Transparency-Inducing Institutions and Legitimacy 2

By Kevin M. Esterling (Political Science, UC Riverside)

Whenever I discuss the idea of hypothesis preregistration with colleagues in political science and in psychology, the reactions I get typically range from resistance to outright hostility.  These colleagues obviously understand the limitations of research founded on false-positives and data over-fitting.  They are even more concerned, however, that instituting a preregistry would create norms that would privilege prospective, deductive research over exploratory inductive and descriptive research.  For example, such norms might lead researchers to neglect problems or complications in their data so as to retain the ability to state their study “conformed” to their original registered design.

If a study registry were to become widely used in the discipline, however, it would be much better if it were embraced and seen as constructive and legitimate.  One way I think we can do this is by shifting the focus away from monitoring our colleagues’ compliance with registration norms, which implicitly privileges prospective research, and instead towards creating institutions that promote transparency in all styles of research, with preregistration being just one element of the new institutions for transparency.

Transparency solves the same problems that preregistration is intended to address, in that transparency helps other researchers to understand the provenance of results and enables researchers to value contributions for what they are.  If scholars genuinely share the belief that data driven research has scientific merit, then there really should be no stigma for indicating that is how one reached one’s conclusions.  Indeed, creating transparency should enable principled inductive research since it creates legitimacy for this research and it removes the awkward need to state inductive research as if it had been deductive.