Generalization Bias in Science

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Abstract
Many scientists routinely generalize from study samples to larger populations. It is commonly assumed that this cognitive process of scientific induction is a voluntary inference in which researchers assess the generalizability of their data and then draw conclusions accordingly. Here we challenge this view and argue for a novel account. The account describes scientific induction as involving by default a generalization bias that operates automatically and frequently leads researchers to unintentionally generalize their findings without sufficient evidence. The result is unwarranted, overgeneralized conclusions. We support this account of scientific induction by integrating a range of disparate findings from across the cognitive sciences that have until now not been connected to research on the nature of scientific induction. The view that scientific induction involves by default a generalization bias calls for a revision of our current thinking about scientific induction and highlights an overlooked cause of the replication crisis in the sciences. Commonly proposed interventions to tackle scientific overgeneralizations that may feed into this crisis need to be supplemented with cognitive debiasing strategies to most effectively improve science.
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Archival date: 2022-08-03
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2022-08-03

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