Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Theory Development as the Sport of Football

Three years ago, I had a thought which I crystallized here. Yesterday during a conversation with a grad student, I came up with a nice new metaphor for much the same idea.

Research is like the game of football. The American kind. Those who know the game will recognize the very different connotations of the two basic strategies that a team on offense can take -- the passing game and the running game. A team that chooses to play the passing game is going for impact and beauty. Scything arcs of soaring balls cutting deep swathes through the defense as the team advances in long damaging steps down the field. Research works similarly at times -- insights that break radical new ground; experiments that shatter preconceived notions with their elegance, simplicity, and parsimony.

It doesn't happen that way always. Much of the time, a team chooses to play the running game. Put their heads down, and push, struggle, and compete for every inch of bloody churning mud. And that's what happens in research as well. You put your head down and push, struggle and fight to make the data confess.

When one sees a presentation or reads a paper, it almost inevitably appears to have been produced in one sharp swell of insight. Indeed, that is how almost all completed research is generally presented. What's important is to remember that it is the touchdown we're witnessing, not the process that led to it.

Happy quarterbacking.


Blogger MockTurtle said...

So who is on the defensive team in this paradigm?

6/23/2009 10:46 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

brilliant, i guess it's Life, but this is the reason i hesitated about posting this before thinking it through properly. only doing so bec of scout's admonition.

6/24/2009 9:50 AM  
Blogger gaddeswarup said...
Jonah Lehrer has some thoughts on this and also in his recent book. May help to collect your thoughts.

6/24/2009 2:45 PM  
Blogger ??! said...

This is perfect for a PhDComics idea! Must to be submitting.

And I know just what you mean. Having seen five friends struggle through their PhD's recently, I totally get the running game part.

6/24/2009 7:01 PM  
Blogger km said...

Scything arcs of soaring balls cutting deep swathes through the defense as the team advances in long damaging steps down the field.

Very neat (and I'm no PhD in anything).

6/24/2009 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about special teams?

6/26/2009 11:36 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

thanks as always :-)



ha! yes, big lacuna :-D

6/27/2009 12:44 AM  

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