“Normal” is, well, normal… right?


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Dear Feminist Scientists and Science-y Feminists,NormalIL

In the behavioral sciences, I sometimes see people refer to one group under investigation as “normal”.  The other groups are, then, I guess abnormal? That kind of seems problematic. Especially because the ‘normal’ group is usually a majority and reference group in some way, for example a healthy control, straight-identified, or something like that.




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2 Responses

  1. Sari van Anders says:

    Well, I’m going to jump in on this one (don’t be too surprised). Normal is a word folks sometimes throw around and argue that it’s scientific, so therefore its nonjudgmental. But normal also is a value-laden term and thinking culturally or historically makes it clear that normal is usually used to describe majority groups whether they are actually ‘normal’ in the scientific sense or not. Moreover, what *is* the scientific use of the term normal? It refers to a distribution (e.g., normally distributed) and not a data point or a group. So, ‘normal’ is only scientific when it refers to a population distribution of a variable of interest. To my understanding, normal is *not* scientific when it’s used to describe a person or a group. Then what is it? Value-laden.

  2. Stacey Ritz says:

    I think one of the big problems with the use of the word “normal” is that it all-too-often slips into “normative”. Just because something is “normal” in the statistical sense does not imply that we SHOULD be normal or that there is any particular value in being normal, but we often act as if normal = good. Given this broad tendency, it probably makes sense to avoid the word “normal” where possible, if you ask me.

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