Phil 6334: Notes on Bayesian Inference: Day #11 Slides



A. Spanos Probability/Statistics Lecture Notes 7: An Introduction to Bayesian Inference (4/10/14)

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Phil 6334 class material, Statistics | 10 Comments

Phil 6334: Duhem’s Problem, highly probable vs highly probed; Day #9 Slides


picture-216-1April 3, 2014: We interspersed discussion with slides; these cover the main readings of the day (check syllabus): the Duhem’s Probem and the Bayesian Way, and “Highly probable vs Highly Probed”. syllabus four. Slides are below (followers of this blog will be familiar with most of this, e.g., here). We also did further work on misspecification testing.

Monday, April 7, is an optional outing, “a seminar class trip”

"Thebes", Blacksburg, VA

“Thebes”, Blacksburg, VA

you might say, here at Thebes at which time we will analyze the statistical curves of the mountains, pie charts of pizza, and (seriously) study some experiments on the problem of replication in “the Hamlet Effect in social psychology”. If you’re around please bop in!

Mayo’s slides on Duhem’s Problem and more from April 3 (Day#9):



Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, highly probable vs highly probed, misspecification testing | 8 Comments

Who is allowed to cheat? I.J. Good and that after dinner comedy hour….

UnknownIt was from my Virginia Tech colleague I.J. Good (in statistics), who died five years ago (April 5, 2009), at 93, that I learned most of what I call “howlers” on this blog. His favorites were based on the “paradoxes” of stopping rules. (I had posted this last year here.)

“In conversation I have emphasized to other statisticians, starting in 1950, that, in virtue of the ‘law of the iterated logarithm,’ by optional stopping an arbitrarily high sigmage, and therefore an arbitrarily small tail-area probability, can be attained even when the null hypothesis is true. In other words if a Fisherian is prepared to use optional stopping (which usually he is not) he can be sure of rejecting a true null hypothesis provided that he is prepared to go on sampling for a long time. The way I usually express this ‘paradox’ is that a Fisherian [but not a Bayesian] can cheat by pretending he has a plane to catch like a gambler who leaves the table when he is ahead” (Good 1983, 135) [*]

This paper came from a conference where we both presented, and he was extremely critical of my error statistical defense on this point. (I was like a year out of grad school, and he a University Distinguished Professor.) 

One time, years later, after hearing Jack give this howler for the nth time, “a Fisherian [but not a Bayesian] can cheat, etc.,” I was driving him to his office, and suddenly blurted out what I really thought:

“You know Jack, as many times as I have heard you tell this, I’ve always been baffled as to its lesson about who is allowed to cheat. Error statisticians require the overall and not the ‘computed’ significance level be reported. To us, what would be cheating would be reporting the significance level you got after trying and trying again in just the same way as if the test had a fixed sample size. True, we are forced to fret about how stopping rules alter the error probabilities of tests, while the Bayesian is free to ignore them, but why isn’t the real lesson that the Bayesian is allowed to cheat?” (A published version of my remark may be found in EGEK p. 351: “As often as my distinguished colleague presents this point…”)

 To my surprise, or actually shock, after pondering this a bit, Jack said something like, “Hmm, I never thought of it this way.”

images-3By the way, the story of the “after dinner Bayesian comedy hour” on this blog, did not allude to Jack but to someone who gave a much more embellished version. Since it’s Saturday night, let’s once again listen into the comedy hour that unfolded at my dinner table at an academic conference:

 Did you hear the one about the researcher who gets a phone call from the guy analyzing his data? First the guy congratulates him and says, “The results show a statistically significant difference at the .05 level—p-value .048.” But then, an hour later, the phone rings again. It’s the same guy, but now he’s apologizing. It turns out that the experimenter intended to keep sampling until the result was 1.96 standard deviations away from the 0 null—in either direction—so they had to reanalyze the data (n=169), and the results were no longer statistically significant at the .05 level. 

Much laughter.

So the researcher is tearing his hair out when the same guy calls back again. “Congratulations!” the guy says. “I just found out that the experimenter actually had planned to take n=169 all along, so the results are statistically significant.”

 Howls of laughter.

 But then the guy calls back with the bad news . . .

It turns out that failing to score a sufficiently impressive effect after n’ trials, the experimenter went on to n” trials, and so on and so forth until finally, say, on trial number 169, he obtained a result 1.96 standard deviations from the null.

It continues this way, and every time the guy calls in and reports a shift in the p-value, the table erupts in howls of laughter! From everyone except me, sitting in stunned silence, staring straight ahead. The hilarity ensues from the idea that the experimenter’s reported psychological intentions about when to stop sampling is altering the statistical results.

The allegation that letting stopping plans matter to the interpretation of data is tantamount to letting psychological intentions matter may be called the argument from intentions. When stopping rules matter, however, we are looking not at “intentions” but at real alterations to the probative capacity of the test, as picked up by a change in the test’s corresponding error probabilities. The analogous problem occurs if there is a fixed null hypothesis and the experimenter is allowed to search for maximally likely alternative hypotheses (Mayo and Kruse 2001; Cox and Hinkley 1974). Much the same issue is operating in what physicists call the look-elsewhere effect (LEE), which arose in the context of “bump hunting” in the Higgs results.

The optional stopping effect often appears in illustrations of how error statistics violates the Likelihood Principle LP, alluding to a two-sided test from a Normal distribution:

Xi ~ N(µ,σ) and we test  H0: µ=0, vs. H1: µ≠0.

The stopping rule might take the form:

Keep sampling until |m| ≥ 1.96 σ/√n),

with m the sample mean. When n is fixed the type 1 error probability is .05, but with this stopping rule the actual significance level may differ from, and will be greater than, .05. In fact, ignoring the stopping rule allows a high or maximal probability of error. For a sampling theorist, this example alone “taken in the context of examining consistency with θ = 0, is enough to refute the strong likelihood principle.” (Cox 1977, p. 54) since, with probability 1, it will stop with a “nominally” significant result even though θ = 0. As Birnbaum (1969, 128) puts it, “the likelihood concept cannot be construed so as to allow useful appraisal, and thereby possible control, of probabilities of erroneous interpretations.” From the error-statistical standpoint, ignoring the stopping rule allows readily inferring that there is evidence for a non- null hypothesis even though it has passed with low if not minimal severity.

Peter Armitage, in his comments on Savage at the 1959 forum (“Savage Forum” 1962), put it thus:

I think it is quite clear that likelihood ratios, and therefore posterior probabilities, do not depend on a stopping rule. . . . I feel that if a man deliberately stopped an investigation when he had departed sufficiently far from his particular hypothesis, then “Thou shalt be misled if thou dost not know that.” If so, prior probability methods seem to appear in a less attractive light than frequency methods, where one can take into account the method of sampling. (Savage 1962, 72; emphasis added; see [ii])

H is not being put to a stringent test when a researcher allows trying and trying again until the data are far enough from H0 to reject it in favor of H.

Stopping Rule Principle

Picking up on the effect appears evanescent—locked in someone’s head—if one has no way of taking error probabilities into account:

In general, suppose that you collect data of any kind whatsoever — not necessarily Bernoullian, nor identically distributed, nor independent of each other . . . — stopping only when the data thus far collected satisfy some criterion of a sort that is sure to be satisfied sooner or later, then the import of the sequence of n data actually observed will be exactly the same as it would be had you planned to take exactly n observations in the first place. (Edwards, Lindman, and Savage 1962, 238-239)

This is called the irrelevance of the stopping rule or the Stopping Rule Principle (SRP), and is an implication of the (strong) likelihood principle (LP), which is taken up elsewhere in this blog.[i]

To the holder of the LP, the intuition is that the stopping rule is irrelevant; to the error statistician the stopping rule is quite relevant because the probability that the persistent experimenter finds data against the no-difference null is increased, even if the null is true. It alters the well-testedness of claims inferred. (Error #11 of Mayo and Spanos 2011 “Error Statistics“.)

A Funny Thing Happened at the Savage Forum[i]

While Savage says he was always uncomfortable with the argument from intentions, he is reminding Barnard of the argument that Barnard promoted years before. He’s saying, in effect, Don’t you remember, George? You’re the one who so convincingly urged in 1952 that to take stopping rules into account is like taking psychological intentions into account:

The argument then was this: The design of a sequential experiment is, in the last analysis, what the experimenter actually intended to do. His intention is locked up inside his head. (Savage 1962, 76)

But, alas, Barnard had changed his mind. Still, the argument from intentions is repeated again and again by Bayesians. Howson and Urbach think it entails dire conclusions for significance tests:

A significance test inference, therefore, depends not only on the outcome that a trial produced, but also on the outcomes that it could have produced but did not.  And the latter are determined by certain private intentions of the experimenter, embodying his stopping rule.  It seems to us that this fact precludes a significance test delivering any kind of judgment about empirical support. . . . For scientists would not normally regard such personal intentions as proper influences on the support which data give to a hypothesis. (Howson and Urbach 1993, 212)

It is fallacious to insinuate that regarding optional stopping as relevant is in effect to make private intentions relevant. Although the choice of stopping rule (as with other test specifications) is determined by the intentions of the experimenter, it does not follow that taking account of its influence is to take account of subjective intentions. The allegation is a non sequitur.

We often hear things like:

[I]t seems very strange that a frequentist could not analyze a given set of data, such as (x1,…, xn) [in Armitage’s example] if the stopping rule is not given. . . . [D]ata should be able to speak for itself. (Berger and Wolpert 1988, 78)

But data do not speak for themselves, unless sufficient information is included to correctly appraise relevant error probabilities. The error statistician has a perfectly nonpsychological way of accounting for the impact of stopping rules, as well as other aspects of experimental plans. The impact is on the stringency or severity of the test that the purported “real effect” has passed. In the optional stopping plan, there is a difference in the set of possible outcomes; certain outcomes available in the fixed sample size plan are no longer available.  If a stopping rule is truly open-ended (it need not be), then the possible outcomes do not contain any that fail to reject the null hypothesis. (The above rule stops in a finite # of trials, it is “proper”.)

Does the difference in error probabilities corresponding to a difference in sampling plans correspond to any real difference in the experiment? Yes. The researchers really did do something different in the try-and-try-again scheme and, as Armitage says, thou shalt be misled if your account cannot report this.

We have banished the argument from intentions, the allegation that letting stopping plans matter to the interpretation of data is tantamount to letting psychological intentions matter. So if you’re at my dinner table, can I count on you not to rehearse this one…?

One last thing….

 The Optional Stopping Effect with Bayesian (Two-sided) Confidence Intervals

The equivalent stopping rule can be framed in terms of the corresponding 95% “confidence interval” method, given the normal distribution above (their term and quotes):

Keep sampling until the 95% confidence interval excludes 0.

Berger and Wolpert concede that using this stopping rule “has thus succeeded in getting the [Bayesian] conditionalist to perceive that μ ≠ 0, and has done so honestly” (pp. 80-81). This seems to be a striking admission—especially as the Bayesian  interval assigns a probability of .95 to the truth of the interval estimate (using a”noninformative prior density”):

µ =  m + 1.96(σ/√n)

But, they maintain (or did back then) that the LP only “seems to allow the experimenter to mislead a Bayesian. The ‘misleading,’ however, is solely from a frequentist viewpoint, and will not be of concern to a conditionalist.” Does this mean that while the real error probabilities are poor, Bayesians are not impacted, since, from the perspective of what they believe, there is no misleading?

[*] It was because of these “conversations” that Jack thought his name should be included in the “Jeffreys-Lindley paradox”, so I always call it the Jeffreys-Good-Lindley paradox. I discuss this in EGEK 1996, Chapter 10 , Mayo and Kruse (2001). See a recent paper by my colleague Aris Spanos (2013) on the Jeffreys-Lindley paradox.

[i] There are certain exceptions where the stopping rule may be “informative”.  Other posts may be found on LP violations, and an informal version of my critique of Birnbaum’s LP argument. On optional stopping, see also Irony and Bad Faith.

[ii] I found, on an old webpage of mine, (a pale copy of) the “Savage forum”:


Armitage, P. (1962), “Discussion”, in The Foundations of Statistical Inference: A Discussion, (G. A. Barnard and D. R. Cox eds.), London: Methuen, 72.

Berger J. O. and Wolpert, R. L. (1988), The Likelihood Principle: A Review, Generalizations, and Statistical Implications 2nd edition, Lecture Notes-Monograph Series, Vol. 6, Shanti S. Gupta, Series Editor, Hayward, California: Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

Birnbaum, A. (1969), “Concepts of Statistical Evidence” In Philosophy, Science, and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel, S. Morgenbesser, P. Suppes, and M. White (eds.): New York: St. Martin’s Press, 112-43.

Cox, D. R. (1977), “The Role of Significance Tests (with discussion)”, Scandinavian Journal of Statistics 4, 49–70.

Cox, D. R. and D. V. Hinkley (1974), Theoretical Statistics, London: Chapman & Hall.

Edwards, W., H, Lindman, and L. Savage. 1963 Bayesian Statistical Inference for Psychological Research. Psychological Review 70: 193-242.

Good, I.J.(1983), Good Thinking, The Foundations of Probability and its Applications, Minnesota.

Howson, C., and P. Urbach (1993[1989]), Scientific Reasoning: The Bayesian Approach, 2nd  ed., La Salle: Open Court.

Mayo, D. (1996):[EGEK] Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge, Chapter 10 Why You Cannot Be Just a Little Bayesian. Chicago

Mayo, D. G. and Kruse, M. (2001). “Principles of Inference and Their Consequences,” in D. Cornfield and J. Williamson (eds.) Foundations of Bayesianism. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishes: 381-403.

Savage, L. (1962), “Discussion”, in The Foundations of Statistical Inference: A Discussion, (G. A. Barnard and D. R. Cox eds.), London: Methuen, 76.

Spanos, A. “Who Should Be Afraid of the Jeffreys-Lindley Paradox?” Philosophy of Science, 80 (2013): 73-93.

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Comedy, Statistics | Tags: , , | 18 Comments

Phil 6334: Day #3: Feb 6, 2014


Day #3: Spanos lecture notes 2, and reading/resources from Feb 6 seminar 

6334 Day 3 slides: Spanos-lecture-2


Crupi & Tentori (2010). Irrelevant Conjunction: Statement and Solution of a New Paradox, Phil Sci, 77, 1–13.

Hawthorne & Fitelson (2004). Re-Solving Irrelevant Conjunction with Probabilistic Independence, Phil Sci 71: 505–514.

Skryms (1975) Choice and Chance 2nd ed. Chapter V and Carnap (pp. 206-211), Dickerson Pub. Co.

Mayo posts on the tacking paradox: Oct. 25, 2013: “Bayesian Confirmation Philosophy and the Tacking Paradox (iv)*” &  Oct 25.

An update on this issue will appear shortly in a separate blogpost.


Selection (pp. 35-59) from: Popper (1962). Conjectures and RefutationsThe Growth of Scientific Knowledge. Basic Books. 

Categories: Bayes' Theorem, Phil 6334 class material, Statistics | Leave a comment

Objective/subjective, dirty hands and all that: Gelman/ Wasserman blogolog (ii)

Objectivity #2: The “Dirty Hands” Argument for Ethics in EvidenceAndrew Gelman says that as a philosopher, I should appreciate his blog today in which he records his frustration: “Against aggressive definitions: No, I don’t think it helps to describe Bayes as ‘the analysis of subjective beliefs’…”  Gelman writes:

I get frustrated with what might be called “aggressive definitions,” where people use a restrictive definition of something they don’t like. For example, Larry Wasserman writes (as reported by Deborah Mayo):

“I wish people were clearer about what Bayes is/is not and what 
frequentist inference is/is not. Bayes is the analysis of subjective
 beliefs but provides no frequency guarantees. Frequentist inference 
is about making procedures that have frequency guarantees but makes no 
pretense of representing anyone’s beliefs.”

I’ll accept Larry’s definition of frequentist inference. But as for his definition of Bayesian inference: No no no no no. The probabilities we use in our Bayesian inference are not subjective, or, they’re no more subjective than the logistic regressions and normal distributions and Poisson distributions and so forth that fill up all the textbooks on frequentist inference.

To quickly record some of my own frustrations:*: First, I would disagree with Wasserman’s characterization of frequentist inference, but as is clear from Larry’s comments to (my reaction to him), I think he concurs that he was just giving a broad contrast. Please see Note [1] for a remark from my post: Comments on Wasserman’s “what is Bayesian/frequentist inference?” Also relevant is a Gelman post on the Bayesian name: [2].

Second, Gelman’s “no more subjective than…” evokes  remarks I’ve made before. For example, in “What should philosophers of science do…” I wrote:

Arguments given for some very popular slogans (mostly by non-philosophers), are too readily taken on faith as canon by others, and are repeated as gospel. Examples are easily found: all models are false, no models are falsifiable, everything is subjective, or equally subjective and objective, and the only properly epistemological use of probability is to supply posterior probabilities for quantifying actual or rational degrees of belief. Then there is the cluster of “howlers” allegedly committed by frequentist error statistical methods repeated verbatim (discussed on this blog).

I’ve written a lot about objectivity on this blog, e.g., here, here and here (and in real life), but what’s the point if people just rehearse the “everything is a mixture…” line, without making deeply important distinctions? I really think that, next to the “all models are false” slogan, the most confusion has been engendered by the “no methods are objective” slogan. However much we may aim at objective constraints, it is often urged, we can never have “clean hands” free of the influence of beliefs and interests, and we invariably sully methods of inquiry by the entry of background beliefs and personal judgments in their specification and interpretation. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Gelman, Objectivity, Statistics | 41 Comments

Mascots of Bayesneon statistics (rejected post)

bayes_theorem (see rejected posts)

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Rejected Posts | Leave a comment

U-Phil: Deconstructions [of J. Berger]: Irony & Bad Faith 3

Memory Lane: 2 years ago:
My efficient Errorstat Blogpeople1 have put forward the following 3 reader-contributed interpretive efforts2 as a result of the “deconstruction” exercise from December 11, (mine, from the earlier blog, is at the end) of what I consider:

“….an especially intriguing remark by Jim Berger that I think bears upon the current mindset (Jim is aware of my efforts):

Too often I see people pretending to be subjectivists, and then using “weakly informative” priors that the objective Bayesian community knows are terrible and will give ridiculous answers; subjectivism is then being used as a shield to hide ignorance. . . . In my own more provocative moments, I claim that the only true subjectivists are the objective Bayesians, because they refuse to use subjectivism as a shield against criticism of sloppy pseudo-Bayesian practice. (Berger 2006, 463)” (From blogpost, Dec. 11, 2011)
Andrew Gelman:

The statistics literature is big enough that I assume there really is some bad stuff out there that Berger is reacting to, but I think that when he’s talking about weakly informative priors, Berger is not referring to the work in this area that I like, as I think of weakly informative priors as specifically being designed to give answers that are _not_ “ridiculous.”

Keeping things unridiculous is what regularization’s all about, and one challenge of regularization (as compared to pure subjective priors) is that the answer to the question, What is a good regularizing prior?, will depend on the likelihood.  There’s a lot of interesting theory and practice relating to weakly informative priors for regularization, a lot out there that goes beyond the idea of noninformativity.

To put it another way:  We all know that there’s no such thing as a purely noninformative prior:  any model conveys some information.  But, more and more, I’m coming across applied problems where I wouldn’t want to be noninformative even if I could, problems where some weak prior information regularizes my inferences and keeps them sane and under control. Continue reading

Categories: Gelman, Irony and Bad Faith, J. Berger, Statistics, U-Phil | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

A. Spanos lecture on “Frequentist Hypothesis Testing”


Aris Spanos

I attended a lecture by Aris Spanos to his graduate econometrics class here at Va Tech last week[i]. This course, which Spanos teaches every fall, gives a superb illumination of the disparate pieces involved in statistical inference and modeling, and affords clear foundations for how they are linked together. His slides follow the intro section. Some examples with severity assessments are also included.

Frequentist Hypothesis Testing: A Coherent Approach

Aris Spanos

1    Inherent difficulties in learning statistical testing

Statistical testing is arguably  the  most  important, but  also the  most difficult  and  confusing chapter of statistical inference  for several  reasons, including  the following.

(i) The need to introduce numerous new notions, concepts and procedures before one can paint —  even in broad brushes —  a coherent picture  of hypothesis  testing.

(ii) The current textbook discussion of statistical testing is both highly confusing and confused.  There  are several sources of confusion.

  • (a) Testing is conceptually one of the most sophisticated sub-fields of any scientific discipline.
  • (b) Inadequate knowledge by textbook writers who often do not have  the  technical  skills to read  and  understand the  original  sources, and  have to rely on second hand  accounts  of previous  textbook writers that are  often  misleading  or just  outright erroneous.   In most  of these  textbooks hypothesis  testing  is poorly  explained  as  an  idiot’s guide to combining off-the-shelf formulae with statistical tables like the Normal, the Student’s t, the chi-square,  etc., where the underlying  statistical  model that gives rise to the testing procedure  is hidden  in the background.
  • (c)  The  misleading  portrayal of Neyman-Pearson testing  as essentially  decision-theoretic in nature, when in fact the latter has much greater  affinity with the Bayesian rather than the frequentist inference.
  • (d)  A deliberate attempt to distort and  cannibalize  frequentist testing by certain  Bayesian drumbeaters who revel in (unfairly)  maligning frequentist inference in their  attempts to motivate their  preferred view on statistical inference.

(iii) The  discussion of frequentist testing  is rather incomplete  in so far as it has been beleaguered by serious foundational problems since the 1930s. As a result, different applied fields have generated their own secondary  literatures attempting to address  these  problems,  but  often making  things  much  worse!  Indeed,  in some fields like psychology  it has reached the stage where one has to correct the ‘corrections’ of those chastising  the initial  correctors!

In an attempt to alleviate  problem  (i),  the discussion  that follows uses a sketchy historical  development of frequentist testing.  To ameliorate problem (ii), the discussion includes ‘red flag’ pointers (¥) designed to highlight important points that shed light on certain  erroneous  in- terpretations or misleading arguments.  The discussion will pay special attention to (iii), addressing  some of the key foundational problems.

[i] It is based on Ch. 14 of Spanos (1999) Probability Theory and Statistical Inference. Cambridge[ii].

[ii] You can win a free copy of this 700+ page text by creating a simple palindrome!

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Severity, significance tests, Statistics | Tags: | 36 Comments

The error statistician has a complex, messy, subtle, ingenious, piece-meal approach

RMM: "A Conversation Between Sir David Cox & D.G. Mayo"A comment today by Stephen Senn leads me to post the last few sentences of my (2010) paper with David Cox, “Frequentist Statistics as a Theory of Inductive Inference”:

A fundamental tenet of the conception of inductive learning most at home with the frequentist philosophy is that inductive inference requires building up incisive arguments and inferences by putting together several different piece-meal results; we have set out considerations to guide these pieces[i]. Although the complexity of the issues makes it more difficult to set out neatly, as, for example, one could by imagining that a single algorithm encompasses the whole of inductive inference, the payoff is an account that approaches the kind of arguments that scientists build up in order to obtain reliable knowledge and understanding of a field.” (273)[ii]

A reread for Saturday night?

[i]The pieces hang together by dint of the rationale growing out of a severity criterion (or something akin but using a different term.)

[ii]Error and Inference: Recent Exchanges on Experimental Reasoning, Reliability and the Objectivity and Rationality of Science (D Mayo and A. Spanos eds.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1-27. This paper appeared in The Second Erich L. Lehmann Symposium: Optimality, 2006, Lecture Notes-Monograph Series, Volume 49, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, pp. 247-275.

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics | 20 Comments

Stephen Senn: Dawid’s Selection Paradox (guest post)

Stephen SennStephen Senn
Head, Methodology and Statistics Group,
Competence Center for Methodology and Statistics (CCMS),

“Dawid’s Selection Paradox”

You can protest, of course, that Dawid’s Selection Paradox is no such thing but then those who believe in the inexorable triumph of logic will deny that anything is a paradox. In a challenging paper published nearly 20 years ago (Dawid 1994), Philip Dawid drew attention to a ‘paradox’ of Bayesian inference. To describe it, I can do no better than to cite the abstract of the paper, which is available from Project Euclid, here:

 When the inference to be made is selected after looking at the data, the classical statistical approach demands — as seems intuitively sensible — that allowance be made for the bias thus introduced. From a Bayesian viewpoint, however, no such adjustment is required, even when the Bayesian inference closely mimics the unadjusted classical one. In this paper we examine more closely this seeming inadequacy of the Bayesian approach. In particular, it is argued that conjugate priors for multivariate problems typically embody an unreasonable determinism property, at variance with the above intuition.

I consider this to be an important paper not only for Bayesians but also for frequentists, yet it has only been cited 14 times as of 15 November 2013 according to Google Scholar. In fact I wrote a paper about it in the American Statistician a few years back (Senn 2008) and have also referred to it in a previous blogpost (12 May 2012). That I think it is important and neglected is excuse enough to write about it again.

Philip Dawid is not responsible for my interpretation of his paradox but the way that I understand it can be explained by considering what it means to have a prior distribution. First, as a reminder, if you are going to be 100% Bayesian, which is to say that all of what you will do by way of inference will be to turn a prior into a posterior distribution using the likelihood and the operation of Bayes theorem, then your prior distribution has to satisfy two conditions. First, it must be what you would use to bet now (that is to say at the moment it is established) and second no amount of subsequent data will change your prior qua prior. It will, of course, be updated by Bayes theorem to form a posterior distribution once further data are obtained but that is another matter. The relevant time here is your observation time not the time when the data were collected, so that data that were available in principle but only came to your attention after you established your prior distribution count as further data.

Now suppose that you are going to make an inference about a population mean, θ, using a random sample from the population and choose the standard conjugate prior distribution. Then in that case you will use a Normal distribution with known (to you) parameters μ and σ2. If σ2 is large compared to the random variation you might expect for the means in your sample, then the prior distribution is fairly uninformative and if it is small then fairly informative but being uninformative is not in itself a virtue. Being not informative enough runs the risk that your prior distribution is not one you might wish to use to bet now and being too informative that your prior distribution is one you might be tempted to change given further information. In either of these two cases your prior distribution will be wrong. Thus the task is to be neither too informative nor not informative enough. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, selection effects, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 67 Comments

Highly probable vs highly probed: Bayesian/ error statistical differences

3077175-lgA reader asks: “Can you tell me about disagreements on numbers between a severity assessment within error statistics, and a Bayesian assessment of posterior probabilities?” Sure.

There are differences between Bayesian posterior probabilities and formal error statistical measures, as well as between the latter and a severity (SEV) assessment, which differs from the standard type 1 and 2 error probabilities, p-values, and confidence levels—despite the numerical relationships. Here are some random thoughts that will hopefully be relevant for both types of differences. (Please search this blog for specifics.)

1. The most noteworthy difference is that error statistical inference makes use of outcomes other than the one observed, even after the data are available: there’s no other way to ask things like, how often would you find 1 nominally statistically significant difference in a hunting expedition over k or more factors?  Or to distinguish optional stopping with sequential trials from fixed sample size experiments.  Here’s a quote I came across just yesterday:

“[S]topping ‘when the data looks good’ can be a serious error when combined with frequentist measures of evidence. For instance, if one used the stopping rule [above]…but analyzed the data as if a fixed sample had been taken, one could guarantee arbitrarily strong frequentist ‘significance’ against H0.” (Berger and Wolpert, 1988, 77).

The worry about being guaranteed to erroneously exclude the true parameter value here is an error statistical affliction that the Bayesian is spared (even though I don’t think they can be too happy about it, especially when HPD intervals are assured of excluding the true parameter value.) See this post for an amusing note; Mayo and Kruse (2001) below; and, if interested, search the (strong)  likelihood principle, and Birnbaum.

