Deception-based knowledge in Indigenous and scientific societies: American Indian tricksters and experimental research designs

Yancey Orr, Raymond Orr


  • The emerging movement to decolonize the sciences, social sciences, and humanities has emphasized the differences between Indigenous and Western scientific ways of knowing. Paradoxically, emphasizing the difference between these systems has also been the principle undergirding modern science’s claim to being a uniquely valid means of knowledge creation. Yet as each approach focused solely on contrasting Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing, potential similarities between these knowledge systems may have been ignored. One such oversight is the use of deception by each system, which is central to experimental research designs in the social and psychological sciences, and in American Indian trickster stories. In narratives recounted throughout American Indian societies, tricksters act from malevolence, greed, or generosity and are often catalysts in knowledge production. Similarly, it is the “experimental process” found in Western scientific systems that deceives subjects in order to elicit insights into causality, and such have been the results, that it has become a preeminent empirical method in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/719574