IPT Book Reviews

Title: Replication Research in the Social Sciences   Positive Review
Editor: James W. Neuliep
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc. 1991

Sage Publications, Inc.
2455 Teller Rd.
Newbury Park, CA 91320
$49.95 (c) / $24.00 (p)
  

Description:

Originally this 517-page book was published as a special edition of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality.  It now appears as a paperback book by Sage Publications.  Their choice to make this material more broadly available is a good one that should be applauded by social scientists.  It is in keeping with their claim to be the "International Professional Publishers."

There are 36 chapters by different authors.  The pages are densely packed with a type face that is rather small but nonetheless clear and legible.  The first 90 pages present eight chapters that deal with the basic issue of replication of scientific studies.  These selections discuss the importance of replication, what replication is, the "file drawer" problem, how to tell when replication has occurred, and the bias of journal editors against publishing studies that are replications.  The second section contains seven reports of classic replications; the third section, ten reports of replications in psychology; the fourth section, replications in the study of communication; and the final section, four reports of replications in other disciplines.
  

Discussion:

At least the first portion of this book should be read and carefully studied by all professionals who are consumers of research done in the behavioral sciences.  This includes mental health professionals, attorneys, judges, journalists, law enforcement personnel, and any others whose lives may be affected by the quality and reliability of what is held out to be research data.  In the justice system, popular media, and in dealing with social change, there is a perception of research data that is often limited, possibly incorrect, and potentially damaging.  Research studies are treated like hits in a baseball game, each one a separate, independent event where the average appears to have some currency but what really counts is the box score.  Therefore, often in a courtroom research studies are treated as matching points in a ball game or a tennis match.  "Well, you have that study but I have this one.  So there!"  The listener or, in many cases, the finder of fact, is then left in the position of totting up the bottom line to decide which side wins.  This book will correct such misconceptions.

Possibly the most disconcerting finding reported in the book is the demonstration that there truly is a bias against publishing replications.  This means there is little or no chance for what is supposed to be the self-correcting nature of science to work.  The implications of this may be seen in the furor over the cold fusion experiments.  If the failure to replicate the claims of successful cold fusion had never been published, the entire world could be going down a fruitless path of spending billions on atomic fusion plants with no possibility of producing energy.  Basing decisions on single, unreplicated studies is likely to result in undetermined amounts of error.  If there is evidence of failure to replicate but it is buried somewhere, it may then be a long time before it is understood that error has taken place.

After the first section of this book, the reports of replication studies flesh out and illustrate the problems in replication, assist in learning how to tell when replication has, in fact, taken place, and increase the ability to differentiate credible research from research which should be treated more circumspectly and cautiously.  Learning the concepts about what constitutes good research makes it possible to ask appropriate questions and probe the understanding of a witness who is presenting a claim purported to be based on research evidence.  A discrimination can be made between research data that are strong and credible and those which are weak or unsupported.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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