2. Highly probable vs. highly probed. SEV doesn’t obey the probability calculus: for any test T and outcome x, the severity for both H and ~H might be horribly low. Moreover, an error statistical analysis is not in the business of probabilifying hypotheses but evaluating and controlling the capabilities of methods to discern inferential flaws (problems with linking statistical and scientific claims, problems of interpreting statistical tests and estimates, and problems of underlying model assumptions). This is the basis for applying what may be called the Severity principle. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, P-values, Philosophy of Statistics, Statistics, Stephen Senn, strong likelihood principle | 40 Comments

Gelman est effectivement une erreur statistician

eiffel-tower-design-bill-cannonA reader calls my attention to Andrew Gelman’s blog announcing a talk that he’s giving today in French: “Philosophie et practique de la statistique bayésienne. He blogs:

I’ll try to update the slides a bit since a few years ago, to add some thoughts I’ve had recently about problems with noninformative priors, even in simple settings.

The location of the talk will not be convenient for most of you, but anyone who comes to the trouble of showing up will have the opportunity to laugh at my accent.

P.S. For those of you who are interested in the topic but can’t make it to the talk, I recommend these two papers on my non-inductive Bayesian philosophy:

[2013] Philosophy and the practice of Bayesian statistics (with discussion). British Journal of Mathematical and Statistical Psychology, 8–18. (Andrew Gelman and Cosma Shalizi)
[2013] Rejoinder to discussion. (Andrew Gelman and Cosma Shalizi)

[2011] Induction and deduction in Bayesian data analysis. Rationality, Markets and Morals}, special topic issue “Statistical Science and Philosophy of Science: Where Do (Should) They Meet In 2011 and Beyond?” (Andrew Gelman)

These papers, especially Gelman (2011), are discussed on this blog (in “U-Phils”). Comments by Senn, Wasserman, and Hennig may be found here, and here,with a response here (please use search for more).

As I say in my comments on Gelman and Shalizi, I think Gelman’s position is (or intends to be) inductive– in the sense of being ampliative (going beyond the data)– but simply not probabilist, i.e., not a matter of updating priors. (A blog post is here)[i]. Here’s a snippet from my comments: Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, Gelman | Tags: | 17 Comments

“When Bayesian Inference Shatters” Owhadi, Scovel, and Sullivan (guest post)

images-9I’m extremely grateful to Drs. Owhadi, Scovel and Sullivan for replying to my request for “a plain Jane” explication of their interesting paper, “When Bayesian Inference Shatters”, and especially for permission to post it. If readers want to ponder the paper awhile and send me comments for guest posts or “U-PHILS*” (by OCT 15), let me know. Feel free to comment as usual in the mean time.


owhadiHouman Owhadi
Professor of Applied and Computational Mathematics and Control and Dynamical Systems, Computing + Mathematical Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, USA
Clint ScovelClintpic
Senior Scientist,
Computing + Mathematical Sciences,
California Institute of Technology, USA
TimSullivanTim Sullivan
Warwick Zeeman Lecturer,
Assistant Professor,
Mathematics Institute,
University of Warwick, UK

“When Bayesian Inference Shatters: A plain Jane explanation”

This is an attempt at a “plain Jane” presentation of the results discussed in the recent arxiv paper “When Bayesian Inference Shatters” located at with the following abstract:

“With the advent of high-performance computing, Bayesian methods are increasingly popular tools for the quantification of uncertainty throughout science and industry. Since these methods impact the making of sometimes critical decisions in increasingly complicated contexts, the sensitivity of their posterior conclusions with respect to the underlying models and prior beliefs is becoming a pressing question. We report new results suggesting that, although Bayesian methods are robust when the number of possible outcomes is finite or when only a finite number of marginals of the data-generating distribution are unknown, they are generically brittle when applied to continuous systems with finite information on the data-generating distribution. This brittleness persists beyond the discretization of continuous systems and suggests that Bayesian inference is generically ill-posed in the sense of Hadamard when applied to such systems: if closeness is defined in terms of the total variation metric or the matching of a finite system of moments, then (1) two practitioners who use arbitrarily close models and observe the same (possibly arbitrarily large amount of) data may reach diametrically opposite conclusions; and (2) any given prior and model can be slightly perturbed to achieve any desired posterior conclusions.”

Now, it is already known from classical Robust Bayesian Inference that Bayesian Inference has some robustness if the random outcomes live in a finite space or if the class of priors considered is finite-dimensional (i.e. what you know is infinite and what you do not know is finite). What we have shown is that if the random outcomes live in an approximation of a continuous space (for instance, when they are decimal numbers given to finite precision) and your class of priors is finite co-dimensional (i.e. what you know is finite and what you do not know may be infinite) then, if the data is observed at a fine enough resolution, the range of posterior values is the deterministic range of the quantity of interest, irrespective of the size of the data. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 38 Comments

(Part 2) Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis

C. S. Peirce  9/10/1839 – 4/19/1914

C. S. Peirce
9/10/1839 – 4/19/1914

Continuation of “Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis”

Deborah G. Mayo
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, Volume 41, Number 2, 2005, pp. 299-319

Part 1 is here.

There are two other points of confusion in critical discussions of the SCT, that we may note here:

I. The SCT and the Requirements of Randomization and Predesignation

The concern with “the trustworthiness of the proceeding” for Peirce like the concern with error probabilities (e.g., significance levels) for error statisticians generally, is directly tied to their view that inductive method should closely link inferences to the methods of data collection as well as to how the hypothesis came to be formulated or chosen for testing.

This account of the rationale of induction is distinguished from others in that it has as its consequences two rules of inductive inference which are very frequently violated (1.95) namely, that the sample be (approximately) random and that the property being tested not be determined by the particular sample x— i.e., predesignation.

The picture of Peircean induction that one finds in critics of the SCT disregards these crucial requirements for induction: Neither enumerative induction nor H-D testing, as ordinarily conceived, requires such rules. Statistical significance testing, however, clearly does.

Suppose, for example that researchers wishing to demonstrate the benefits of HRT search the data for factors on which treated women fare much better than untreated, and finding one such factor they proceed to test the null hypothesis:

H0: there is no improvement in factor F (e.g. memory) among women treated with HRT.

Having selected this factor for testing solely because it is a factor on which treated women show impressive improvement, it is not surprising that this null hypothesis is rejected and the results taken to show a genuine improvement in the population. However, when the null hypothesis is tested on the same data that led it to be chosen for testing, it is well known, a spurious impression of a genuine effect easily results. Suppose, for example, that 20 factors are examined for impressive-looking improvements among HRT-treated women, and the one difference that appears large enough to test turns out to be significant at the 0.05 level. The actual significance level—the actual probability of reporting a statistically significant effect when in fact the null hypothesis is true—is not 5% but approximately 64% (Mayo 1996, Mayo and Kruse 2001, Mayo and Cox 2006). To infer the denial of H0, and infer there is evidence that HRT improves memory, is to make an inference with low severity (approximately 0.36).

