Tag Archives: theory

Special guest at the Metascience 2019 Symposium at Stanford University, CA

On the back of the Nature Human Behaviour article on psychology’s Problem in Theory, I was invited as a Special Guest to the Metascience 2019 Symposium at Stanford University, CA. The meeting was designed as formative meeting for metascience as a discipline. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking conferences to which I’ve been. I tweeted some highlights and a few of my thoughts in relation to the problem in theory:

See more by searching Twitter for #metascience2019

More details from the conference website:


Carl Bergstrom (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford, UK), Annette N. Brown (Family Health International 360, Durham, USA), Tim Errington (Center for Open Science, Charlottesville, USA), James Evans (University of Chicago, USA), Daniele Fanelli (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK), Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne, AU), Jacob Foster (University of California, Los Angeles, USA), Andrew Gelman (Columbia University, New York, USA), Steven Goodman (Stanford University, USA), Daniel Kahneman (Princeton University, USA), Zoltán Kekecs (Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, HU), Carole Lee (University of Washington, Seattle, USA), Edward Miguel (University of California, Berkeley, USA), Staša Milojević (Indiana University, Bloomington, USA), Michèle Nuijten (Tilburg University, NL), Cailin O’Connor (University of California, Irvine, USA), Adam Russell (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Arlington, USA), Marta Sales-Pardo (Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, ES), Melissa Schilling (New York University, USA), Jonathan Schooler (University of California, Santa Barbara, USA), Dean Keith Simonton (University of California, Davis, USA), Roberta Sinatra (IT University of Copenhagen, DK), Paula Stephan (Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA), Simine Vazire (University of California, Davis, USA), Bernhard Voekl (University of Bern, CH), Jan Walleczek (Phenoscience Laboratories, Berlin, DE), Shirley Wang (Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA), Jevin West (University of Washington, USA), Yang Yang (Northwestern University, Evanston, USA)


Christie Aschwanden (Emergent Form, USA), Lisa Feldman Barrett (Northeastern University, Boston, USA), Richard Harris (National Public Radio, Washington, USA), Chonnettia Jones (Wellcome Trust, London, UK), Stephanie Lee (BuzzFeed News, New York, USA), Arthur Lupia (National Science Foundation, Alexandria, USA), Ivan Oransky (Retraction Watch, New York, USA), Dawid Potgieter (Templeton World Charity Foundation. Nassau, BS), Norbert Schwarz (University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA), Kathleen Vohs (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, USA), Jonathan Yewdell (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Bethesda, USA)


Brian Nosek (Center for Open Science, USA), Jonathan Schooler (UC Santa Barbara, USA), Jon Krosnick (Stanford Univ., USA), Leif Nelson (UC Berkeley, USA), Jan Walleczek (Phenoscience Laboratories, DE)


Deborah Mayo (Virginia Tech, USA), Helen Longino (Stanford Univ., USA), Donald Hoffman (UC Irvine, USA), Rebecca Saxe (MIT, USA), Colin Camerer (Caltech, USA), Steven Goodman (Stanford Univ., USA), Stephen Fiore (Univ. Central Florida, USA), Richard Harris (NPR, USA), John Protzko (UC Santa Barbara, USA)


During this decade, we have witnessed the emergence of a new discipline called metascience, metaresearch, or the science of science. Most exciting was the fact that this is emerging as a truly interdisciplinary enterprise with contributors from every domain of research. This symposium served as a formative meeting for metascience as a discipline. The meeting have brought together leading scholars that are investigating questions related to themes such as:

  • How do scientists generate ideas?
  • How are our statistics, methods, and measurement practices affecting our capacity to identify robust findings?
  • Does the distinction between exploratory and confirmatory research matter?
  • What is replication and its impact and its value?
  • How do scientists interpret and treat evidence?
  • What are the cultures and norms of science?

Theory and WEIRD scale at LEVYNA, Brno, Czechia

I gave a public lecture on “A theory of human behavior? What would it look like and what would it offer?” and a workshop talk on “Beyond WEIRD Psychology and toward an understanding of evil eye and differences in economic productivity” at the LEVYNA Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion at the Masaryk University, Brno, Czechia

The public lecture was largely based on a recent Nature Human Behaviour piece “A Problem in Theory” on the role of theory in the psychological and behavioural sciences.

The workshop talk was a more indepth discussion of a recent working paper on measuring cultural distance “Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance” (pre-print) and some in-progress follow up work somewhat based on another recent paper published in Nature Human Behaviour, with some context published in Evonomics and ProMarket (pre-print).

A Problem in Theory

Summary from Twitter thread:

New paper in Nature Human Behaviour: we argue that the replication crisis is rooted in more than methodological malpractice and statistical shenanigans. It’s also a result of a lack of a cumulative theoretical framework:


The present methodological and statistical solutions to the replication crisis will only help ensure solid stones; they don’t help us build the house. Preregistration and multiple replications(this time with larger samples!)are great, but a solution to decades of distrusted data?

Science is an abductive process with incomplete data and large to infinite space of hypotheses. Better theory can far reduce the possible or likely hypotheses and offer explanations we might not consider based on the data alone.We can’t build a cumulative science by narrowing it down with guesswork, folk intuitions, verbal logic, or our own limited (and largely WEIRD) life experience. Testing these WEIRD intuitions on WEIRD participants can be circular and misleading. Leads to general understanding?We present Dual Inheritance Theory as an example of a more systematic theoretical approach with more constrained predictions. Theory is another way to constrain researcher degrees of freedom.We deal with some common critiques and concerns at the end. Other sciences, the solid findings, applied sciences, and we’re not trained to think this way.

Here’s more critiques and concerns. Can we solve this with neuroscience, Bayesian stats, and Big Data?

Selected Media Coverage

Ars Technica

A theory of human behaviour at The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

I gave a general talk on “A theory of human behavior? What would it look like and what would it offer?” at he University of Queensland, Brisbane. I discussed various bits of research including:

Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2019). A Problem in Theory. Nature Human Behaviour. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Bell, A. V., Henrich, J., Curtin, C., Gedranovich, A., McInerney, J., & Thue, B. (under review). Beyond WEIRD Psychology: Measuring and Mapping Scales of Cultural and Psychological Distance. [Download]
Chudek, M., Muthukrishna, M. & Henrich, J. (2015) Cultural Evolution. In Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, 2nd Edition. Edited by D. M. Buss. [Download]
Muthukrishna, M., Doebeli, M., Chudek, M., & Henrich, J. (2018). The Cultural Brain Hypothesis: How culture drives brain expansion, sociality, and life history. PLOS Computational Biology, 14(11): e1006504. [Download] [Supplementary]
Stimmler, D. & Muthukrishna, M. (In prep). When Cooperation Promotes Corruption and Undermines Democracy.

As well as the Database of Religious History.