Three authors “problematize” rigor, objectivity, replicability, and yes, all the aspects of “colonizing and white Eurocentric science”

February 6, 2023 • 12:20 pm

If you want to see every aspect of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) instantiated in one paper, combined with about the worst possible writing—obscurantist, laden with jargon, and nearly Butlerian in opacity—I commend to you the paper below from The Journal Of Social Issues (click on screenshot to read or get the pdf here).  But I warn you: unless you’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid®, you’re going to need a very strong stomach.  The title is what caught my eye, plus it was called to my attention by several readers. It’s an example of trying to undo modern science in favor of the tenets of the academically fashionable CSJ ideology (see here for the best explication of those tenets).

You can get a flavor of the paper from the abstract.


The purported goal of social science research is to develop approaches and applications to the psychological study of social issues that allow us to know, accurately and inclusively, the lived experiences of all human beings. However, our current theoretical and methodological tools, while perceived as “objective,” were founded on ahistorical and context-eliminating perspectives that privilege research designs and analytic strategies that reflect biased racial reasoning with roots in European colonial knowledge formations. By analyzing how the language of “rigor” is deployed within specific instances of social science research, we assert that it is conceptualized and operationalized to maintain a Eurocentric worldview and conception of the “human.” In exploring the ways that the language of “rigor” furthers a European conception of knowledge production as normative, this manuscript provides a critical analysis that seeks to redress ongoing epistemic colonial violence by decolonizing a key term in psychological scholarship.

And although the authors claim they’re not trying to get rid of rigor in psychological scholarship, in fact that’s exactly what they are trying to do: removing the distinction between subjective and objective views, prizing “lived experience” above all research, deposing so-called “Western Eurocentric science”, which they consider white supremacist (note the paper’s title), and in general taming all those nasty aspects of modern scientific analysis which enables it to find out stuff. The paper, then, is nothing more than a clarion call to dismantle modern science and replace it with postmodern views involving power struggles and identity.  As the authors say in their very first sentence, quoting Lorde, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”  So much for rigor, objectivity, replicability, generalizability—indeed, the whole megillah.

Of course it’s necessary for the authors to begin by explaining their “identities” in great deal, for one’s cultural and racial bona fides matter hugely in such analyses, for you have the wrong identity, your ideas are bunk. I won’t go into the very long descriptions, but they are there for all three authors. Here’s just part of the “lived experience” of author #1:

I (first author) was raised as a Muslim immigrant-origin girl in a small Iowa town and constantly aware that my family was “different.” Having been an educator in PK-12 contexts, my goal in studying developmental psychology was to make the process easier for other youth who, like myself, were intersectionally minoritized and privileged because of religious, racial, ethnic, linguistic, and/or other identities or experiences. I was unprepared for the microaggressions embedded in developmental scholarship rooted in non-inclusive modes of knowledge production that resisted the nuances of the diverse individuals and groups I sought to better understand. . . . I seek to place myself in relationships and contexts to learn and engage in a co-conspiring, co-liberatory inquiry stance.

That’s a new one on me: “intersectionally minoritized and privileged” (isn’t that oxymoronic?). And notice the privileged in-group language that helps place an author firmly within the bailiwick of Critical Social Justice.  The other two authors do likewise.

But notice how dreadful the writing is throughout, as well as the profuse use of ideological jargon.  Just looking at the pages can tire you, showing you that you’re going to have to wrestle with a lot of big and complicated words. Just for fun, I calculated the Gunning Fog index (GFI) on some of the text. What is that? Wikipedia tells us this:

In linguistics, the Gunning fog index is a readability test for English writing. The index estimates the years of formal education a person needs to understand the text on the first reading. For instance, a fog index of 12 requires the reading level of a United States high school senior (around 18 years old). The test was developed in 1952 by Robert Gunning, an American businessman who had been involved in newspaper and textbook publishing.

The fog index is commonly used to confirm that text can be read easily by the intended audience. Texts for a wide audience generally need a fog index less than 12. Texts requiring near-universal understanding generally need an index less than 8.

You can calculate it just by pasting text into this website. But let’s go on; I’ll give the figures shortly.

Now to be as fair as I can, here’s how the authors claim that they’re not really trying to upend rigor, objectivity, and other aspects of science:

Our goal, however, is not to assert that the concept of rigor in theoretical or methodological contexts should be abandoned or that standards of excellence in psychology as a science be lowered or jettisoned. Instead, our intent is to interrogate the consequences of “rigor” with respect to how it is conceptualized and operationalized in psychology research, and thereby imagine how we might more effectively achieve the spirit and substance of rigor in our work in a manner that unmoors it from Western epistemological norms. Accordingly, we address three broad problematics: (1) how dominant conceptions of rigor within psychological sciences presume universality; (2) how scholars perpetuate epistemic violence through colonial claims to, or denials of, rigor in the name of “good” or “normative” psychological science; and (3) how a decolonial approach to “rigor” enhances epistemic justice and the quality of science.

