Arrested Theory Development: The Misguided Distinction Between Exploratory and Confirmatory Research

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Science progresses by finding and correcting problems in theories. Good theories are those that help facilitate this process by being hard to vary: They explain what they are supposed to explain, they are consistent with other good theories, and they are not easily adaptable to explain anything. Here we argue that, rather than a lack of distinction between exploratory and confirmatory research, an abundance of flexible theories is a better explanation for the current replicability problems of psychology. We also explain why popular methods-oriented solutions fail to address the real problem of flexibility. Instead, we propose that a greater emphasis on theory criticism by argument might improve replicability.

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