Display Settings:

Format

Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
PLoS One. 2010 Apr 7;5(4):e10068. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0010068.

"Positive" results increase down the Hierarchy of the Sciences.

Author information

  • INNOGEN and ISSTI-Institute for the Study of Science, Technology & Innovation, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom. dfanelli@staffmail.ed.ac.uk

Abstract

The hypothesis of a Hierarchy of the Sciences with physical sciences at the top, social sciences at the bottom, and biological sciences in-between is nearly 200 years old. This order is intuitive and reflected in many features of academic life, but whether it reflects the "hardness" of scientific research--i.e., the extent to which research questions and results are determined by data and theories as opposed to non-cognitive factors--is controversial. This study analysed 2434 papers published in all disciplines and that declared to have tested a hypothesis. It was determined how many papers reported a "positive" (full or partial) or "negative" support for the tested hypothesis. If the hierarchy hypothesis is correct, then researchers in "softer" sciences should have fewer constraints to their conscious and unconscious biases, and therefore report more positive outcomes. Results confirmed the predictions at all levels considered: discipline, domain and methodology broadly defined. 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. These results suggest that the nature of hypotheses tested and the logical and methodological rigour employed to test them vary systematically across disciplines and fields, depending on the complexity of the subject matter and possibly other factors (e.g., a field's level of historical and/or intellectual development). On the other hand, these results support the scientific status of the social sciences against claims that they are completely subjective, by showing that, when they adopt a scientific approach to discovery, they differ from the natural sciences only by a matter of degree.

PMID:
20383332
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2850928
Free PMC Article

Images from this publication.See all images (5)Free text

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

0 comments
How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk