9.401 | Fall 2022 | Graduate

Tools for Robust Science

Week 1 Challenge: What Are We Trying to Do Here?

The Challenge

We have chosen to be here, to spend our time and energy doing scientific research. Many of us have idealistic motivations and aspirations: we want to make true discoveries, build cumulative knowledge, and translate this knowledge into social goods like medicines, devices, or policies. Yet in reality, scientists have often failed to live up to these aspirations, because of bad habits and bad institutions. How can we ‘reform’ science? Can we critique science and make it better from within? Can we do it without becoming nihilists, without breaking what works, without destroying public trust? 


To be completed by Day 1:

Optional extra reading:

de Menard, A. (2020). “What’s Wrong with Social Science and How to Fix It: Reflections After Reading 2578 Papers.”

de Menard writes [sic]: “Criticizing bad science from an abstract, 10000-foot view is pleasant: you hear about some stuff that doesn’t replicate, some methodologies that seem a bit silly. “They should improve their methods”, “p-hacking is bad”, “we must change the incentives”, you declare Zeuslike from your throne in the clouds, and then go on with your day. But actually diving into the sea of trash that is social science gives you a more tangible perspective, a more visceral revulsion, and perhaps even a sense of Lovecraftian awe at the sheer magnitude of it all: a vast landfill—a great agglomeration of garbage extending as far as the eye can see, effluvious waves crashing and throwing up a foul foam of p=0.049 papers. As you walk up to the diving platform, the deformed attendant hands you a pair of flippers. Noticing your reticence, he gives a subtle nod as if to say: “come on then, jump in”.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2022
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments