In early 2016, Raymond Hubbard, Professor Emeritus of Marketing at Drake University, published “Corrupt Research: The case for reconceptualizing empirical management and social science (Sage, 2016).” Like almost all works critical of social-science research, Prof. Hubbard’s work has been largely ignored in the literature, despite his sterling reputation in other areas of marketing and social science. I reviewed the book for Amazon, and this is what I said:
Raymond Hubbard has written an exceptional book, aptly and appropriately entitled “Corrupt Research.” It should become a classic like that of Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” written over 50 years ago—Hubbard’s scholarship is beyond reproach, his writing is clear, his conclusions are justified by meticulously researched evidence, summarized section-by-section, and cumulatively build an unambiguous case against the dominant form of research methodology found in the management and social sciences. That methodology is based on Null Hypothesis Significance Testing (NHST) and the wildly incorrect and unjustified mythology that has built up around NHST over time. Hubbard refers to these fatally flawed practices as the “significant difference” model.
Hubbard’s contrasting model is “significant sameness.” Significant sameness is based on demonstrations of effect size, use of confidence intervals, statistical power, and above all, independent replication by groups or through serial individual studies over time. Unlike the one-shot studies nearly always reported by the social-science journals, this is a model that takes time and perseverance to conduct, along with a supporting system of editorial practices, academic promotion criteria, accreditation criteria, and individual values that emphasize true scientific discovery over a lengthy vita. Hubbard takes all of these into account, and his conclusions are sobering.
This book should be read by anyone with an interest in science, not just social scientists. One reason for this recommendation is that Hubbard shows that the flaws of the significant difference model can spread to fields of research beyond just the management and social sciences. Indeed, I had optimistically written in one of my papers on this issue that other fields such as biomedicine, pharmaceutical research, environmental studies, and others, had put up safeguards against the methodological rot that characterizes the social sciences, especially NHST; in the past few years, I have come to fear that such optimism is unwarranted, and that the rot is spreading. As Marcia Angell, former chief editor of the New England Journal of Medicine put it in 2009, “…Similar conflicts of interest and biases exist in virtually every field of medicine, particularly those that rely heavily on drugs or devices. It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.” While Angell was primarily concerned with the distorting effects of pharmaceutical-firm financial support of research, that problem is also confounded with the pressure to publish and maintain a grant-worthy reputation that is paralleled within the social sciences that concern Hubbard. Through this and other mechanisms, the rot of the social sciences finds a prepared and ready growth medium. While people can safely ignore the rubbish produced by the social sciences, in these fields, the rot kills people.
Another reason this book should be widely read is that Hubbard clearly demonstrates that science can and does become entrapped by its own myths. One myth is that science is self-correcting; another is that peer review is the ultimate test of quality and guarantor of it. Neither of these is true, especially the myths surrounding peer review, the mechanism by which self-correction is presumed to occur. If I had been the editor of this book, I think I would have encouraged Hubbard to expand this issue into a full chapter. He correctly points out that peer review is not an assurance that published work is free of mistakes, and that it often prevents, rather than encourages, innovative and original work. Peer review is done by peers, and in the case of the social sciences, this group consists almost exclusively of authors who have published with the journals, which then expect them to review the work of others. This is one of the principle mechanisms by which the production and promulgation of garbage continues. Peer review has been powerless to stop it, because peer review itself has become corrupt—everything that an author does is subject to evaluation by those who have already won favor by complying with the criteria of the corrupt social science model. This is a very effective self-reinforcing circle, but not one capable of detecting or correcting internal mistakes.
This is not the only excellent book on this subject, but in my view is the best single reference to date on all that is wrong with the statistical difference model, and it is concise and pointedly written as well. In my blog I refer to this model as the Generally Accepted Soft Social Science Publishing Process, or the GASSSPP, and it is clearly not scientific. Hubbard covers all aspects of the GASSSPP and shows how (and often how badly) they depart from the model of statistical sameness. He also makes numerous suggestions that could move the field toward doing valid work, and these should be taken very seriously by academic researchers.
Whether that will be the case remains to be seen. Like me, and like most others in the field who have spoken out against the false beliefs of NHST and the corrupt practices of the significant difference model, he has been largely disregarded by other social scientists. As he states, he expected to “suffer a harsh reception” when he published this book, but in personal communication with me, he has found that he has simply been ignored.
Finally, this book is a sobering story of the corruption of academia and practitioners of social science. Over the years I have encountered administrators and colleagues who, when confronted with the deep flaws of the GASSSPP, have responded with lame comments like, “Well, it may be wrong, but this is what we do.” We reward junk scientists, and punish those who want to see change. Eventually, false science will be found out, and when the truth about current research practices is widely realized the large majority of social scientists today, including many of academia’s biggest names, will be regarded as the Lysenkos of social science. Raymond Hubbard, to his great credit, will not be among them.
Reference: Angell, Marcia, “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption.” New York Review of Books, January 15, 2009.