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Science V. Significance: Examining the Role and Application of Statistical Significance Testing in Public Administration Research

Author: STEPHEN R. NEELY
Published in PAQ, Vol. 43 No. 2

In the past fifty years, a notable body of literature has called into question the utility of statistical significance testing, as well as the deference granted it by quantitative researchers in the social sciences. While much of this literature has emerged from fields on the periphery of public administration (i.e. economics and psychology), recent evidence has suggested that PA scholars may also be over-reliant on significance testing in the conduct of quantitative research. Although significance testing is perceived by many as lending scientific credence to empirical analyses, critics have argued that it is not a sufficient means of generating actionable knowledge or informing public sector decision-making. This article reviews common misconceptions about significance testing and assesses current practices in the public administration literature. The use and application of significance testing in two of the field’s leading academic journals is reviewed, and recommendations for enhancing the quality and impact of PA’s quantitative research are offered.

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