Trusting the science
In this time of vaccines and climate change, we need science to be widely trusted. Unfortunately, the social sciences are making themselves look untrustworthy by underreporting evidence against hypotheses. That is, if one would only look at all published evidence, theories appear more supported than if one would look at all collected evidence (i.e., published + unpublished evidence). Too many papers approach evidence by implicitly starting from the question: ‘What evidence could support this theory?’ or even ‘What theory could explain this evidence?’ As a result, the way in which evidence is surprising is underemphasized. The psychological and social reasons for the popularity of that approach I would summarize as: the need for a smooth and catchy storyline.
Recent study discovers obvious fact
Published research is often so strong in creating a smooth and catchy storyline that readers wonder whether the main insight wasn’t obvious from the beginning. My open access publication at the Journal of Trial and Error introduces ‘complementary explanation’; an approach to engage with nonobvious evidence as the main storyline. The paper provides beginners a step by step instruction manual to start thinking about evidence this way.
Published research is often so strong in creating a smooth and catchy storyline that readers wonder whether the main insight wasn’t obvious from the beginning.
Complementary explanation brings balance
Complementary explanation takes a piece, or multiple related pieces, of published evidence and invites you to ask yourself: ‘for which theory would this evidence be surprising?’. In this way, that evidence is connected to a theory that it would otherwise not be connected to, and we realize the way in which the evidence is surprising whereas the evidence seemed obvious from the perspective of the theory with the smooth storyline. Crucially, in this way, a theory is connected to evidence against it, forcing an adjustment (i.e., advancement). That counteracts underreporting and leads to an overall more balanced view of the evidence for a theory, which helps make science more reliable. I hope everyone, from professors to MSc students, will have complementary explanation as a tool in their toolbox to engage more deeply with evidence, and to make evidence more engaging for readers.
On the open science framework you can find an example paper that applies complementary explanation to a collection of evidence related to organizational theories. That example paper demonstrates the promise of complementary explanation by showing how it helps suggest specific adjustments to some key premises in the theories.