Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Burning the Straw Man: What Exactly Is Psychological Science?

Academic journal article SA Journal of Industrial Psychology

Burning the Straw Man: What Exactly Is Psychological Science?

Article excerpt

Although Efendic and Van Zyl (2019) and others make a good case for focusing on open access, transparency and standards for the empirical research process – suggestions one can fully support (Shrout & Rodgers, 2018) – the replication/reproducibility crisis might be symptomatic of our understanding of what science is. For this argument, I will assume that replication and reproducibility refer to similar aspects in the process of doing science. Both support transparency although I am aware that some distinguish between (a) replication as the understanding that others not involved with a project be able to obtain similar findings, and (b) reproducibility as the ability to reproduce any aspect of the research process, for example, given the data, someone else would be able to recreate similar statistical results although reproducibility is not restricted to analysis (Peng, 2015).

Replication, in this case supporting transparency, characterises a scientific endeavour. Transparency refers to the availability of sufficient information so that others can replicate and reproduce the study. It relates to the publicness of knowledge and information that can be checked and interrogated by others, and thus, it supports the ideals of an open scientific process. The publicness of science is one of its fundamental characteristics; without it, a process cannot be characterised as science.

A second implication of the replicative ability of science cuts to the heart of science, namely its ability to produce knowledge. Whether the knowledge is supposed to be universal or locally applicable is irrelevant. The question for science is whether others can reach the same conclusions about a phenomenon given a replication of conditions and processes. Replicability and its related concepts seem to be crucial for viewing a process as scientific. Thus, if one would not be able to replicate a study, at least in the outcome of the process, what does this say about the scientific process? A logical conclusion would be that if replication is a characteristic of science, then psychology and its cognate disciplines are not a science in the light of the absence of replication.

That psychology’s status as a science is wobbly at best is a narrative fed to and supported by public opinion and media (Fanelli, 2018; Ferguson, 2015; Jamieson, 2018; Pashler & Wagenmakers, 2012). However, Efendic and Van Zyl (2019) certainly think that psychology is a science; otherwise, they, along with others, would not have proposed a number of remedies to enable transparency and replication/reproducibility (Maxwell, Lau, & Howard, 2015). Over and above pointing out publication bias and the changing nature of the phenomenon under study (Greenfield, 2017; Schmidt & Oh, 2016), a number of these measures relate to compliance to quantitative and measurement requirements and rigour (Ferguson, 2015; Peng, 2015; Shrout & Rodgers, 2018; Świątkowski & Dompnier, 2017). This certainly creates the impression that along with transparency and replicability, measurement and quantitative analysis characterise science (Sandelowski, Voils, & Knafl, 2009).

The replication crisis happened against a particular view of what we believe science is and should be. Not that replication as such is a poor criterion of scientific character, a point I will discuss below. Among others, the replication crisis requires us to examine yet again what the criteria for a science are although these criteria are not currently at the centre of the debate and implicitly assumed; we think we know what a science is and should be. Psychologists get explicitly trained in research methods, usually divided into qualitative and quantitative approaches, and because of their training, they view science in a particular way. One consequence of our training and our views of what science is, is how we perceive the profession and science of psychology. Psychologists get trained usually within the scientist–practitioner (SP) model with the result that psychologists see themselves either as the one or the other. …

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