MU to Host SLAMM

Prestigious Conference Focuses on Research Methodology
Associate Prof. Laron Williams
Prof. Jay Dow

Associate Professor Laron Williams (top) and Professor Jay Dow of the Department of Political Science are bringing the St. Louis Area Methods Meeting to MU in April.

Jordan Yount
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Departments: 
Political Science

An annual political science conference featuring the latest research methods is being hosted by the University of Missouri this year. The St. Louis Area Methods Meeting (SLAMM) typically is hosted by Washington University in St. Louis, but MU political science professors Jay Dow and Laron Williams lobbied organizers to allow the Columbia campus to host the prestigious conference, and the organizers agreed.

Williams says the types of papers presented at the MU SLAMM will be primarily methodological.

“They are introducing a new method to answer interesting and innovative research questions in political science, and we draw on work by statisticians and economists as well as political scientists to come up with the appropriate way of generating political science knowledge,” he says.

The April 21–22 conference will feature four presentations, one each from researchers at Penn State University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Louisiana State University. Williams says the morning session on April 21 will be devoted to graduate students, giving them an opportunity to present their research to faculty members and receive comments to improve their projects. Of the 50 participants registered so far, 15 are graduate students from MU, another 15 are graduate students from the University of Iowa, KU, UMSL, UMKC, and other institutions, and the rest are faculty members from MU and elsewhere.  

Williams says one example of new methodology that will be presented at the SLAMM is eye-tracking technology, which will be discussed by Kathleen Searles of LSU.

“Basically, what she does is give individuals who have agreed to participate in an experiment an iPad and a mobile phone,” Williams says. “She then shows them an article on both devices and uses eye-tracking technology to actually see where the individuals’ eyes go on the screen as they read the article. It gives us some insight into how individuals incorporate information from different sources and process that information.” The eye-tracking technology can show exactly where a person is looking on the screen, indicating whether that person is just scanning headlines or reading an entire article.

Williams says people tend to quickly flip through articles on a mobile phone, while spending more time perusing articles on a computer screen or in a newspaper.

“If we can see that people who are reading on a mobile device process information about politics or the economy differently than those who look at it on an iPad or in a newspaper, that might tell us some things about why different segments of the population believe things differently,” he says.

This year’s SLAMM is funded by the MU Department of Political Science, the Department of Economics, the College of Arts and Science, the Provost’s Office, and Mizzou Advantage. Williams says the varied sources of funding allow organizers to subsidize travel and lodging for graduate students who attend the conference.

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