The replication crisis may also be a theory crisis

A jumbled jigsaw puzzle, AKA the state of theory in the behavioral sciences.

Enlarge / A jumbled jigsaw
puzzle, AKA the state of theory in the behavioral sciences.
(credit:
flickr user: giveawayboy
)

A
replication crisis
has called into question results from
behavioral (and other) sciences. Complaints have focused on poor
statistical methods, the burying of negative results, and other
“questionable research practices” that undermine the quality of
individual studies.

But methods are only part of the problem, as Michael
Muthukrishna and Joseph Henrich argue in a paper in Nature Human
Behaviour this week. It’s not just that individual puzzle pieces
are low in quality; it’s also that there’s not enough effort to
fit those pieces into a coherent picture. “Without an overarching
theoretical framework,” write Muthukrishna and Henrich,
“empirical programs spawn and grow from personal intuitions and
culturally biased folk theories.”

Doing research in a way that emphasizes joining the dots
constrains the questions you can ask in your research, says
Muthukrishna. Without a theoretical framework, “the number of
questions that you can ask is infinite.” This makes for a
scattered, disconnected body of research. It also feeds into the
statistical problems that are widely considered the source of the
replication crisis. Having too many questions leads to a large
number of small experiments—and the researchers doing them don’t
always lay out a strong hypothesis and its predictions before they
start gathering data.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
The replication crisis may also be a theory crisis