The research sample quoted is W.E.I.R.D (white, educated, industrialised, rich, & democratic)

Much research from Western Universities is dependent on student samples. The means that academics often use students (paid or unpaid) to participate in their studies. The advantages of this is that students can earn money and, for those studying social / sciences, they may get research experience. Academics have easily accessible participant groups making it far quicker to run and publish research – something for which they are professionally assessed on. However not all academic research involves student participants, and not all research takes place in academia or is run by academics. The types of research that seem to be most favoured in mainstream media are those featuring ‘WEIRD’ participants. Particularly this is the case if they are highlighting a sex-related issue that fits within a moral, medical or salacious viewpoint; or can be related to a soap opera, celebrity or movie.

While popular, the downside of such research is fairly obvious. It’s based on a small number of participants who are young adults in the college system. They are rarely representative of the majority of people that the findings of such research are claimed to be about. Such research also tends to ask about people’s attitudes towards issues rather than their behaviours or experiences. And for some academics the focus is on churning out papers rather than careful, critical, community-led studies, meaning the original ideas that underpin the research may not be as strong as they should be.

There is certainly a place for research about students. It becomes a problem when research on students is presented as explaining everyone else’s lived experience. In media, if your piece or programme is about students, there is a wide range of research on their needs and issues. If your topic is about other groups of people (including young people who are not at college) look for research that is more representative.

Be careful! If the paper is WEIRD assume it probably DOESN’T represent us and needs to be questioned. This is better than using it just because it stacks up a story or fits with your worldview – or your editor or producer’s prejudices.


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