Skip to 0 minutes and 0 secondsSo I want to talk about the evolution of not just conceptual frameworks but really just practice and methods. So in particular, let’s say we think there is a certain method, like the use of pre-analysis plans in prospective research – prospectively designed studies. If we think those are useful and we think there’s good conceptual reasons for us to be using pre-analysis plans,

Skip to 0 minutes and 22 secondsare they going to spread? If they’re objectively useful, does that mean they’re definitely going to spread? And what might encourage their spread? Like how is this going to look? How is this going to play out? Kuhn makes this distinction between two types of periods in research. There’s periods of normal science and there’s so-called episodes of scientific revolution. So periods of normal science are periods where most people kind of agree on the model, they agree on the methods and you’re doing research to advance that agenda. And the contrast is between those periods and periods where there is a sharp change in paradigm.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsOr you could think, you know, the analogy to this term is maybe a sharp change in the research methods used. And I would argue when you think about say the use of pre-analysis plans, at least in some narrow subfields, like development economics – if we think of that as a pretty fundamental change in the nature of the research, to pre-specify your hypotheses, I think it is a pretty big change. We’re much more in a rapid shift point say, around the use of that method in development economics, at least, in this very narrow field. During periods of normal science, novelties that might be useful are often suppressed.

Skip to 1 minute and 38 secondsThey challenge conceptual frameworks that everyone is using, that everyone else is basing their research on. There’s going to be a lot of insiders who have a stake in maintaining that model. Same thing with research methods. If a lot of people’s careers and their research that they have in the field right now are based on certain methods and you come along with a new method that really challenges the validity of their approach, which is certainly the case with some of the transparency approaches we’ve discussed this term, there’s inevitably going to be resistance. So I think, thinking about the history of science is very useful.

Skip to 2 minutes and 8 secondsWhen we think of our own field and the fact that there’s a lot of resistance to new methods that seem so useful, this isn’t the first time. This is how it always goes. So why are approaches eventually adopted? Well he points to a couple of things. First they have to be useful. They have to solve a problem that’s sort of a recognized problem. If they don’t do that, they’re really not going to be... even if they are interesting or conceptually attractive, if they’re not solving a concrete problem, they’re not going to be adopted he says.

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 secondsThe second critical point and I want to emphasize this, it’s pretty interesting. Really the key thing to the spread of new tools, intellectually, when you look at how new approaches have spread in academic fields and in the scientific field, has been through training the next generation. That’s actually how new ideas spread. When the next generation is adopting a tool, it’s going to become widespread. So the scholars who train lots of students effectively, have a lot of say in the direction of the field. They have a disproportionate say in the direction of the field. So you’re not just competing for the hearts and minds of your colleagues, you’re sort of competing for the hearts and minds of your students.

Skip to 3 minutes and 25 secondsThe only way change happens and the only way you get a paradigm shift, you know this is Kuhn’s famous contribution – is coming up with that terminology– is through competition between segments of the intellectual community or the scholarly community. That’s just how it goes. A good idea, with predictive power, that’s useful isn’t going to be widely adopted without some sort of competition within the scholarly community.

The evolution of scientific practice and methods

American physicist and philosopher Dr. Thomas Kuhn wrote about the history of science, and particularly about how scientific revolutions came about. Professor Miguel very much believes that the social science community is experiencing a rapid paradigm shift in regards to research transparency. In this video, he discusses how new practices are adopted and how scientists can drive change.

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This video is from the free online course:

Transparent and Open Social Science Research

University of California, Berkeley