Analytic Transparency, Radical Honesty, and Strategic Incentives
by Sean Yom, Temple University
This article considers the role of transparency in political science. Recent calls for greater transparency compel political scientists to be radically honest in how they operate behind the scenes, including how they test hypotheses and infer conclusions. The rules of mainstream scholarship require strict adherence to scientific procedures that prevent tampering with results or changing arguments just to appear more significant. However, being truthful about what one actually did for any given project hurts one’s chances for publication: journals want to present articles that read like elegant scientific protocol reminiscent of physics or medicine – not messy human endeavors in which the befuddled political scientist admits to have constantly shuttled back-and-forth between theory and data. Yet this article suggests that many kinds of political science research require a messy, iterative, and open-ended mentality that simply does not comport with the stricter versions of “scientific” inquiry. Further, if political scientists are truly serious about being radically honest, they can implement aggressive safeguards. For instance, they can document each step of the research process with an online clearinghouse, or allow for real-time monitoring such as keystroke logging for statistical programming. The lack of enthusiasm for such protections is telling.