Theoretical risks and tabular asterisks: Sir Karl, Sir Ronald, and the slow progress of soft psychology.

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Theories in “soft” areas of psychology (e.g., clinical, counseling, social, personality, school, and community) lack the cumulative character of scientific knowledge because they tend neither to be refuted nor corroborated, but instead merely fade away as people lose interest. Even though intrinsic subject matter difficulties (20 are listed) contribute to this, the excessive reliance on significance testing is partly responsible (Ronald A. Fisher). Karl Popper’s approach, with modifications, would be prophylactic. Since the null hypothesis is quasi-always false, tables summarizing research in terms of patterns of “significant differences” are little more than complex, causally uninterpretable outcomes of statistical power functions. Multiple paths to estimating numerical point values (“consistency tests”) are better, even if approximate with rough tolerances; and lacking this, ranges, orderings, 2nd-order differences, curve peaks and valleys, and function forms should be used. Such methods are usual in developed sciences that seldom report statistical significance. Consistency tests of a conjectural taxometric model yielded 94% success with no false negatives.

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Type of resources: Primary Source, Reading, Paper

Education level(s): College / Upper Division (Undergraduates)

Primary user(s): Student

Subject area(s): Applied Science, Social Science

Language(s): English