The Mismatch of Intrinsic Fluctuations and the Static Assumptions of Linear Statistics

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 12 (1):149-173 (2021)
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The social and cognitive science replication crisis is partly due to the limitations of commonly used statistical tools. Inferential statistics require that unsystematic measurement variation is independent of system history, and weak relative to systematic or causal sources of variation. However, contemporary systems research underscores the dynamic, adaptive nature of social, cognitive, and behavioral systems. Variation in human activity includes the influences of intrinsic dynamics intertwined with changing contextual circumstances. Conventional inferential techniques presume milder forms of variability, such as unsystematic measurement error, as in a Gaussian distribution. Inferential statistics indicate an elementary Newtonian cause-effect metaphor for change that is inconsistent with known principles of change in complex systems. Pattern formation in self-organizing systems and quantum probability are used to illustrate theoretical metaphors that instantiate alternative notions of change in complex systems. Inferential statistics and related techniques are crucial scientific resources. However, in the social and behavioral sciences, they must be practiced in conjunction with an appropriate general systems framework that accommodates intrinsic fluctuations and contextual adaptation.



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