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Scale-related Pet-Peeves

Blog #29


Assumption of Perpetual Validity

In my routine work of reviewing scales, I see statements made by authors of scholarly journal articles that raise red flags.  I have written about several of the problems in past posts.  The focus of this post has to do with authors borrowing a scale from past research and implying that they do not need to show evidence of its psychometric quality in their study because it has already been "validated." It is as if to say, the scale is beyond reproach and has reached a holy status.  I don’t buy that!  Here are some of my reasons.

Having said all of that, let me state clearly that I do not expect every scale to be thoroughly examined for its quality and for that to be reported in every publication.  A good topic for discussion is the circumstances that justify validity testing, particularly if the study is to be published in a top scholarly journal. What I am saying here is that claiming a scale is valid based on dated or limited testing conducted elsewhere (external to the article) is unacceptable and should be rejected on its face.  Validation is a process, and it is best to view all scales as being in near constant need of validation (e.g., Cronbach 1971; Peter 1981).  That is why I try to be careful when making statements in my reviews about validity.  With the best of scales, when authors have used multiple studies to test many aspects of psychometric quality, I usually say something like “the authors have provided considerable support for several types of validity.”  What I will not say, or at least I try to avoid saying, is that a scale “has been validated.” 

The bottom line is that researchers should not use the phrase “the scale has been validated” as a way to get out of doing some validity testing themselves. No scale is holy and perpetually beyond reproach!

Cronbach, Lee J. (1971), “Test Validation,” in Educational Measurement, R. L. Thorndike, ed. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 443-507.  

Peter, J. Paul. (1981), “Construct Validity: A Review of Basic Issues and Marketing Practices,” Journal of Marketing Research, 18 (May), 133-145.