Opinion Paper - Special Collection: Open Science Practices - a vision for the future of SAJIP

Burning the straw man: What exactly is psychological science?

David J.F. Maree
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 45 | a1731 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v45i0.1731 | © 2019 David J.F. Maree | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 August 2019 | Published: 06 December 2019

About the author(s)

David J.F. Maree, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Problemification: Efendic and Van Zyl (2019) argue for following open access-based principles in IO psychology following the recent crises in psychological research. Among others, these refer to the failure to replicate empirical studies which cast doubt on the trustworthiness of what we believe to be psychological knowledge. However, saving knowledge is not the issue at stake: focusing on transparency and compliance to standards might solve some problems but not all.

Implications: The crisis focuses our attention on what science is and particularly science in psychology and its related disciplines. Both the scientist–practitioner model of training psychologists and the quantitative–qualitative methods polarity reveal the influence of the received or positivistic view of science as characterised by quantification and measurement. Postmodern resistance to positivism feeds these polarities and conceals the true nature of psychological science.

Purpose: This article argues for a realist conception of science that sustains a variety of methods, from interpretative and constructionist approaches to measurement. However, in this view, measurement is not a defining characteristic of science, but a way to find things out and the latter supports a critical process.

Recommendations: Revising our understanding of science, thus moving beyond the received view to a realist one, is crucial to manage misconceptions about what counts as knowledge and as appropriate measures when our discipline is in the crossfire. Thus, Efendic and Van Zyl’s (2019) proposals make sense and can be taken on board where measurement as one of the ways to find things out is appropriate. However, realism supports a broader enterprise that can be called scientific because it involves a critical movement of claim and counter-claim while executing its taxonomical and explanatory tasks. Thus, the psychosocial researcher, when analysing discourse, for example, can also be regarded as a scientist.


psychological science; realism; measurement; scientist–practitioner model; quantitative-qualitative


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