Trustworthy Systems

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: A pragmatic guide to assessing empirical evaluations


Steve Blackburn, Amer Diwan, Mathias Hauswirth, Peter F. Sweeney, José Nelson Amaral, Timothy Brecht, L. Bulej, Cliff Click, Lieven Eeckhout, S. Fischmeister, Daniel Frampton, Laurie J. Hendren, M. Hind, Tony Hosking, Richard E. Jones, T. Kalibera, N. Keynes, N. Nystrom and Andreas Zeller


Australian National University

McGill University

IBM Almaden Research Center

Purdue University

University of Kent


An unsound claim can misdirect a field, encouraging the pursuit of unworthy ideas and the abandonment of promising ideas. An inadequate description of a claim can make it difficult to reason about the claim, for example, to determine whether the claim is sound. Many practitioners will acknowledge the threat of unsound claims or inadequate descriptions of claims to their field. We believe that this situation is exacerbated, and even encouraged, by the lack of a systematic approach to exploring, exposing, and addressing the source of unsound claims and poor exposition.

This article proposes a framework that identifies three sins of reasoning that lead to unsound claims and two sins of exposition that lead to poorly described claims and evaluations. Sins of exposition obfuscate the objective of determining whether or not a claim is sound, while sins of reasoning lead directly to unsound claims.

Our framework provides practitioners with a principled way of critiquing the integrity of their own work and the work of others. We hope that this will help individuals conduct better science and encourage a cultural shift in our research community to identify and promulgate sound claims.

BibTeX Entry

    doi              = {10.1145/2983574},
    month            = oct,
    paperurl         = {},
    journal          = {ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems},
    year             = {2016},
    keywords         = {experimental evaluation, observation study, experimentation},
    volume           = {38},
    title            = {The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: A pragmatic guide to assessing empirical
    number           = {4},
    author           = {Blackburn, Steve and Diwan, Amer and Hauswirth, Mathias and Sweeney, Peter F. and Amaral, Jos\'e
                        Nelson and Brecht, Timothy and Bulej, L. and Click, Cliff and Eeckhout, Lieven and Fischmeister, S.
                        and Frampton, Daniel and Hendren, Laurie J. and Hind, M. and Hosking, Tony (Antony) and Jones,
                        Richard E. and Kalibera, T. and Keynes, N. and Nystrom, N. and Zeller, Andreas},
    pages            = {15:1--20}