WEIRD science…

Priya Maharaj responds to a piece from our Research Digest blog.

It was refreshing to see a piece on WEIRD science (Digest, February issue), especially on the pages of The Psychologist, which perhaps can be argued comes from a place of WEIRDness in itself [Western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic]. The recommendations which Jesse Singal’s piece covers are worthy and meaningful, evidence-based starting points for us – but are we up to the task? Are we willing to go even further, to go beyond what is palatable and ask ourselves hard questions, to shift the boundaries of hegemonic power that is so deeply rooted in science?

This is not a zero-sum game. It is not a game at all. We’re just scratching the surface of a massive and poorly understood construct of knowledge creation. I’m not talking here about scientific methods. I’m referring to all the machinations of science – the behind the scenes stuff. Sometimes it’s overt racism or sexism etc., sometimes it’s a more subtle and equally powerful subjugation. Regardless, most funding goes to bodies that have prestige and long histories (of being WEIRD), the most published scientists tend to be WEIRD, and non-WEIRD scientists may lean towards what Fanon called ‘Black Skin, White Masks’ – a projection of WEIRDness that is sometimes necessary for academic survival.

If we can’t or won’t learn from each other then a stalemate ensues. It is unpleasant, and the science is lost in no man’s land, neither developed nor developing. We need more than tokenism. Do scientists and scientific bodies (universities, journals, funding bodies etc) really believe it a worthwhile venture to reflect on their WEIRDness? Is it uncomfortable to reflect on one’s scientific privilege or lack of it? How do we tease apart what colonial traditions of knowledge creation, knowledge transfer, oppression and dominance have left us with? Are we consciously aware of our own socio-historical battles with science? Were there winners and losers, or in-betweeners? And how do current geo-politics affect the production of science? If we haven’t thought about questions like these, we owe it to the scientific pursuit to delve deeper.

There are certainly pockets where WEIRDness is reflected on, questioned and even rejected at times; counter-narratives to WEIRDness, mostly by those who don’t fit into WEIRD frameworks. Against the odds, non-WEIRD scientists continue to do good science. The same goes for scientists from WEIRD places that don’t fit into a WEIRD framework.

I wonder if WEIRD is a quirky and cute euphemism for neo-colonialism. As psychologists, we are in a position to push a scientific agenda that is more fair, more diverse, more caring and more grounded in reflection than other disciplines. Perhaps it is our duty to do so – to build a way forward for all of science.

Priya E. Maharaj PhD, CPsychol, CSci, AFBPsS
Independent Practitioner and Scientist
West Indies

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