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Statistical Tests as a Hindrance to Understanding


  • Lepenies, Philipp H.


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Lepenies, Philipp H., 2018. "Statistical Tests as a Hindrance to Understanding," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 360-365.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:103:y:2018:i:c:p:360-365
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2017.10.017

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Herbert A. Simon, 1955. "A Behavioral Model of Rational Choice," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(1), pages 99-118.
    2. Dani Rodrik, 2008. "Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion? A Review of the World Banks Economic Growth in the 1990s: Learning from a Decade of Reform," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 55(2), pages 135-156, June.
    3. Lepenies, Philipp H., 2004. "Exit, Voice, and Vouchers: Using Vouchers to Train Microentrepreneurs--Observations from the Paraguayan Voucher Scheme," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(4), pages 713-724, April.
    4. Flyvbjerg, Bent, 2016. "The Fallacy of Beneficial Ignorance: A Test of Hirschman’s Hiding Hand," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 176-189.
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