Researchers Apologize For Writing “Derpy” In A Paper

By Neuroskeptic | July 15, 2017 9:43 am

It appears that memes and science don’t mix well. A pair of researchers have published an apology in a peer-reviewed journal – for using the word “derpy” in an earlier paper.

In April 2016, Archives of Sexual Behavior published a piece called Fighting the Derpy Science of Sexuality by Banu Subramaniam and Angela Willey.


In this paper, Subramaniam and Willey criticized studies of biological differences between human groups:

The various sciences of‘‘difference’’ – sex, gender, race, class, sexuality, nationality – where studies that claim evidence for biological differences between two groups often make the cover stories in scientific journals and popular magazines. In-group variation rarely leads to a re-consideration of a priori categories and studies with negative results do not get the same space, in journals or in the press… biological research marches on in its derpy ways.

A fair point, if rather one-sided. However, the authors now say that they were wrong to use the term “derpy”, because it’s been brought to their attention that it has been used as an “ablist slur”. Willey and Subramaniam say that their intentions were innocent:

The word ‘derpy’ was introduced to us as a pop-cultural term that meant believing in something despite the fact that it has been disproven.

In the original paper, they quoted Paul Krugman who in a 2015 article defined “derp” as the phenomenon where “people keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.”

I think I see the problem. As I’ve seen it used, there’s a distinction between “derp” (meaning vapid or silly talk) and “derpy”, which is more or less a synonym for stupid. “Derpy” doesn’t mean “believing in something despite the fact that it has been disproven”, it’s much broader. In other words, you don’t have to be derpy to derp, and if you are derpy, derping might be the least of your problems.

As far as I know, this is science’s first “derpy”-based scandal, but the entertainment world is way ahead of science in this regard. In 2012, the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon ran an episode featuring a klutzy character called “Derpy”. However, after worries that she appeared to be a stereotype of the “mentally handicapped”, the character was renamed (and her voice re-recorded).

A petition to “save Derpy” wasn’t enough to prevent her dederpification.

derpyhoovesI wouldn’t say that “derpy” is always used as an ablist slur, although it does have a subtext of “intellectually impaired”. The eyes pointing in different directions (strabismus) that is ubiquitous in visual representations of “derpy” individuals does call to mind disability, not just below-average IQ.

  • Uncle Al

    Load the critics back into their short bus, throw the transmission into “reverse,” and drive off.

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  • smut clyde

    The eyes pointing in different directions (strabismus) that is
    ubiquitous in visual representations of “derpy” individuals does call to
    mind disability

    For me it calls to mind Marty Feldman.

    • John C

      Medial Rectus muscle / Oculomotor CN 3 dysfunction of some sort, not necessarily a sign of mental incapacity or bilaterally shifting kyphosis.

  • leoboiko

    If we’re prepared to treat the mentally disabled with respect and dignity, we should also do the same for the intellectually impaired. People aren’t responsible for their IQs, after all. All offenses of the class of “dumb” stop making sense.

    To call the statically deficient “science of differences” “derpy” is to say: this is like something made by someone lacking intelligence. But it’s not; it’s something lacking in knowledge (of statistics), in diligence (to study things out of the comfort of one’s field, like statistics), in open-mindedness (to challenge one’s own worldviews), in humility (to admit we have no answers for much of it, and no dancing the null-hypothesis ritual can dispel uncertainty), in ethics. None of this would be out of the reach of a less intelligent researcher, or can be assumed of a more intelligent one. Offenses based on mental ability are therefore an error of category.

  • Erik Bosma

    Socrates could have invented the term “derpy” or perhaps it was the Oracle who came up with the term. If not, they, at least, came up with the definition. Either that or it was the work of Bugs Bunny. Kinda sounds like a word that has Bugs’s paw prints all over it. Ya big maroon…

  • Sam

    Derpy is a great pony. they shouldn’t be sorry.

  • polistra24

    The article has a deeper problem than derp.

    “studies that claim evidence for biological differences between two
    groups often make the cover stories in scientific journals and popular
    magazines. ”

    REALLY? When? Where? In fact such studies are universally censored and spiked by “scientists” and “journalists”. Pointing out an ethnic difference is the quickest way to lose your grant or your accreditation or your job.

    • OWilson

      That would be “eugenics” and no “respectable” scientist would touch that.

      Even science has its religious taboos! :)

    • Neuroskeptic

      It depends on the group. A paper showing (say) brain structural differences between ethnic groups might struggle to get published.

      But papers about brain differences based on sex or sexuality are published regularly and the media is obsessed with them, see e.g.

  • Eva Amsen

    I’ve only ever heard “derpy” used to mean ditzy, silly, etc in a kind of cutesy way (basically, how that pony looks) and never heard the definition in that Krugman paper before. I suppose, if you were to define it, that is what “derp” would mean, but the context just doesn’t seem to fit a scientific paper. Being derpy is what a cat does when he repeatedly tries to open a door by pushing and pulling at the same time, not what an academic does when ignoring established evidence.

  • John C

    Good God, when can I move to Mars?

  • Pingback: Here's the latest word you're not allowed to say: 'derpy' - The College Fix()

  • Pingback: Psychology News – 15 July, 2017 – numerons()

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  • Louis Chapman

    Oh my goodness, they hate it when we use the word “Derpy.”

    Quick! Let’s use it even more!”

  • Pingback: Academics Apologize For Using The Word – Getting Gnome World()



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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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