[The GFI for the paragraph above was 19.05. But that’s peanuts compared to the GFI for the Abstract above: a whopping 26.93. Twenty-seven years for formal schooling just to understand the text! That’s all the way though college and then ten years of postgraduate study!]

Yes, that’s right: scholars are, through their colonialism, “perpetuating epistemic violence”.  How tiresome to hear the word “violence” used to refer to scholarship, over and over again. There’s even a section of the paper having that title!:

And pardon me if I don’t take the authors’ word that they’re not trying to lower standards of excellence when they say stuff like this:

The criterion of subjectivity dictates that the researcher makes him/her/themself and their self-understanding visible in the research. Decolonizing Western scientific norms requires reconceptualizing who we consider knowledgeable and how they relate to a range of lived experiences, cultural and spiritual practices, and other phenomena.

. . . We do not challenge the notion that there should be standards of excellence in social science research. Instead, we resist notions of rigor that require fidelity to uncritical truths that pass for just-natural facts in “normative” psychological scholarship. We argue that research is rigorous (i.e., high quality) when it reflects the following interlocking credibility criteria. Researchers should engage in self-reflexivity to understand our own subjectivities, historical embeddedness, and positionalities that frame our epistemological approach while also inclusively encouraging people to draw from their own and others’ lived experiences to inform scholarship. [GFI 16.9]

In other words, research is rigorous insofar as it comports with the authors’ ideology.

I won’t go on, for the paper is long, tedious, and laden with buzzwords embedded in bad prose. (Wokesters seem to have problems writing clearly, but maybe, as with Judith Butler and the postmodernists, it’s a deliberate tactic.)

I was going to make this a two-item post, for there was a talk at U. Mass. Boston by one of the authors of this paper and a colleague, and the second and third tweets below will show you some of the slides from that talk, as well as a snarky take from Substack Site “The Flickering Beacon”, an antiwoke venue written by people at U. Mass. Boston. It has two articles on the talk (here and here).

Here are the posts, which you can click on:

They also show slides from the talk and yes, the talk had a land acknowledgment. Here’s one slide:

Enough. If there were a God, I would thank him every day that I didn’t go into the social sciences. Science is already beleaguered by those who want it redone along Critical Social Justice lines, but the social sciences have been completely taken over.

45 thoughts on “Three authors “problematize” rigor, objectivity, replicability, and yes, all the aspects of “colonizing and white Eurocentric science”

  1. A very fine critique of the truly dismal state of the social sciences is Toward a Biosocial Science: Evolutionary Theory, Human Nature, and Social Life by Alexander Riley (Bucknell, Sociology), published by Routledge two years ago.

    1. I just finished this book a couple of weeks ago. I second your recommendation. Really good (short and to the point), well-argued book.

  2. This is so hypocritical. Do these people want rigor removed from say, the training involved in becoming a brain surgeon? Would they be willing to be operated on by someone who was a bit hazy on neuroanatomy but really had some great “lived experiences” as a person of whatever?

  3. If the authors were not hamstrung by their own gobbledygook, it might even be possible to discern an element of common sense in what they’re trying to say, viz., The social sciences are not physics. Our research, and the way in which we express the results of that research, should reflect the fact that we are dealing with human beings. Sadly, their training and ideology render them incapable of practicing what they preach.

    1. That’s what I’ll “Haack’s fork”. To the extent that the “science critics” actually have a point, it is actually old hat and hence a truism. The radical reading is false (or methodologically self-defeating). Once again: if you cannot find out the way the world actually is (and not one’s experience of it alone, which is at best superficial) one cannot possibly remediate the injustices in it.

      1. It’s also what philosopher Daniel Dennett called a “deepity” — an ambiguous word, phrase, or statement with two different interpretations. One of these is true but trivial, meaning that it doesn’t say anything particularly groundbreaking. The other interpretation is extraordinary but false. Those that use it jump back and forth between those interpretations.
        See also: Motte & Bailey Fallacy.

  4. I’ve read this business about “you cannot dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools” in woke anti-science screeds before. How is it that these clowns are allowed to use the word “master”?

    1. Heh heh. Whenever I see that bit of cant, I want to reply, “No, because the master defends his tool shed with locks and guns.”

