industries still ripe with misogyny. Adele’s hit song, Turning Tables, is about a relationship in which fundamental aspects of it are used against the protagonist, over the melancholy of piano and strings. Side note, it’s funny how one of the most popular uses of the phrase is actually a misquote by Steve Carrell’s character on the Office. Mentioned in an article about the episode on Lingaholic, “When Michael Scott arrives at the meeting to negotiate, he means to say “how the tables have turned,” but because he is not a very eloquent man, he says “how the turntables” instead.”

 

Tables are oddly enough part of figurative speech more than we care to acknowledge. There are certain phrases arising from behaviour around a table, like during meals, such as “table talk” and “table manners”. You can be paid “under the table” and thus not have such a transaction recorded. Perhaps, after a good match of table tennis, you and your pals can play some beer pong and for everyone to drink “under the table”, passing out under the comfort this temporary tent.

 

But let’s get back to the origin. Think about it, it’s not obvious why turning a table would mean to turn a position of disadvantage into one of advantage. Yet, it’s so synonymous with this definition that I can’t even think about why it WOULDN’T mean that to begin with. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with actual tables at all, at least the ones we regularly think about today. In fact, I accidentally alluded to it through my creative short story earlier. 

 

Board games. Yes, they are played atop of tables, hence the name given to frequent board game players as “table top gamers”. Stated in writer Kris Spisak’s blog, board games have been around 5000 years, where game tokens were found in present day Iraq dating back to 3000 BCE. The oldest known board game is The Game of Ur, easily recognizable to modern board games of getting all your tokens to the end of a path (known as racing). This origin story is pretty unanimous in the etymology world. Mentioned in Grammarphobia and Mental Floss, “turning the tables” can be related to games with “tables”, designated to games like backgammon, chess and checkers, were players could reverse their position on the board and thus change the outcome of the game in their favour.

 

For the first time in this podcast’s history, today’s metaphor was actually a metaphor since its inception! I have always dreamed of finding an expression that lacks any literal meaning and was simply created to express some concept in an innovative way. Sure, you could say that tables are a literal part of those games, but the act of turning them was never actually done (okay, noted to be done by those who’ve studied game history). “Turn the tables” and related term “underdog”, are just terms that were written or spoken once and stuck. By studying these terms, we can arguably grasp an understanding of human history we probably never would have come across, with one having a positive origin and the other having a more negative one (take a guess which one). As mentioned, it’s our responsibility as part of the global community to acknowledge these origins and perhaps change the course of our own history.

 

*Theme Music*

For my communications segment, I would like to talk about a concept that’s been gaining a lot of momentum over the last decade, particularly in the fields of conservation, ecology and even astronomy. And that topic is citizen science.

 

I recently attended a virtual conference in which graduate students from across Europe were selected to re-evaluate the role of the expert. During one of the daily themes, one which was “Are experts important?” a speaker discussed the uprise of citizen science and its usefulness in engaging public discourse about the scientific method. One student mentioned in the very active chatbox that, and I paraphrase, they were concerned that citizen science could diminish the work they and their colleagues do, if we so choose to equate the data collected from professional scientists with data collected from the general public. I quickly replied that we already separate the two by defining the latter as not science but citizen science. More on that later.

 

I suppose that anecdote would be more relevant if we are all on the same page of what citizen science is. Unfortunately, there is no agreed upon definition, at least by those who study the idea or champion the concept in their own work. The term was first introduced independently by two researchers, Dr. Alan Irwin, a British sociologist, and Dr. Rick Bonney, an American ornithologist. Irwin described citizen science as, “developing concepts of scientific citizenship which foregrounds the necessity of opening up science and science policy processes to the public”; while Bonney viewed citizen science as non-scientists or science enthusiasts voluntarily contributing data. You might have been able to tell that these two perspectives are somewhat different, with Irwin’s having more accountability from the scientific community to open it’s institutions to the public domain, while Bonney’s giving the public an opportunity to peer through the window of the scientific method.

