Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Atlantic contributor discusses how neuro-imaging research has to overcome it's bias toward white, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic college student sampling base to be more reliable

In 1986, the social psychologist David Sears warned his colleagues that their habit of almost exclusively studying college students was producing a strange and skewed portrait of human nature. He was neither the first to make that critique, nor the last: Decades later, other psychologists noted that social sciences tended to focus on people from WEIRD societies—that is, Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic. The results of such studies are often taken to represent humanity at large, even though their participants are drawn from a “particularly thin and rather unusual slice” of it.

The same concerns have been raised in virtually every area of science that involves people. Geneticists have learned more about the DNA of people in Europe and North America than those in the rest of the world, where the greatest genetic diversity exists. The so-called Human Microbiome Project was really the Urban-American Microbiome Project, given that its participants were almost entirely from St. Louis and Houston.

Neuroscience faces the same problems. When scientists use medical scanners to repeatedly peer at the shapes and activities of the human brain, those brains tend to belong to wealthy and well-educated people. And unless researchers take steps to correct for that bias, what we get is an understanding of the brain that’s incomplete, skewed, and,  well, a little weird.

Also known as white, educated, industrial, rich and democratic if memory serves, in Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind.  What seems like the normal base line for intellectual and ethical thought to white liberal college students can turn out to have very little correspondence with the thoughts and ethics of people from other parts of the world. 

Another way to put this general observation is to suggest that American college students and researchers alike may not understand that what they consider to be the findings of science may be the findings of unexamined and unrecognized modes of cultural imperialism.  :) 

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