  5. Once “lived experience” becomes a criterion for evaluating rigor, the discipline becomes unmoored. With no standard tied to anything solid, there can be no rigor and there is no discipline. This seems to be where the social sciences are heading. In fairness, I am not a trained social scientist, but my lived experience tells me that they are failing.

    1. Also, as every sentient being has “lived experience,” the notion of privileging that “way of knowing” necessarily entails, well, privilege. Not all “lived experience” can be incorporated, therefore, someone, somewhere, is going to have to make a subjective decision about *which* “lived experience” to include.

      It’s nonsense almost as ridiculous as the notion of “cultural appropriation,” when one considers that all culture is, to some extent, appropriated, and it’s merely a matter of where the easily offended want to draw the historical line.

      Still liberal. But constantly shaking my head at this baloney.

  6. I’m 76 (today!) and a historian of psychology. I have NEVER seen a definition of psychology that says it’s about “lived experience.” Throughout the 20th century the definition was always a variation on it being a science of behavior, placing experience outside science precisely because it’s subjective. I’ve also read lots of foundational work in economics and sociology, and I have never seen them defined as studies of “lived experience.” Ditto cognitive neuroscience. So the definition of the authors of this screed are wrong off the bat. I have no idea where the authors got their definition of psychology. Lived experience is the domain of literature, where Judith Butler started.

    1. Happy Birthday! And I’m glad you weighed in regarding that definition. It seemed very suspect to me, too. How can there be any stability in the profession if it can ride the untethered waves of “lived experience” wherever they lead?

    2. That definition screwed my brain up. Another subject’s lived experience is almost de facto not accurately knowable! The whole paper’s tilting at windmills. They’ve auto-colonized with boogeymen

  7. Well, gee, aren’t “lived experiences” just like anuses? Everybody has one. But for some reason I don’t think the authors believe they are all of equal value.

  8. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” is in the main only a deepity that will seem profound and true to some, but is in fact not true here. The “tools” would be hypothesis building, controlled experiments, analysis, peer review, and publication. You know, the colonialist tools for doing science that are done literally everywhere in the world by people of all colors and backgrounds to figure things out. These tools are there to help eliminate fraud, bias, and error. Those tools have in fact dismantled many things in the masters’ house. Hypothesis have failed to pass their tests. Even theories have been found wanting and set aside.
    So the deepity is just a vacuous statement that is meant to set the stage for some gas-lighting.

    1. A key tool especially for experimental psychology is quantitative theory that creates predictions (I think this is what you mean by building hypotheses). Andrew Gelman hit on this for years at his blog: so much of personality and social psychology research was built on data collection and statistical analysis without predictions derived from a stand-alone theory. Any result with p.05 the next time someone did the same experiment. Thus the replication crisis.

      1. “Any result with p less than .05 could be used to tell a story. Unfortunately often p greater than .05 the next time…”

        I hate markup.

  9. These types of “papers” seem to “necessitate” the use of quotation marks (” “) on a variety of “words”: sometimes a “word” is in quotes, and yet the “seemingly identical” word is not put in quotes later in the same paragraph. Perhaps “problematic connotations” of these “words” in a “non-inclusive context” which further the aims of “colonial centering” are put in “quotes” in order to prevent “harm” caused by inadvertent “microaggressions” as a result of encountering idioms previously associated with white Eurocentric “scientific rigor”, the “credibility” which is now called into question for the absence of “lived experience” based on the “normative” assumptions of Western “science” informed by “colonial framing” that “anecdotal evidence” is not “rigorous.”

  10. I was reading the abstract and for a brief moment really thought it was a letter from the Inner Party, a lost archive from 1984 maybe? Alas, it isn’t. What a bummer…

  11. In retirement, I dismantle the colonial epistemic violence of European normative conceptions by replacing them with chopped chicken liver. This approach, supplemented with sliced onions and a glezele vayn, we call liver experience.

    1. It has its own Wikipedia page, and readers from Oz can be justly pleased that it came
      originally from computer science virtuosos in Monash University, Melbourne. [I believe it
      was later hosted at my own institution for a while, maybe still.] It is not necessary now to code a computer DEI generator, because he have human equivalents churning out that stuff every day at hundreds of campuses in the Anglosphere.

    2. That’s my lived experience too – I put the “elsewhere” one one I put up here before, it’s great! – hours of laughs, and also great to get a nice pallid glaze over the eyes.

      I also like Chomskybot – not _exactly_ the same, but :

      “Look On My Words, Ye Mighty, And Despair!”

