“Humility in Design May Be Hubris in Science: Reflections on the Problem of Slodderwetenschap (Sloppy Science)”

Originally posted in our December 2022 Top of Mind Newsletter.

Our final resource to share in 2022 focuses on the influence of human-centered design on science and policy and how this can sometimes be at odds with a genuinely scientific approach. So why is the ELI team thinking about scientific inquiry, you might ask? Simply put, the entrepreneurial discovery process, in many ways, overlaps with the scientific method. And with this overlap comes a similar tendency in entrepreneurs to fall into a version of Slodderwetenschap (sloppy science). 

Taking shortcuts, working from the end solution rather than the problem (the thing being observed in scientific terms), and not focusing on the process by which you get your results are all hallmarks of sloppy science. The same can be said for entrepreneurship. So while we advise entrepreneur-ials to get out there and test their ideas quickly, that does not mean cutting corners or using flawed logic are advisable. 

In the paper, the authors outline three aspects of the problem of “assert[ing] the simple over the complex, the shortcut over engagement. And then, we act. And we often act wrongly.” These aspects are relevant to the rest of our lives, too. From there, they outline seven mechanisms of sloppy science, including disregarding potentially important variables and prematurely applying findings. Both examples and the other five mechanisms are crucial to consider when setting out on any endeavor, including entrepreneurial discovery. 

“Sloppy science can be overcome by a focus on asking questions, examining affordances, and challenging assumptions.” When setting out on your next act of discovery, be mindful of the process you take. Check your assumptions, and be ready for things to change as you gather more data. 

Do your due diligence.