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Theory-Testing in Psychology and Physics: A Methodological Paradox

Paul E. Meehl
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 34, No. 2 (Jun., 1967), pp. 103-115
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/186099
Page Count: 13
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Theory-Testing in Psychology and Physics: A Methodological Paradox
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Abstract

Because physical theories typically predict numerical values, an improvement in experimental precision reduces the tolerance range and hence increases corroborability. In most psychological research, improved power of a statistical design leads to a prior probability approaching 1/2 of finding a significant difference in the theoretically predicted direction. Hence the corroboration yielded by "success" is very weak, and becomes weaker with increased precision. "Statistical significance" plays a logical role in psychology precisely the reverse of its role in physics. This problem is worsened by certain unhealthy tendencies prevalent among psychologists, such as a premium placed on experimental "cuteness" and a free reliance upon ad hoc explanations to avoid refutation.

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