Cohen’s convention and the body of knowledge in behavioral science


In the context of discovery-oriented hypothesis testing research, behavioral scientists widely accept a convention for false positive (α) and false negative error rates (β) proposed by Jacob Cohen, who deemed the general relative seriousness of the antecedently accepted α = 0.05 to be matched by β = 0.20. Cohen’s convention not only ignores contexts of hypothesis testing where the more serious error is the β-error. Cohen’s convention also implies for discovery-oriented hypothesis testing research that a statistically significant observed effect is four times more probable to be a mistaken discovery than for a statistically significant true observed effect to be independently replicable. In the long run, Cohen’s convention thus is epistemically harmful to the development of a progressive science of human behavior, making its acceptance crucial in explaining the replication crisis in behavioral science. The balance between α- and β-errors generally ought to be struck using both epistemic and practical considerations. Yet epistemic considerations alone imply that making a genuine contribution to the body of knowledge in behavioral science requires error rates that are not only small but also symmetrical.

Author Profiles

Aran Arslan
Bogazici University
Frank Zenker
Nankai University


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