Why Too Many Political Science Findings Cannot Be Trusted and What We Can Do About It: A Review of Meta-Scientific Research and a Call for Academic Reform

Alexander Wuttke
  • Politische Vierteljahresschrift, November 2018, Springer Science + Business Media
  • DOI: 10.1007/s11615-018-0131-7

Can we believe political science findings? A Review of Meta-Scientific Research

What is it about?

Witnessing the ongoing “credibility revolutions” in other disciplines, also political science should engage in meta-scientific introspection. Theoretically, this commentary describes why scientists ­in academia’s current incentive system work against their self-interest if they prioritize research credibility. Empirically, a comprehensive review of meta-scientific research with a focus on quantitative political science demonstrates that threats to the credibility of political science findings are systematic and real. Yet, the review also shows the discipline’s recent progress toward more credible research. The commentary proposes specific institutional changes to better align individual researcher rationality with the collective good of verifiable, robust, and valid scientific results.

Why is it important?

Political science helps understand the intricacies of social life and informs politicians as well as citizens in their efforts to change it to the better. However, political science faces increasing scrutiny by the public and other stakeholders who question the discipline’s capacity to meet these goals (Elman et al. 2018). Responding to such skepticism along the principles of the scientific enterprise means to respond with a sober evaluation of the practices and outcomes of academic knowledge creation, that is, to employ the method of social inquiry on ourselves. Based on a framework to assess the credibility of scientific findings, this article reviewed the meta-scientific evidence with a focus on the quantitative political science literature. The main result of these meta-scientific inquiries is that a significant portion of examined studies do not meet one or several credibility criteria.

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The following have contributed to this page: Alexander Wuttke