Warding off a tyranny of reliability and validity

Patient Educ Couns. 2021 Feb 5;S0738-3991(21)00072-0. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2021.02.005. Online ahead of print.


Researchers in the healthcare communication field come from many different educational backgrounds. Such diversity generally strengthens a field, but sometimes a set of beliefs or a particular orthodoxy may predominate in ways that are negative. We discuss one such example, noting how the research culture deriving from training in schools of education treats the concepts of reliability and validity. We note that some researchers working in fields such as medical education and healthcare communication use the terms "reliable" and "valid" loosely or even incorrectly, often referring to them as a single catch-phrase. More importantly, we caution healthcare communication researchers against a tyranny of reliability and validity in which researchers feel pressure to avoid creating unique instruments to study new questions, instead using instruments with previously demonstrated reliability and validity even when these may not directly capture the concept of interest. This practice is motivated by realistic fears that reviewers and editors will disapprove of their work because the instruments used are not known to be "reliable and valid." We encourage the research community to take a more balanced approach wherein originality is not stifled, and in which creativity and rigor exist side by side.

Keywords: Methodology; Psychometrics; Reliability; Research; Validity.