II Understanding the “long-run error correcting” metaphor

Discussions of Peircean ‘self-correction’ often confuse two interpretations of the ‘long-run’ error correcting metaphor, even in the case of quantitative induction: (a) Asymptotic self-correction (as n approaches ∞): In this construal, it is imagined that one has a sample, say of size n=10, and it is supposed that the SCT assures us that as the sample size increases toward infinity, one gets better and better estimates of some feature of the population, say the mean. Although this may be true, provided assumptions of a statistical model (e.g., the Binomial) are met, it is not the sense intended in significance-test reasoning nor, I maintain, in Peirce’s SCT. Peirce’s idea, instead, gives needed insight for understanding the relevance of ‘long-run’ error probabilities of significance tests to assess the reliability of an inductive inference from a specific set of data, (b) Error probabilities of a test: In this construal, one has a sample of size n, say 10, and imagines hypothetical replications of the experiment—each with samples of 10. Each sample of 10 gives a single value of the test statistic d(X), but one can consider the distribution of values that would occur in hypothetical repetitions (of the given type of sampling). The probability distribution of d(X) is called the sampling distribution, and the correct calculation of the significance level is an example of how tests appeal to this distribution: Thanks to the relationship between the observed d(x) and the sampling distribution of d(X), the former can be used to reliably probe the correctness of statistical hypotheses (about the procedure) that generated the particular 10-fold sample. That is what the SCT is asserting.

It may help to consider a very informal example. Suppose that weight gain is measured by 10 well-calibrated and stable methods, possibly using several measuring instruments and the results show negligible change over a test period of interest. This may be regarded as grounds for inferring that the individual’s weight gain is negligible within limits set by the sensitivity of the scales. Why? While it is true that by averaging more and more weight measurements, i.e., an eleventh, twelfth, etc., one would get asymptotically close to the true weight, that is not the rationale for the particular inference. The rationale is rather that the error probabilistic properties of the weighing procedure (the probability of ten-fold weighings erroneously failing to show weight change) inform one of the correct weight in the case at hand, e.g., that a 0 observed weight increase passes the “no-weight gain” hypothesis with high severity. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, C.S. Peirce, Error Statistics, Statistics | 5 Comments

Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis (Part I)

C. S. Peirce: 10 Sept, 1839-19 April, 1914

C. S. Peirce: 10 Sept, 1839-19 April, 1914

Today is C.S. Peirce’s birthday. I hadn’t blogged him before, but he’s one of my all time heroes. You should read him: he’s a treasure chest on essentially any topic. I’ll blog the main sections of a (2005) paper over the next few days. It’s written for a very general philosophical audience; the statistical parts are pretty informal. Happy birthday Peirce.

Peircean Induction and the Error-Correcting Thesis
Deborah G. Mayo
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy, Volume 41, Number 2, 2005, pp. 299-319

Peirce’s philosophy of inductive inference in science is based on the idea that what permits us to make progress in science, what allows our knowledge to grow, is the fact that science uses methods that are self-correcting or error-correcting:

Induction is the experimental testing of a theory. The justification of it is that, although the conclusion at any stage of the investigation may be more or less erroneous, yet the further application of the same method must correct the error. (5.145)

Inductive methods—understood as methods of experimental testing—are justified to the extent that they are error-correcting methods. We may call this Peirce’s error-correcting or self-correcting thesis (SCT):

Self-Correcting Thesis SCT: methods for inductive inference in science are error correcting; the justification for inductive methods of experimental testing in science is that they are self-correcting.

Peirce’s SCT has been a source of fascination and frustration. By and large, critics and followers alike have denied that Peirce can sustain his SCT as a way to justify scientific induction: “No part of Peirce’s philosophy of science has been more severely criticized, even by his most sympathetic commentators, than this attempted validation of inductive methodology on the basis of its purported self-correctiveness” (Rescher 1978, p. 20).

In this paper I shall revisit the Peircean SCT: properly interpreted, I will argue, Peirce’s SCT not only serves its intended purpose, it also provides the basis for justifying (frequentist) statistical methods in science. While on the one hand, contemporary statistical methods increase the mathematical rigor and generality of Peirce’s SCT, on the other, Peirce provides something current statistical methodology lacks: an account of inductive inference and a philosophy of experiment that links the justification for statistical tests to a more general rationale for scientific induction. Combining the mathematical contributions of modern statistics with the inductive philosophy of Peirce, sets the stage for developing an adequate justification for contemporary inductive statistical methodology.

2. Probabilities are assigned to procedures not hypotheses

Peirce’s philosophy of experimental testing shares a number of key features with the contemporary (Neyman and Pearson) Statistical Theory: statistical methods provide, not means for assigning degrees of probability, evidential support, or confirmation to hypotheses, but procedures for testing (and estimation), whose rationale is their predesignated high frequencies of leading to correct results in some hypothetical long-run. A Neyman and Pearson (NP) statistical test, for example, instructs us “To decide whether a hypothesis, H, of a given type be rejected or not, calculate a specified character, x0, of the observed facts; if x> x0 reject H; if x< x0 accept H.” Although the outputs of N-P tests do not assign hypotheses degrees of probability, “it may often be proved that if we behave according to such a rule … we shall reject H when it is true not more, say, than once in a hundred times, and in addition we may have evidence that we shall reject H sufficiently often when it is false” (Neyman and Pearson, 1933, p.142).[i]

The relative frequencies of erroneous rejections and erroneous acceptances in an actual or hypothetical long run sequence of applications of tests are error probabilities; we may call the statistical tools based on error probabilities, error statistical tools. In describing his theory of inference, Peirce could be describing that of the error-statistician:

The theory here proposed does not assign any probability to the inductive or hypothetic conclusion, in the sense of undertaking to say how frequently that conclusion would be found true. It does not propose to look through all the possible universes, and say in what proportion of them a certain uniformity occurs; such a proceeding, were it possible, would be quite idle. The theory here presented only says how frequently, in this universe, the special form of induction or hypothesis would lead us right. The probability given by this theory is in every way different—in meaning, numerical value, and form—from that of those who would apply to ampliative inference the doctrine of inverse chances. (2.748)

The doctrine of “inverse chances” alludes to assigning (posterior) probabilities in hypotheses by applying the definition of conditional probability (Bayes’s theorem)—a computation requires starting out with a (prior or “antecedent”) probability assignment to an exhaustive set of hypotheses:

If these antecedent probabilities were solid statistical facts, like those upon which the insurance business rests, the ordinary precepts and practice [of inverse probability] would be sound. But they are not and cannot be statistical facts. What is the antecedent probability that matter should be composed of atoms? Can we take statistics of a multitude of different universes? (2.777)

For Peircean induction, as in the N-P testing model, the conclusion or inference concerns a hypothesis that either is or is not true in this one universe; thus, assigning a frequentist probability to a particular conclusion, other than the trivial ones of 1 or 0, for Peirce, makes sense only “if universes were as plentiful as blackberries” (2.684). Thus the Bayesian inverse probability calculation seems forced to rely on subjective probabilities for computing inverse inferences, but “subjective probabilities” Peirce charges “express nothing but the conformity of a new suggestion to our prepossessions, and these are the source of most of the errors into which man falls, and of all the worse of them” (2.777).

