The trouble with WEIRD science

We think we know about humanity's basic drives and instincts. But is it possible that we're fooling ourselves? Recently, scientists have become aware of how many key findings - thought to baked into every one of us by evolution - actually apply only to certain cultures. In particular, the culture from which way too high a proportion of research subjects is drawn: American college students.

In my debut piece for Aeon magazine, I explore the problem of WEIRD science - the fact that it's concentrated among Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic countries - and how we can go about fixing it. Do take a look.

Meet the emperor of the electrodes

 Image from the Vieux Carre Courier

Image from the Vieux Carre Courier

I've been working for a while on a long read for Mosaic, the Wellcome Trust's weekly online magazine, about a guy called Robert Galbraith Heath. It's an extraordinary story that has gripped me ever since I first heard of it.

The story starts with a scientific paper in 1972, which describes (in astonishing and unsettling detail) how Heath, a scientist in New Orleans, attempted to cure a gay man by implanting electrodes into his skull and stimulating the pleasure centre of his brain. He and his team were so pleased with the results that they got approval to bring a prostitute into the laboratory - monitoring the patient's brain patterns as the two of them made love.

This was strange enough. But when I started looking into Heath, I realised that this was merely the tip of an iceberg of weirdness - that over the decades, he had done some of the boldest, strangest and least ethically justified experiments you can imagine, on both humans and (as the picture above shows) animals. Stranger still, his work appeared to be largely forgotten.

The piece is online here - I hope you find the story as fascinating, alarming and in places downright disturbing as I did while researching it. It's released under Creative Commons, which means that anyone is free to republish it as long as they link/credit back to Mosaic...

Last-minute appearance at Nudgestock

If you're in Kent on Friday, or fancy a trip there, I'm a late addition to the line-up for Nudgestock, the behavioural economics festival organised by Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy (and the Spectator's 'Wiki Man') columnist. I'll also be appearing at the York Festival of Ideas on Monday evening.

After that it's a well-earned break with my family for a couple of weeks - but if you want to book/commission me, or just to get in touch with your thoughts about the book, feel free to email. While I'm aw ay I'll also try to pull together the long promised/threatened recommended reading list, which has been the victim of a packed publicity/journalism schedule...

PS Also wrote this for the Telegraph on whether robots are going to take our jobs, and if so how.