Working principles: Building scientific memories in social research

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Internal and external validity of experimental and quasi-experimental research
are both essential in the evaluation of interventions; this is true in such
diverse practices as social policy and pharmacology. However, they may
trade-off if the quest for internal validity brings about the treatment of
contextual variables – that helped to make or fail the intervention – as
competing with the intervention instead of necessary for its success. Investment
in internal validity takes the form of many types of correction for bias,
often obscuring the role of contextual factors.
As helping factors make or break the intervention, they should rather be
treated as causal factors of interest no less than the intervention. I claim that,
only then, the conclusions of the (quasi)experiment can serve to gain knowledge
of working principles in a variety of contexts.
Correction for bias is useful, but only if the evaluation of the success of an
intervention is theory driven. Ex ante explanatory hypotheses must be the
starting point of evaluation research and testing them the object of it. Thus,
the empirical cycle is covered entirely. If no theoretical hypotheses guide the
questions of evaluation research, all we will learn is that ‘most interventions
sometimes work’, to speak with Pawson and Tilley (1997). What we are left
with is little more than meaningless intervention-impact couples that cover
half the empirical cycle lacking any cognitive value.
Translated title of the contributionWorking principles: Building scientific memories in social research
Original languageDutch
Pages (from-to)123-143
Number of pages21
JournalAlgemeen Nederlands tijdschrift voor wijsbegeerte
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22-Jan-2017

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