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Letter to the Editor: The Research Integrity Issue: Exploratory or Confirmation Stage?

George Graen

What is the disconnect between the issues of List and McDaniel's (2016) and Locke (2016)?  I was instructed that scientific research in our area can be described as in an exploratory stage, and the goal is identifying and measuring variables of potential interest.  After a manageable number of correlations can be summarized by competitive theories, testable and comparable hypotheses are derived and subjected to plausible rejection. Those surviving rigorous tests to disconfirm are tentatively accepted as useful (Meehl, 1977).  The initial stage has no rules, but the suggestion is that one should functionally use data and imagination and always follow orderly correlations (Locke, 2007, 2009; Harriman, 2010).


Locke states a preference for reporting the complex exploratory process over the logical and readable style of current research journals.  He sees a need for an inductive in addition to a deductive story.  In my experience, we work in areas containing too many plausible variables to sort out by deductive logic and must find ways to reduce them to a few that may be described deductively (Fisher & Aguinis, 2017).  This process of identifying relationships and imagining how it works is the inductive process and the rigorous testing of ideas derived from a theoretical construct is the deductive.


Locke was successful in building a deductive theory that describes how follower performance is influenced by accepting set hard and specific goals, e.g., winning the NFL Super Bowl.  It works and I've seen the raw data collected by others.  The process remains as to identifying a dependable process for accomplishing follower acceptance.  Simply ordering followers to do this does not work in most Western work places.  However, according to the deductive leadership theory of leader–member exchange of unique strategic alliance (LMX-USA) followers in teams with LMX-USAs enthusiastically set specific hard goals or high goals one year and low goals the next (Graen, 2015; Graen & Canedo, 2017).  Locke and I spent most of our entire career hunting for a deductive theory based on working in an exploratory stage and not a confirmatory one.  The inductive process that worked in these two cases was to immerse themselves in the active process and asked themselves what happened while they were watching and interrogating participants.  After a series of progressive approximating studies in which they repeatedly asked what conditions could cause this process, the pieces were put together successfully.


Locke is correct when he state that selecting a set of measures in an empirical investigation must be based on some thinking about a limited set of related variables that may be correlated beyond error.  In sum, we are in the business of producing promising correlations that may have meaning in a deductive theory.  At our stage of exploration, no deductive theory is required to make a study publishable but for the sake of effective communications, describing our stumbling in the dark is only of interest to ourselves.  If we desire to make our studies seem interesting for the readership, the present style should be retained.

George Graen



Fisher, F. & Aguinis, H.  (2017).  Using theory elaboration to make theoretical advancements.  Organizational Research Methods.  Sage on-line.

Graen, G. (2015).  Letter to the Editor: Goal-setting theory gets complicated in practice.  The Industrial Psychologist, 53, (11) pp. 16-17.

Graen, G. B. & Canedo, J. (2017).  New workplace leadership.  Oxford Bibliography on Management.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Harriman, D. (2010).  The Logical Leap: Induction in Physics.  New York, NY: New American Library.

Locke, E. A. (2007).  The case for inductive theory building.  Journal of Management, 33. 867-890.

Locke, E. A. (2009).  It's time we brought introspection out of the closet.  Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 24-25.

Locke, E. A., (2016).  The research integrity issue:  Is there a problem behind the problem?  A reply to List and McDaniel.  The Industrial Psychologist.

List, S. K. & McDaniel, M. A. (2016).  I-O psychology's lack of research integrity.  The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 545(2). 1-4.

Meehl, P. E. 1977.  Specific etiology and other forms of strong influence: Some quantitative meanings.  Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 2, 33-53.

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