What happened to Popperian falsification? Publishing neutral and negative findings

Arjen van Witteloostuijn (Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands and Antwerp Management School, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium and Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

Cross Cultural & Strategic Management

ISSN: 2059-5794

Publication date: 1 August 2016

Abstract

Purpose

Current publication practices in the scholarly (International) Business and Management community are overwhelmingly anti-Popperian, which fundamentally frustrates the production of scientific progress. This is the result of at least five related biases: the verification, novelty, normal science, evidence, and market biases. As a result, no one is really interested in replicating anything. In this essay, the author extensively argues what he believes is wrong, why that is so, and what we might do about this. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

This is an essay, combining a literature review with polemic argumentation.

Findings

Only a tiny fraction of published studies involve a replication effort. Moreover, journal authors, editors, reviewers and readers are not interested in seeing nulls and negatives in print. This replication crisis implies that Popper’s critical falsification principle is actually thrown into the scientific community’s dustbin. Behind the façade of all these so-called new discoveries, false positives abound, as do questionable research practices meant to produce all this allegedly cutting-edge and groundbreaking significant findings. If this dismal state of affairs does not change for the good, (International) Business and Management research is ending up in a deadlock.

Research limitations/implications

A radical cultural change in the scientific community, including (International) Business and Management, is badly needed. It should be in the community’s DNA to engage in the quest for the “truth” – nothing more, nothing less. Such a change must involve all stakeholders: scholars, editors, reviewers, and students, but also funding agencies, research institutes, university presidents, faculty deans, department chairs, journalists, policymakers, and publishers. In the words of Ioannidis (2012, p. 647): “Safeguarding scientific principles is not something to be done once and for all. It is a challenge that needs to be met successfully on a daily basis both by single scientists and the whole scientific establishment.”

Practical implications

Publication practices have to change radically. For instance, editorial policies should dispose of their current overly dominant pro-novelty and pro-positives biases, and explicitly encourage the publication of replication studies, including failed and unsuccessful ones that report null and negative findings.

Originality/value

This is an explicit plea to change the way the scientific research community operates, offering a series of concrete recommendations what to do before it is too late.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Note that this essay only relates to issues intrinsic to the scientific community, which Tsui (2016) refers to as epistemic values. The author ' s thought-provoking essay provides a critical analysis of non-epistemic issues in the context of business schools, arguing that business school research is disconnected from practice and featuring a large pro-management bias. Basically, a growing unease can be observed between the practice-oriented focus of business school teaching vis-à-vis the science-obsessed orientation of Business and Management research (cf. Shapiro et al., 2007; Corley and Gioia, 2011; Ghoshal, 2005; Sarasvathy, 2003; Starbuck, 2004; Tsui, 2013, 2015; Walsh et al., 2003). In an attempt to counter the practice-science disconnect, Public Administration Review promotes the publication of reviews of scholarly articles by practitioners.This essay is based on a manifesto the author wrote in the Summer of 2015 (www.change.org/p/the-scientific-community-change-the-way-we-conduct-reportand- publish-our-research). After circulating an earlier draft of this manifesto among colleagues, the author received many responses. The author gratefully acknowledges the very constructive and supportive comments provided by Jean-Luc Arregle, Reinhard Bachmann, Julian Birkinshaw, Wouter van Bockhaven, Arjen Boin, Arjan van den Born, Bas Bosma, Steven Brakman, Boukje Cnossen, Per Davidsson, Gerald Davis, Marcus Dejardin, Desilava Dikova, Lorraine Eden, Karen Elliott, Marc Esteve, Dries Faems, Peer Fiss, Koen Frenken, César Garcia-Diaz, Vasiliki Gargalianou, Harry Garretsen, Richard Haans, Michael Hannan, Anne-Wil Harzing, Benson Honig, Ann Jorissen, Wesley Kaufmann, Pim van Klink, Ruud Koning, Gerwin van der Laan, Joseph Lampel, Peter Leefland, Tim de Leeuw, Arie Lewin, Min Liu, Ellen Loots, Huigh van der Mandele, Katrin Mühlfeld, Giacomo Negro, Woody van Olffen, Kim Van Overvelt, Simon Parker, Gábor Péli, Jolien Philipsen, Padma Rao Sahib, Stephanie Rosenkranz, Saraï Sapulete, Joke Schrauwen, Jesse Segers, Tal Simons, Arndt Sorge, Linda Steg, David Storey, Doan Tru Trang, Anne Tsui, Rosalie Tung, Diemo Urbig, Johanna Vanderstraeten, Andy Van de Ven, Utz Weitzel, and Vicky Van Woensel. Of course, the usual disclaimer applies.

Citation

van Witteloostuijn, A. (2016), "What happened to Popperian falsification? Publishing neutral and negative findings", Cross Cultural & Strategic Management, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 481-508. https://doi.org/10.1108/CCSM-03-2016-0084

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