American Sociological Association

The Emergence of Statistical Objectivity: Changing Ideas of Epistemic Vice and Virtue in Science

The meaning of objectivity in any specific setting reflects historically situated understandings of both science and self. Recently, various scientific fields have confronted growing mistrust about the replicability of findings, and statistical techniques have been deployed to articulate a “crisis of false positives.” In response, epistemic activists have invoked a decidedly economic understanding of scientists’ selves. This has prompted a scientific social movement of proposed reforms, including regulating disclosure of “backstage” research details and enhancing incentives for replication. We theorize that together, these events represent the emergence of a new formulation of objectivity. Statistical objectivity assesses the integrity of research literatures in the results observed in collections of studies rather than the methodological details of individual studies and thus positions meta-analysis as the ultimate arbiter of scientific objectivity. Statistical objectivity presents a challenge to scientific communities and raises new questions for sociological theory about tensions between quantification and expertise.

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Jeremy Freese and David Peterson





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