The Replication Crisis is Less of a “Crisis” in Lakatos’ Philosophy of Science

Abstract

Popper’s (1983, 2002) philosophy of science has enjoyed something of a renaissance in the wake of the replication crisis, offering a philosophical basis for the ensuing science reform movement. However, adherence to Popper’s approach may also be at least partly responsible for the sense of “crisis” that has developed following multiple unexpected replication failures. In this article, I contrast Popper’s approach with Lakatos’ (1978) approach and a related approach called naïve methodological falsificationism (NMF; Lakatos, 1978). The Popperian approach is powerful because it is based on logical refutation, but its theories are noncausal and, therefore, lacking in scientific value. In contrast, the Lakatosian approach considers causal theories, but it concedes that these theories are not logically refutable. Finally, the NMF approach subjects Lakatosian causal theories to Popperian logical refutations. However, its approach of temporarily accepting a ceteris paribus clause during theory testing may be viewed as scientifically inappropriate, epistemically inconsistent, and “completely redundant” (Lakatos, 1978, p. 40). I conclude that the replication “crisis” makes the most sense in the context of the Popperian and NMF approaches because it is only in these two approaches that replication failures represent logical refutations of theories. In contrast, replication failures are less problematic in the Lakatosian approach because they do not logically refute theories. Indeed, in the Lakatosian approach, replication failures can be legitimately ignored or used to motivate theory development.

Author's Profile

Mark Rubin
Durham University

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