The empirical social & behavioral sciences (ESBS) generally—and particularly psychology as the largest ESBS field—have made significant advances in mathematical modeling. All these fields, however, still feature comparatively soft empirical structures, and operate with comparatively unsophisticated theoretical superstructures (mere directional hypotheses). These fields as a whole thus appear as a soft science. The ongoing “replication/confidence crisis” rightly aggravates this impression.

Strengthening the theoretical structures requires hardening the empirical structures. This demands new descriptive and normative insights—insights, that is, into how researchers should describe (“model”) and evaluate empirical data, and how they should construct and evaluate hypotheses and theories. In brief, this requires insights into how one arranges an ESBS-research program. Only if this central need is met will ESBS-fields become progressive, trustworthy, and useful.

This interdisciplinary project addresses this need by bringing to bear insights from the philosophy of science and the philosophy of statistics in order to improve ESBS-research. We deploy inductive considerations (pertaining to what we can learn from data), deductive considerations (pertaining to how we construct theories for data), and abductive considerations (pertaining to the next best action given our pragmatic stance). This exemplifies an efficient route to trustworthy and useful ESBS-research. At crucial junctures, we rely on computer simulations.

Through descriptive statistical, statistical-inferential, and science-philosophical research, the project:

  • Explains the replication/confidence crisis in the ESBS as the result of having arranged research efforts in ways that misapply and over-interpret our best statistical inference methods;
  • Develops the research program strategy (RPS) as a superior methodology to overcome the crisis by embedding RPS into qualitative research, by furthering “induction analysis” as an alternative to current meta-analysis, and by providing a toolbox for theory construction;
  • Disseminates the explanation and the remedy via publications, presentations, and teaching materials among such key-players as researchers, funding agencies, and science-journalists.

Compared to what ESBS-research typically offers today, project results improve how researchers learn from data, and how they construct, and validate, sophisticated (point-predicting) empirical theories.

Related: Questions from the BOUN Press Office

We answered. See the MTR blog.

MTR: Models, Theories, Research Programs

Project No: 118C257
PI: Dr. Frank Zenker
Start: 01/11/2019
End: 01/5/2022


BOĞAZİÇİ UNIVERSİTY Department of Philosophy

South Campus, 34342, Bebek, Istanbul, Turkey

Email: mtrboun@gmail.com
Tel: +90 212 359 73 84

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