01 August 2008

Hypothetically speaking

Times Higher EducationOver in Time Higher Education, there's an article by Tim Birkhead of note. He writes:

The scientific research councils seem to be obsessed by hypothesis testing.

The little bit about "research councils" is something that casual readers might miss. What Birkhead is really bitching about is not hypothesis testing. It's about money.

This point become a little clearer here:

The entire funding strategy by the research councils is risk averse.

Again, this has little to do with hypothesis testing, and a lot with the amount of available resources. "Research councils" are government agencies. As such, they are accountable to people who tend to have a very dim view of research in the first place. In times of restraint, many will favour the safe bet, the guaranteed return, rather than the boom and bust excitement of investing in long shots.

As someone who has suffered at the end of the grant killing phrase "too descriptive" more than I'd care to recall, I'm sympathetic. But to blame hypothesis testing as too limiting is wrong.

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