Pre-registration: The Naysayers Strike Back!

[Excerpts taken from the preprint, “Preregistration is redundant, at best” by Aba Szollosi et al., posted at PsyArXiv Preprints]
“The key implication argued by proponents of preregistration is that it improves the diagnosticity of statistical tests…In the strong version of this argument, preregistration does this by solving statistical problems, such as family-wise error rates. In the weak version, it nudges people to think more deeply about their theories, methods, and analyses.”
“We argue against both: the diagnosticity of statistical tests depend entirely on how well statistical models map onto underlying theories, and so improving statistical techniques does little to improve theories when the mapping is weak. There is also little reason to expect that preregistration will spontaneously help researchers to develop better theories.”
“Solving statistical problems with preregistration does not compensate for weak theory. Imagine making a random prediction regarding the outcome of an experiment. Should we observe the predicted outcome, we would not regard this “theory” as useful for making subsequent predictions. Why should we regard it as better if it was preregistered?”
“On the other hand…there is nothing inherently problematic about post-hoc scientific inference when theories are strong. The crucial difference is that strong scientific inference requires that post-hoc explanations are tested just as rigorously as ones generated before an experiment — for example, by a collection of post-hoc tests that evaluate the many regularities implied by a novel theory…There is no reason not to take such post-hoc theories seriously just because they were thought of after or were not preregistered before an experiment was conducted.”
“Although preregistration does not require the improvement of theories, many argue that it at least nudges researchers to think more deeply about how to improve their theories. Though this might sometimes be so, there is no clear explanation for why we should expect it to happen.”
“One possible explanation is that researchers are motivated to improve their theories should they encounter problems when preregistering a study or when preregistered predictions are not observed. The problem with this line of argument is that any improvement depends upon a good understanding of how to improve a theory, and preregistration provides no such understanding.”
“Taking preregistration as a measure of scientific excellence can be harmful, because bad theories, methods, and analyses can also be preregistered. Requiring or rewarding the act of preregistration is not worthwhile when its presumed benefits can be achieved without it just as well.”
“…statistical methods are just tools to test implications derived from theory. Therefore, such statistical problems become irrelevant because theories, not random selection, dictate what comparisons are necessary.”
“Issues that prevent criticism of theory, such as poor operationalization, imprecise measurement, and weak connection between theory and statistical methods, need our attention instead of problems with statistical inference.”
To read the article, click here.

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