Hearing Pierce contrast his view of induction with the more popular Bayesian account of his day (the Conceptualists), one could be listening to an error statistician arguing against the contemporary Bayesian (subjective or other)—with one important difference. Today’s error statistician seems to grant too readily that the only justification for N-P test rules is their ability to ensure we will rarely take erroneous actions with respect to hypotheses in the long run of applications. This so called inductive behavior rationale seems to supply no adequate answer to the question of what is learned in any particular application about the process underlying the data. Peirce, by contrast, was very clear that what is really wanted in inductive inference in science is the ability to control error probabilities of test procedures, i.e., “the trustworthiness of the proceeding”. Moreover it is only by a faulty analogy with deductive inference, Peirce explains, that many suppose that inductive (synthetic) inference should supply a probability to the conclusion: “… in the case of analytic inference we know the probability of our conclusion (if the premises are true), but in the case of synthetic inferences we only know the degree of trustworthiness of our proceeding (“The Probability of Induction” 2.693).

Knowing the “trustworthiness of our inductive proceeding”, I will argue, enables determining the test’s probative capacity, how reliably it detects errors, and the severity of the test a hypothesis withstands. Deliberately making use of known flaws and fallacies in reasoning with limited and uncertain data, tests may be constructed that are highly trustworthy probes in detecting and discriminating errors in particular cases. This, in turn, enables inferring which inferences about the process giving rise to the data are and are not warranted: an inductive inference to hypothesis H is warranted to the extent that with high probability the test would have detected a specific flaw or departure from what H asserts, and yet it did not.

3. So why is justifying Peirce’s SCT thought to be so problematic?

You can read Section 3 here. (it’s not necessary for understanding the rest).

4. Peircean induction as severe testing

… [I]nduction, for Peirce, is a matter of subjecting hypotheses to “the test of experiment” (7.182).

The process of testing it will consist, not in examining the facts, in order to see how well they accord with the hypothesis, but on the contrary in examining such of the probable consequences of the hypothesis … which would be very unlikely or surprising in case the hypothesis were not true. (7.231)

When, however, we find that prediction after prediction, notwithstanding a preference for putting the most unlikely ones to the test, is verified by experiment,…we begin to accord to the hypothesis a standing among scientific results.

This sort of inference it is, from experiments testing predictions based on a hypothesis, that is alone properly entitled to be called induction. (7.206)

While these and other passages are redolent of Popper, Peirce differs from Popper in crucial ways. Peirce, unlike Popper, is primarily interested not in falsifying claims but in the positive pieces of information provided by tests, with “the corrections called for by the experiment” and with the hypotheses, modified or not, that manage to pass severe tests. For Popper, even if a hypothesis is highly corroborated (by his lights), he regards this as at most a report of the hypothesis’ past performance and denies it affords positive evidence for its correctness or reliability. Further, Popper denies that he could vouch for the reliability of the method he recommends as “most rational”—conjecture and refutation. Indeed, Popper’s requirements for a highly corroborated hypothesis are not sufficient for ensuring severity in Peirce’s sense (Mayo 1996, 2003, 2005). Where Popper recoils from even speaking of warranted inductions, Peirce conceives of a proper inductive inference as what had passed a severe test—one which would, with high probability, have detected an error if present.

In Peirce’s inductive philosophy, we have evidence for inductively inferring a claim or hypothesis H when not only does H “accord with” the data x; but also, so good an accordance would very probably not have resulted, were H not true. In other words, we may inductively infer H when it has withstood a test of experiment that it would not have withstood, or withstood so well, were H not true (or were a specific flaw present). This can be encapsulated in the following severity requirement for an experimental test procedure, ET, and data set x.

Hypothesis H passes a severe test with x iff (firstly) x accords with H and (secondly) the experimental test procedure ET would, with very high probability, have signaled the presence of an error were there a discordancy between what H asserts and what is correct (i.e., were H false).

The test would “have signaled an error” by having produced results less accordant with H than what the test yielded. Thus, we may inductively infer H when (and only when) H has withstood a test with high error detecting capacity, the higher this probative capacity, the more severely H has passed. What is assessed (quantitatively or qualitatively) is not the amount of support for H but the probative capacity of the test of experiment ET (with regard to those errors that an inference to H is declaring to be absent)……….

You can read the rest of Section 4 here here

5. The path from qualitative to quantitative induction

In my understanding of Peircean induction, the difference between qualitative and quantitative induction is really a matter of degree, according to whether their trustworthiness or severity is quantitatively or only qualitatively ascertainable. This reading not only neatly organizes Peirce’s typologies of the various types of induction, it underwrites the manner in which, within a given classification, Peirce further subdivides inductions by their “strength”.

(I) First-Order, Rudimentary or Crude Induction

Consider Peirce’s First Order of induction: the lowest, most rudimentary form that he dubs, the “pooh-pooh argument”. It is essentially an argument from ignorance: Lacking evidence for the falsity of some hypothesis or claim H, provisionally adopt H. In this very weakest sort of induction, crude induction, the most that can be said is that a hypothesis would eventually be falsified if false. (It may correct itself—but with a bang!) It “is as weak an inference as any that I would not positively condemn” (8.237). While uneliminable in ordinary life, Peirce denies that rudimentary induction is to be included as scientific induction. Without some reason to think evidence of H‘s falsity would probably have been detected, were H false, finding no evidence against H is poor inductive evidence for H. H has passed only a highly unreliable error probe. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, C.S. Peirce, Error Statistics, Statistics | 6 Comments

Bad news bears: ‘Bayesian bear’ rejoinder-reblog mashup

Oh No! It’s those mutant bears again. To my dismay, I’ve been sent, for the third time, that silly, snarky, adolescent, clip of those naughty “what the p-value” bears (first posted on Aug 5, 2012), who cannot seem to get a proper understanding of significance tests into their little bear brains. So apparently some people haven’t seen my rejoinder which, as I said then, practically wrote itself. So since it’s Saturday night here at the Elbar Room, let’s listen in to a mashup of both the clip and my original rejoinder (in which p-value bears are replaced with hypothetical Bayesian bears). 

These stilted bear figures and their voices are sufficiently obnoxious in their own right, even without the tedious lampooning of p-values and the feigned horror at learning they should not be reported as posterior probabilities.

Mayo’s Rejoinder:

Bear #1: Do you have the results of the study?

Bear #2:Yes. The good news is there is a .996 probability of a positive difference in the main comparison.

Bear #1: Great. So I can be well assured that there is just a .004 probability that such positive results would occur if they were merely due to chance.

Bear #2: Not really, that would be an incorrect interpretation. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Comedy, P-values, Statistics | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

Why I am not a “dualist” in the sense of Sander Greenland


This post picks up, and continues, an exchange that began with comments on my June 14 blogpost (between Sander Greenland, Nicole Jinn, and I). My new response is at the end. The concern is how to expose and ideally avoid some of the well known flaws and foibles in statistical inference, thanks to gaps between data and statistical inference, and between statistical inference and substantive claims. I am not rejecting the use of multiple methods in the least (they are highly valuable when one method is capable of detecting or reducing flaws in one or more others). Nor am I speaking of classical dualism in metaphysics (which I also do not espouse). I begin with Greenland’s introduction of this idea in his comment… (For various earlier comments, see the post.)

