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Statistical Tests as a Hindrance to Understanding

Philipp H. Lepenies

World Development, 2018, vol. 103, issue C, 360-365

Abstract: Albert O. Hirschman’s famous Principle of the Hiding Hand describes an unconscious predisposition of project managers: Projects are launched in the belief that one is prepared for every possible future difficulty. However, some potential problems are overlooked during the planning phase and surprisingly might surface later—making it necessary to deal with them. Recently, this concept was statistically tested by Bent Flyvbjerg in World Development, who concluded that the Principle is “wrong”, “biased” and “potentially disastrous.” However, it is not the Principle of the Hiding Hand that is faulty, but the methodological approach taken by Flyvbjerg. In fact, Flyvbjerg’s analysis is a telling example of what can go wrong if we assess the value of qualitative scholarship merely through the lens of large-n case quantitative analysis. Flyvbjerg seems to overlook both the context of the Hiding Hand and its connection to the work of Albert Hirschman. This article shows how specific notions of rigor can serve as a hindrance to understanding and thus belittle insights by one of the most original thinkers of the 20th century that are still useful in current debates on project management and expert behavior.

Keywords: Albert O. Hirschman; the Principle of the Hiding Hand; project management; quantitative versus qualitative analysis (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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