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Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Stephen Walt
Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs
phone: (617)495-5712
fax: (617)495-8963
Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR
Walt, Stephen, and John J. Mearsheimer. "Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP13-001, January 2013.
Abstract
Theory creating and hypothesis testing are both important elements of social science. Unfortunately, in recent years the balance between theory creation/refinement and the testing of empirical hypotheses has shifted sharply toward the latter. This trend is unfortunate, because insufficient attention to theory can lead to misspecified models and overreliance on misleading measures of key concepts. In addition, the poor quality of much of the data in IR makes it less likely that these efforts will produce useful cumulative knowledge. The shift away from theory and towards hypothesis testing is due mostly to the professionalization of academia, and this trend is likely to continue unless there is a collective decision to alter prevailing academic incentives.
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