Discussion Paper of the Institute for Organisational Economics 3/2012

Rigor, wissenschaftliche und praktische Relevanz
Alexander Dilger
March 2012



Rigour, Academic and Practical Relevance

“Rigour versus Relevance” implies an antagonism that does not exist. The usual equalisation of rigour with science (including social sciences) and relevance with praxis is also misleading. Instead, it is shown that the distinction between rigour and relevance is possible and necessary within science. Then there is an obvious hierarchy in science with academic relevance at the top, which is advanced by rigour but also by other relevant factors. There is a tendency immanent in science to more and more rigour, which has to be countered without sacrificing too much rigour. The future discussion should focus on the characteristics and conditions of as good as possible science instead of having a sham fight between academics about lacking versus impossible practical relevance.

The practical relevance is an additional dimension of science, neither identical with nor opposite to academic relevance. Both can profit from each other. Rigour adds rather indirectly than directly to practical relevance, moderated by academic relevance. Practitioners have a higher interest in academic results than in the exact ways of getting them.

Private companies are inclined to pay only for private information or such knowledge they can protect by patents or copyrights because of the collective goods character of public knowledge. This corresponds badly with the public character of science, especially science done by public universities and research institutions. A special problem is the interest of practitioners including politicians to justify previously given beliefs that threatens to corrupt open-minded science and highlights the importance of institutional protections of academic autonomy.