Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yes, Physics is More Scientific than Economics

One of the key definitions of science as we practice it today is falsifiability -- that is, if your assertion is scientific, it ought to be possible to prove unambiguously that you are wrong. And if your experiment or study is truly scientific, there ought to be a good chance that your hypothesis is shown to be false.

The authors of this study tried to measure how often researchers in different disciplines report negative results:
Controlling for observed differences between pure and applied disciplines, and between papers testing one or several hypotheses, the odds of reporting a positive result were around 5 times higher among papers in the disciplines of Psychology and Psychiatry and Economics and Business compared to Space Science, 2.3 times higher in the domain of social sciences compared to the physical sciences, and 3.4 times higher in studies applying behavioural and social methodologies on people compared to physical and chemical studies on non-biological material. In all comparisons, biological studies had intermediate values.
Obviously "controlling for observed differences between pure and applied disciplines" could conceal a lot of hand waving, but the result makes sense. The squishier your field of research, the easier it is for you to twist a negative or ambiguous result into an affirmation of your beliefs.

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