How Hard Is Hard Science, How Soft Is Soft Science? The Empirical Cumulativeness of Research

Larry V. Hedges*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

244 Scopus citations

Abstract

Research results in the social and behavioral sciences are often conceded to be less replicable than research results in the physical sciences. However, direct empirical comparisons of the cumulativeness of research in the social and physical sciences have not been made to date. This article notes the parallels between methods used in the quantitative synthesis of research in the social and in the physical sciences. Essentially identical methods are used to test the consistency of research results in physics and in psychology. These methods can be used to compare the consistency of replicated research results in physics and in the social sciences. The methodology is illustrated with 13 exemplary reviews from each domain. The exemplary comparison suggests that the results of physical experiments may not be strikingly more consistent than those of social or behavioral experiments. The data suggest that even the results of physical experiments may not be cumulative in the absolute sense by statistical criteria. It is argued that the study of the actual cumulativeness found in physical data could inform social scientists about what to expect from replicated experiments under good conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)443-455
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Volume42
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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