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Tag: hypothetico-deductive research

Models in Political Science

Inside Higher Ed has a good interview with David Primo and Kevin Clarke on their new book A Model Discipline: Political Science and the Logic of Representations.  The book and the interview criticize the hypothetico-deductive tradition in social science: The actual research was prompted by a student who asked, “Why test deductive models?” The essence of a deductive model is that if the assumptions of the model are true, then the conclusions must be true. If the assumptions are false, then the conclusions may be true or false, and the logical connection to the model is broken. The point is that social scientists work with assumptions that are known to be false. Thus, whether a model’s conclusions are true or not has nothing to do with the model itself, and “testing” cannot tell us anything that we did not already know. My thoughts exactly. Unfortunately, I don’t see the new book  changing the practice of political science research (Primo and Clarke are also pessimistic about the short term impact of the book).

Writing with the rear-view mirror

Social science research is supposed to work like this: 1) You want to explain a certain case or a class of phenomena; 2) You develop a theory and derive a set of hypotheses; 3) You test the hypotheses with data; 4) You conclude about the plausibility of the theory; 5) You write a paper with a structure (research question, theory, empirical analysis, conclusions) that mirrors the steps above. But in practice, social science research often works like this: 1) You want to explain a certain case or a class of phenomena; 2) You test a number hypotheses with data; 3) You pick the hypotheses that matched the data best and combine them in a theory; 4) You conclude that this theory is plausible and relevant; 5) You write a paper with a structure (research question, theory, empirical analysis, conclusions) that does not reflect the steps above. In short, an inductive quest for a plausible explanation is masked and reported as deductive theory-testing. This fallacy is both well-known and rather common (at least in the fields of political science and public administration). And, in my experience, it turns out to be tacitly supported by the policies of some journals and reviewers. For one of my previous research projects, I studied the relationship between public support and policy output in the EU. Since the state of the economy can influence both, I included levels of unemployment as a potential omitted variable in the empirical analysis. It turned out that lagged unemployment is positively related to the volume of policy output. In the paper, I mentioned this result in passing…