 

Although this concept of citizen science was coined around the mid-90s, the concept of pursuing science as a professional career was oddly only recently established, back in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the biological sciences, some even consider textbook legends like Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel as citizen scientists. Imagine that, ordinary people contributing data and theories that would lay the foundation for evolutionary biology and fundamental genetics. And before these times, citizens were already contributing to collecting scientific data that would later address societal problems and enact policy changes at some sort of governmental level. Take ancient China, in which citizens would track outbreaks of migratory locusts that destroyed harvests, data which was collected over the course of 2000 years.

 

Now, science is a practice that seems to occur behind closed doors. Scientists are often depicted in mainstream media as logical wizards who utilize the brain potential in the most effective way possible to solve all societal issues. Scientists research a problem, develop a method to solve this problem, test this method, collect data while conducting this method, analyze the data obtained from the method and see whether this indeed solved the problem. What the public sees is the problem and the solution. What the public doesn’t see is the majority of the process. Science is less like a brief calculation and more like the industrialization of trial and error. In a Ted Talk by Dr. Caren Cooper, an Associate Professor in Forestry and Environmental Sciences, she states, “with science, you’re always on one side of the door. Let’s remove that door.”

 

The bizarre thing is that this secrecy of the scientific method has been going on for years, decades, centuries even. It stems from the very real notion that proper theorization and discussion occurs within respected places, institutes, academies and universities, places that are arguably only accessible to a very privileged few. That, or individuals that have phenomenal mental prowess existing at the right place and at the right time (which, in my view, still falls under the condition of privilege). So is it any surprise that, with the advent of the Information Age, that individuals not included in this discussion are feeling confused about how problems are solved, answers are found? That or worse, skeptical of expert scientific opinion?

 

Scientists revel in the fact that they have studied and specialized in fields that hope to benefit the human race in some way now or in the future. For myself, in a relatively new field researching the human microbiome, I hope that by understanding how microbes living on or in our bodies contribute to human health, we can develop new non-pharmaceutical interventions to treat disease. But just like the state of most frontier fields, more interdisciplinary collaboration is required to progress the field into novel territory, needing more and more data to be collected and analyzed. This is not just in biomedical fields, think astronomy, quantum mechanics, climatology, or the social sciences like anthropology and political science, or in sectors like energy and housing. We, scientists and non-scientists, are all people who live in a society that needs applications for the discoveries found through rigorous scientific experimentation and review.

 

Citizen science works whether viewed as an opportunity for scientists to open doors, or for non-scientists to unlock doors. In another Ted Talk about citizen science (there’s 11 indexed on Youtube, just with citizen science in their names, and yes I watched all of them), Dr. Andrew Su, an associate professor at the Scripps Research Institute, demonstrates in quiz-like activity to the audience that citizen science works because the public can actually identify concepts without fully understanding the context. Like, for example, after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, perhaps you might not know how a Geiger counter works, but you could measure radiation levels around your area to see which regions of your neighbourhood are safe for people to live, and which regions are not safe, while sharing measurable data with scientists who in turn advise public health authorities.

 

There are citizen science projects occurring all throughout the world. Thousands of them. There are citizen science associations established in research hubs around the world, like the US-based Citizen Science Association, European Citizen Science Association, and the Australian Citizen Science Association, actively lobbying governments for greater funding and project opportunities in this realm. National Geographic lists many different projects suitable for elementary and high school level students to partake in. Government departments also host and promote citizen science projects that anyone can get involved in, like NASA in the US , and the Heritage Council in Ireland. There are platforms that act as search engines for citizen science projects, to find one that best suits your values and proximity, like SciStarter, EU Citizen Science Platform, iNaturalist, Zooniverse, and SpaceHack. And even more impressive, some citizen scientists have actually contributed to published academic literature, like those who contributed to the eteRNA project for understanding RNA folding, something any scientist aims for in their work. Again, this spirit of collaboration through public engagement is really picking up momentum.

