Scientific Updating as a Social Process

TPM doesn’t do a great deal of “reblogging,” but I wanted to bring some attention to what I think is a brief and thought-provoking post about the process of science by Jay Ulfelder. This post speaks to what I think is a debate between those who believe that science is a set of procedures–that is to say, a way of thinking and doing research that produces sound results–and those who think of science as a social process that produces knowledge from a dialogue among people who fall far short of scientific ideals. I think you can see one instance of this ongoing debate in how people think about the ongoing “credibility revolution” in quantitative research, particularly with respect to results arguing that much published research is false.

Dart-Throwing Chimp

Cognitive theories predict that even experts cope with the complexities and ambiguities of world politics by resorting to theory-driven heuristics that allow them: (a) to make confident counterfactual inferences about what would have happened had history gone down a different path (plausible pasts); (b) to generate predictions about what might yet happen (probable futures); (c) to defend both counterfactual beliefs and conditional forecasts from potentially disconfirming data. An interrelated series of studies test these predictions by assessing correlations between ideological world view and beliefs about counterfactual histories (Studies 1 and 2), experimentally manipulating the results of hypothetical archival discoveries bearing on those counterfactual beliefs (Studies 3-5), and by exploring experts’ reactions to the confirmation or disconfirmation of conditional forecasts (Studies 6-12). The results revealed that experts neutralize dissonant data and preserve confidence in their prior assessments by resorting to a complex battery of belief-system defenses that, epistemologically defensible or not…

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About Justin Esarey

Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rice University.
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