Predicting the Popularity of Obvious Methods
By Bryan Caplan
Imagine a Question in social science.
The Question can be analyzed using an Obvious Method – a simple, standard approach that social scientists have used for decades.
The Question has a Welcome Answer – an answer that the typical social scientist wants to hear.
What determines the popularity of the Obvious Method?
Here’s my simple cynical theory:
1. If the Obvious Method yields the Welcome Answer, the Obvious Method will be popular.
2. If the Obvious Method fails to yield the Welcome Answer, the Obvious Method will be unpopular.
If #2 holds, then:
3. If a Non-Obvious Method yields the Welcome Answer, the Non-Obvious Method will be popular.
4. If no Non-Obvious Method yields the Welcome Answer, the Question will be unpopular.
My model clearly doesn’t explain everything. Some academics really do love methodological sophistication for its own sake. But I still think my model explains a lot of question-by-question variation in researchers’ methodological finickiness.
Do you see what I see? Please offer disconfirming as well as confirming examples.