  12. “Decolonizing” these days means most likely a totally worthless paper or book. Even back when … May the Subaltern Speak? Well sure, but don’t make such a big deal out of it, sheesh! Just tried to read/scan a book I found on Internet Archive when I think I searched for “decolonize” in titles. Found Fernando Segovia’s Decolonizing Biblical Studies, A View from the Margins. Well! Two of my favorite areas — biblical studies and CRT/decolonizing/waysofknowing…. This was the 3rd worst book I ever tried to read! (I don’t count Koran.) Astonishingly bad stuff. Absolutely no coherent thought or sentence in first 30 pages. But then who cares? Biblical studies by the believers, even the foolish, incompetent “decolonizing” ones, are meaningless anymore.

    (PS The worst ever was DeAngelo’s White Fragility; a strong second, though all votes aren’t in, is I.X. Kendi’s Anti-Racism screed.)

  13. “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

    Why not? Are they magic tools that work only for the owner?

    A stupid figure of speech that doesn’t even make sense.

    1. I agree. To use the same kind of analogy, if you steal the masters keys, go to the masters tool room, get the kerosene and some matches, you can dismantle his house quite handily. That actually seems to be the path they have embarked on. They are trying to burn the house down. They don’t seem to realize that if they succeed then they won’t have a house either, because you can’t build one with their tools.

  14. “Science is already beleaguered by those who want it redone along Critical Social Justice lines, but the social sciences have been completely taken over.” – J. Coyne

    If you want to learn more about the “wokification” of social science, here’s a recommendable book:

    * Susen, Simon. The ‘Postmodern Turn’ in the Social Sciences. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

    1. Yes – everyone should check that – Linsday makes everyone’s point better in fewer words than the very writers can with their own books.

  15. Hi,

    My comment is not relevant to the paper you are referring to at this post, but I am curious what you might think about the type of knowledge that someone allegedly reaches at through approaches which are different than the prevalent scientific one. Intuitively, let’s say. I’m having in mind the type of knowledge that different kind of gurus or so-called “enlightened” beings claim to have, like Buddha, Laozi etc., which they probably regarded the highest form of knowledge.

      1. Lindsay did write an article titled Decolonizing the Curriculum, which included the following:

        Decolonizing the curriculum is about dismantling the values conveyed in the “hidden curriculum,” which include methodological rigor, rationality, and liberal civics and ethics (sometimes described, following Audre Lorde, as the “master’s tools”), and replacing them with other agendas.

  16. It is absolutely essential that we make more people aware of this aspect of the “Decolonise” movement, in particular. I don’t think I have ever seen anything more imperialist than claiming STEM to be white & Eurocentric. Complete ahistorical nonsense that can only be written by someone who has never had to try to work with the “maths” that existed before Europe adopted Arab numerals and maths. As a late medievalist, let me inform you that trying to do maths working in 7s over 20s in Roman numerals as Europeans did before this is a primary reason for so many calculations of anything from that period being wrong.

    Aside from it being factually wrong to claim STEM to be white & Western, it is an insult to all the doctors, scientists & engineers the Western world needs to recruit from Africa and Asia to keep those fields running. If all the Indian, Nigerian and Pakistani Brits left for their former homelands or that of their parents and grandparents, the NHS would collapse, engineering would struggle and we’d be much diminished in output in science more broadly. As I have had to point out to anybody insisting that my critiques of fields using the approaches of Critical Social Justice are just a way to attack the work of “people of colour,” if that were actually my motivation, it would be medicine and technology I’d have to critique, not CSJ, as this is where black and brown Brits are most represented.

    STEM, objectivity, rigour and replicability are not products of the West. Postmodernism and its latest incarnation “Critical Social Justice,” however, are. If you want to ‘decolonize’ Western “ways of knowing” start by weeding out that one, not the development of science which has been a worldwide project for millennia, although Europe was a relative latecomer to it.

    Meera Nanda is your best source for opposing the false claim that science is a Western phenomenon and that it needs decolonising.

  17. Dawkins tw3373d about this post. Since Tw1773r doesn’t make it easy to read I will :

    “Obscurantism is the first refuge of the charlatan (not quite Samuel Johnson).
    “People who write obscurely are either unskilled in writing or up to mischief” (PB
    -Richard Dawkins

    (Link cut off but you get the idea)

    I’m glad because I missed that _excellent_ quote! Adding it to my quotation file.

  18. Even Scientific American can’t bring themselves to agree with the idea of decolonizing rigor. See this recent article:

    What’s their answer to the question? “The number one factor is building quality.” It turns out that they have Western-style building codes, but the codes aren’t enforced so the buildings fall down. In other words rigor has been decolonized successfully there.

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