Perspectives on `What makes a good theory?`

Together with Chris Donkin, I co-organized a symposium at MathPsych/ICCM2020, titled Perspectives on ‘What makes a good theory?’ Below you find the symposium description and links to the talks.

Symposium description

Psychological science has been going through some turbulent times due to the ‘replication crisis’ and the various reforms it has motivated. While reforms so far seem to have focused on experimental and statistical practices, some mathematical psychologists and computational modelers have raised concerns that such reforms, when generally enforced, obstruct rather than foster scientific progress. There seems to be growing consensus that improving psychological science necessitates improving its theoretical practices as well. There is unclarity, however, about what this entails and how it may be achieved. With this symposium we aim to contribute to clarifying the issue.

The symposium brings together a diverse group of mathematical psychologists and computational cognitive scientists and invites them to give their perspective on the question ‘what makes a good theory?’. Each speaker is asked to reflect not only on the characteristics of ‘good theories’ but also on how on their view such theories may be identified and/or generated. The symposium’s explicit aim is to foster dialogue on the complexities and nuances of the question posed and to create a platform for a pluralism of epistemological perspectives.


  1. Olivia Guest & Andrea E. Martin: How computational modeling can force theory building in psychological science

  2. Chris Donkin et al. Clarifying the role of mathematics in theory development

  3. Andrew Perfors: Generating theories is hard, and none of our theories are good enough

  4. Iris van Rooij: Good theories are possible

  5. Sashank Varma; Theories that explain versus theories that describe: the case of constraint satisfaction

See the MathPsych Virtual conference website for more information.

Last updated on 20-9-2020

Written on July 17, 2020