 

However, there are some drawbacks of including public data collection in scientific studies, both obvious ones and ones that only make sense from a human mentality point of view. Let’s start with the obvious ones. Citizens could get easily overwhelmed by the amount of projects they have the potential to participate in, and thus likely choose to stop participating in order to pursue another project or just not to participate at all, like psychologist Barry Schwartz’s idea of the Paradox of Choice. This has been a particular problem for the UK’s Big Garden Birdwatch Project, which has shown a decline in volunteer participation. Additionally, the credibility of data collected by non-scientists are easily questioned by scientists conducting the study and those who review the work later down the pipeline. One example, as mentioned in a 2018 Nature Journal news feature, cites flaws in citizen-sourced data, including deviations from standard protocols and biases in recording or in the choice of sampling sites, such as the otter being, “the most recorded mammal in Britain for its population size”. But scientists can take this bias into account through sophisticated techniques like, “track a citizen’s route and time in the field” but this may be prone to privacy concerns if done incorrectly. There’s also inappropriate or nefarious uses of citizen science in action, like citizen scientists influencing a disregard for hygiene during the Flint Water Crisis in the US, or animal poachers for Kenyan wildlife.

 

More issues on the side of protecting citizen scientists also come to light. There is a large ongoing discussion about the ethics of citizen science projects, with many actually advocating for more rights and protections given to citizens devoting their time and effort to advance scientific knowledge without financial gain. Mentioned on the citizen science wikipedia page, the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) published its Ten Principles of Citizen Science in September 2015 which emphasize acknowledgement for citizens in published scientific work, IP and overall promotion. Most importantly, to me, is the 6th principle, “Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for. However unlike traditional research approaches, citizen science provides opportunity for greater public engagement and democratisation of science.”

 

It is this principle that I will end on. To me, it’s odd that we term work done by scientists as science, while work done by non-scientists as citizen science. We don’t term fixing a car differently if you or a mechanic does the job, or differentiate playing football if you’re at the park with your friends or play in the Premier League. Whether or not the citizens who contribute their time and effort to a scientific cause fully understand the hypotheses and data analysis that goes hand in hand with their contributions to the scientific method are irrelevant to the fact that they are doing science, full stop. The idea of differentiating the two goes against the initial descriptions of what citizen science is all about, opening or unlocking doors and bridging a long held divide due to historical elitist privilege. Citizen science, or science, can only grow with the new Information Age if scientists step down from a perceived high standing and realize that they are the exact citizens they devote their lives to supporting.

 

*Theme Music*

For my fourth guest of the season, I’ll be interviewing someone who not only has expertise in science communication, but is also involved in many incredible initiatives advocating for equality in STEM and accessibility to science.

 

She is the Communications Director of the quite famous Andrew Pelling Lab at the University of Ottawa. In addition to that, she is pursuing her Master’s in Communication in Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, investigating communication strategies to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake. As a TEDx speaker and Allan Rock Scholar Award winner, she has also worked in science communication at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum, Water Rangers, and as the outgoing Executive Director of Pulsar Collective.

 

Please welcome the multi-tasking phenom, Cassidy Swanston.

 

*Theme Music*

 

 

*INTERVIEW*

I always think about, even if my research is not directly linked to citizen science initiatives, how I can communicate the science I do in a more relatable way to my friends and family. At the very least, even if researchers shouldn’t be responsible for teaching the scientific method to their madness, they should still be grounded in their work’s overall significance to society. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed learning about tables and citizens. I suppose I could still design my own citizen science project regarding the gut microbiome… anyone wanna donate some stool? Joking, please don’t send stool samples to my home. But okay, ending the episode, so updates. Uhhhhhh, I can’t seem to stop joining SciComm projects… I recently applied and was given the roles to two incredible positions in amazing initiatives involving undergraduate STEM students through an academic journal as well as science enthusiasts in the Dublin area regarding, oh, let’s say pints. My CV is, at this point, a never-ending directory of nerdy projects. But honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ll hear more about them in the coming weeks, either through these small updates in each episode or through the podcast Instagram page. So that’s it for this episode, thanks so much for listening. Speaking of it, do remember to follow the podcast Instagram page for visual updates and sneak peaks, and of course, anyone following will be placed into the draw to win some Metaphorigins swag, whatever that ends up being, on my 40th episode and Season Four Finale. Rate, subscribe, share, message, megaphone this episode to your family and friends. Tune in next week but until then, stay skeptical but curious.

 

*Theme Music*