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Med Care. 2004 Jan;42(1 Suppl):I7-16.

Controversy and the Rasch model: a characteristic of incompatible paradigms?

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  • 1School of Education, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia, Australia.


The development of Rasch models in educational and psychologic measurement in the 1960s coincided with the introduction of other similar models, now described as models of item response theory (IRT). The application of IRT models has now extended to other social sciences, including health. Originally, there was substantial controversy between those who saw Rasch models as simply special cases of IRT models and those who saw them as essentially different. Because these different perspectives continue to manifest themselves in various ways, it seems relevant to understand the source of the original controversy. This paper attempts to do so by invoking Kuhn's studies in the history and philosophy of science at 3 levels. First, it suggests that the 2 perspectives reflect Kuhn's concept of legitimate, incompatible paradigms in which controversy is a typical manifestation. Second, because Kuhn recognizes individual histories in the development of paradigms, Rasch's own shift in perspective is summarized. Third, because proponents of the Rasch models emphasize the models' compatibility with fundamental measurement found in physical science, an analogy is made between how Kuhn explains the role of measurement in the physical sciences and how proponents of Rasch models explain the role of these models in the social sciences. In particular, these roles cannot be gleaned from textbooks in science and statistics, respectively.

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