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WEIRD research and non-reproducibility are features not flaws..?

In an earlier post I linked to Dustin Broadbery’s thought-provoking article from OffGuardian and how this had prompted a minor epiphany on my part relating to WEIRD people (I misspelled it there but what the heck, I was taught I before E except after C :wink: and I damn well paid attention. More fool me.)

The very short summary of the research paper I was alluding to is here (I have the full paywalled 75 page PDF if you’re very curious):


In regard to reproducibility of results a key section says:

anthropologists have long suggested that people from Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (WEIRD) societies — and particularly American undergraduates — are some of the most psychologically unusual people on Earth. So the fact that the vast majority
of studies use WEIRD participants presents a challenge to the understanding of human psychology and behaviour. A 2008 survey of the top psychology journals found that 96% of
subjects were from Western industrialized countries — which house just 12% of the
world’s population. Strange, then, that research articles routinely assume that their results are broadly representative, rarely adding even a cautionary footnote on how far their findings can be generalized.

But what if that is not the point?

What if WEIRDness is not a flaw but a feature?

If I want to find out whether my prototype LARP game will find an enthusiastic audience it makes sense to focus group some keen game players, not a random sample of people queueing up for the bus. (If Margaret Thatcher was to be believed ** only losers use buses anyway…)

Similarly if my aim were to work out how to push the buttons of the professional class, the garrulous self-confident twitterati if you like, then conducting WEIRD research is exactly the right thing to do. I would then gain behavioural insights into exactly the influencers that I can later rely upon to do the heavy lifting when my propaganda agenda is ready to roll out. In other words, if I know how to trigger the influencers, Fiat 500 twitter and other blue ticks, they can do the rest of the work AND lead the cancel mobs who root out the wrong-thinkers.

In fact I don’t even need to do that: I merely train a generation of researchers who in turn train their grad students to use their fellow students as their research subjects, in the same way as they use Google Scholar (as I just did) to find articles with good metrics, and don’t waste their time reading all those boring books rotting away on level four of the library…

** She wasn’t


Famously, the Victorians (UK) were the first majority urban dwellers in the world. More people lived in towns and cities than people who lived on the land. This had never happened before in human history. That said, even in 2022, and taking China into account, I would hazard that a large majority of the human race still have a rural lifestyle (myself included).

So of course I go along with the thrust of the WEIRD hypothesis.

You can go watch just about any Woody Allen film to see it played out.

I would also add, as the world’s biggest travel bore, that humans are fundamentally the same, whether they are in San Francisco or the Saharan desert, or in Paris or Peru, etc, etc.

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I would like to mount a half-hearted defence of Sleeper, which was pretty funny. A former best friend of mine, who I still think fondly of, propagandised me into watching quite a few Woody Allen films. Another Rob as it happens. In later life he got very woke, married a man, and now drives a Tesla and posts angry Facebook messages about antivaxxers spoiling everything for the rest of “us”.

In hindsight these things are what the poker players call “tells”. Ah well.