When Does HARKing Hurt? Identifying When Different Types of Undisclosed Post Hoc Hypothesizing Harm Scientific Progress

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Abstract

Hypothesizing after the results are known, or HARKing, occurs when researchers check their research results and then add or remove hypotheses on the basis of those results without acknowledging this process in their research report (Kerr, 1998). In the present article, I discuss 3 forms of HARKing: (a) using current results to construct post hoc hypotheses that are then reported as if they were a priori hypotheses; (b) retrieving hypotheses from a post hoc literature search and reporting them as a priori hypotheses; and (c) failing to report a priori hypotheses that are unsupported by the current results. These 3 types of HARKing are often characterized as being bad for science and a potential cause of the current replication crisis. In the present article, I use insights from the philosophy of science to present a more nuanced view. Specifically, I identify the conditions under which each of these 3 types of HARKing is most and least likely to be bad for science. I conclude with a brief discussion about the ethics of each type of HARKing.

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