When talking about #PostNormal, it’s important to talk about the concept of #WEIRD – White, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic. The idea that research is historically biased to a very specific group of people.
However, even WEIRD is itself is biased and does not completely describe the active nature of the bias to Normal.
I AM WEIRD is a longer version to try and take in those biases and missing elements.
Firstly, AM – Able, Male.
WEIRD does not take in the biases against Disability and Women in both research and design. Normal is clearly about non-disabled people and about Men and we need to be explicit about those biases. I have added a few books at the end of this post and Invisible Women is an important text here.
Secondly, I. Normal and WEIRD are not simply category descriptions. There is Identity and Identification within them. People such to be Normal and to be known as Normal. There is value in being known to be part of the In Group, to be Inside the privilege and power of Normal.
To be within Normal and to Identify with it means there is Intention. There are decisions and choices being made to be Normal. Not merely to stay within it but also to exclude and choose not to care about people who are not Normal. This is the danger of Normal as an anchor to historic errors like Eugenics and Colonialism. There is a sense of direction and purpose inside of Normal that goes beyond categorisation.
I AM WEIRD
So I AM WEIRD is an attempt to stretch the sense of WEIRD to be more explicit about both who is excluded and that there is a sense of action in the acronym.
Disabled people and women are invisible in too much research and design and it is remarkable that WEIRD maintains that invisibility.
WEIRD is not merely a category description.
This is why AI and ML cannot be ‘fixed’ by recognising broader diversity in categories. Category diversity does not affect anything meaningful when cognitive and cultural diversity are not recognised. Ticking a different box does not matter if the person is boxed in by demands to behave and think within a Normal set of rules.
It has a weight of intention behind it. The idea that Normal is better. The sense that those who are not Normal are less worthy of help, even less worthy of being called Human. WEIRD makes and demands choices about Identity and Intent. To ignore the history and the politics of it is to make it seem merely foolish and innocent when it is deliberate and malevolent.
To talk of Normal merely as an exercise in statistics is to ignore the biases that underlie what is to be proven.
To take a current example, we still have people talking of Covid19, herd immunity and vaccination in terms of Normal. Normal people will survive so that’s OK. This has that protective sense of Identity of Normal; I am fine, I will be fine. On the other side, it has that exclusionary disregard for people who are not Normal. They die, they will die. They (outside of the In Group) are disposable and that is OK because Normal justifies it.
There is Intent in Normal that is beyond categorisation and that Intent is malevolent.
As with institutional racism and implicit bias, this intent manifests in individual action but is not necessarily explicit in personal beliefs. We can act badly without knowing we are being bad becasue the bias is so embedded over time and across the society we live in.
Use WEIRD to start conversations about the problems of Normal and the possibilities of Post Normal. Use I AM WEIRD broaden those discussions about who is missing in research and design and how processes can have a sense of direction that comes from an historical bias to a small and specific group of people.
Good books to read
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez
Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini
What a body can do?: How we meet the built world by Sara Hendren