Sander Greenland 

. I sense some confusion of criticism of the value of tests as popular tools vs. criticism of their logical foundation. I am a critic in the first, practical category, who regards the adoption of testing outside of narrow experimental programs as an unmitigated disaster, resulting in publication bias, prosecutor-type fallacies, and affirming the consequent fallacies throughout the health and social science literature. Even though testing can in theory be used soundly, it just hasn’t done well in practice in these fields. This could be ascribed to human failings rather than failings of received testing theories, but I would require any theory of applied statistics to deal with human limitations, just as safety engineering must do for physical products. I regard statistics as having been woefully negligent of cognitive psychology in this regard. In particular, widespread adoption and vigorous defense of a statistical method or philosophy is no more evidence of its scientific value than widespread adoption and vigorous defense of a religion is evidence of its scientific value. 
That should bring us to alternatives. I am aware of no compelling data showing that other approaches would have done better, but I do find compelling the arguments that at least some of the problems would have been mitigated by teaching a dualist approach to statistics, in which every procedure must be supplied with both an accurate frequentist and an accurate Bayesian interpretation, if only to reduce prevalent idiocies like interpreting a two-sided P-value as “the” posterior probability of a point null hypothesis.

 Nicole Jinn
 (to Sander Greenland)

 What exactly is this ‘dualist’ approach to teaching statistics and why does it mitigate the problems, as you claim? (I am increasingly interested in finding more effective ways to teach/instruct others in various age groups about statistics.)
I have a difficult time seeing how effective this ‘dualist’ way of teaching could be for the following reason: the Bayesian and frequentist approaches are vastly different in their aims and the way they see statistics being used in (natural or social) science, especially when one looks more carefully at the foundations of each methodology (e.g., disagreements about where exactly probability enters into inference, or about what counts as relevant information). Hence, it does not make sense (to me) to supply both types of interpretation to the same data and the same research question! Instead, it makes more sense (from a teaching perspective) to demonstrate a Bayesian interpretation for one experiment, and a frequentist interpretation for another experiment, in the hopes of getting at the (major) differences between the two methodologies.


Sander. Thanks for your comment. 
Interestingly, I think the conglomeration of error statistical tools are the ones most apt at dealing with human limitations and foibles: they give piecemeal methods to ask one question at a time (e.g., would we be mistaken to suppose there is evidence of any effect at all? mistaken about how large? about iid assumptions? about possible causes? about implications for distinguishing any theories?). The standard Bayesian apparatus requires setting out a complete set of hypotheses that might arise, plus prior probabilities in each of them (or in “catchall” hypotheses), as well as priors in the model…and after this herculean task is complete, there is a purely deductive update: being deductive it never goes beyond the givens. Perhaps the data will require a change in your prior—this is what you must have believed before, since otherwise you find your posterior unacceptable—thereby encouraging the very self-sealing inferences we all claim to deplore. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, P-values, Statistics | 21 Comments

Getting Credit (or blame) for Something You Didn’t Do (BP oil spill, comedy hour)

UnknownThree years ago, many of us were glued to the “spill cam” showing, in real time, the gushing oil from the April 20, 2010 explosion sinking the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11, and spewing oil until July 15. Trials have been taking place this month, as people try to meet the 3 year deadline to sue BP and others. But what happened to the 200 million gallons of oil?  (Is anyone up to date on this?)  Has it vanished or just sunk to the bottom of the sea by dispersants which may have caused hidden destruction of sea life? I don’t know, but given it’s Saturday night around the 3 year anniversary, let’s listen into a reblog of a spill-related variation on the second of two original “overheard at the comedy hour” jokes. 

In effect, it accuses the frequentist error-statistical account of licensing the following (make-believe) argument after the 2010 oil spill:

Oil Exec: We had highly reliable evidence that H: the pressure was at normal levels on April 20, 2010!

Senator: But you conceded that whenever your measuring tool showed dangerous or ambiguous readings, you continually lowered the pressure, and that the stringent “cement bond log” test was entirely skipped.

 Oil Exec:  Granted, we omitted reliable checks on April 20, 2010, but usually we do a better job—I am reporting the average!  You see, we use a randomizer that most of the time directs us to run the gold-standard check on pressure. But, but April  20 just happened to be one of those times we did the nonstringent test; but on average we do ok.

Senator:  But you don’t know that your system would have passed the more stringent test you didn’t perform!

Oil Exec:  That’s the beauty of the the frequentist test!

Even if we grant (for the sake of the joke) that overall, this “test” rarely errs in the report it outputs (pass or fail),  that is irrelevant to appraising the inference from the data on April 20, 2010 (which would have differed had the more stringent test been run). That interpretation violates the severity criterion:  the observed passing result was altogether common if generated from a source where the pressure level was unacceptably high, Therefore it misinterprets the actual data. The question is why anyone would saddle the frequentist with such shenanigans on averages?  … Lest anyone think I am inventing a criticism, here is a familiar statistical instantiation, where the choice for each experiment is given to be .5 (Cox 1958).

Two Measuring Instruments with Different Precisions:

 A single observation X is to be made on a normally distributed random variable with unknown mean m, but the measurement instrument is chosen by a coin flip: with heads we use instrument E’ with a known small variance, say 10-4, while with tails, we use E”, with a known large variance, say 104. The full data indicates whether E’ or E” was performed, and the particular value observed, which we can write as x’ and x”, respectively. (This example comes up in, ton o’bricks).

In applying our test T+ (see November 2011 blog post ) to a null hypothesis, say, µ = 0, the “same” value of X would correspond to a much smaller p-value were it to have come from E’ than if it had come from E”.  Denote the two p-values as p’ and p”, respectively.  However, or so the criticism proceeds, the error statistician would report the average p-value:  .5(p’ + p”).

But this would give a misleading assessment of the precision and corresponding severity with either measurement! Instead you should report the p-value of the result in the experiment actually run (this is Cox’s Weak Conditionality Principle, WCP).

But what could lead the critic to suppose the error statistician must average over experiments not even performed?  Rule #2 for legitimate criticism is to give the position being criticized the most generous construal one can think of.  Perhaps the critic supposes what is actually a distortion of even the most radical behavioristic construal:

  •   If you consider outcomes that could have occurred in hypothetical repetitions of this experiment, you must also consider other experiments you did not run (but could have been run) in reasoning from the data observed (from the test you actually ran), and report some kind of frequentist average!

The severity requirement makes explicit that such a construal is to be rejected—I would have thought it obvious, and not in need of identifying a special principle. Since it wasn’t, I articulated this special notion for interpreting tests and the corresponding severity criterion. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Comedy, Statistics | 2 Comments

Does statistics have an ontology? Does it need one? (draft 2)

questionmark pinkChance, rational beliefs, decision, uncertainty, probability, error probabilities, truth, random sampling, resampling, opinion, expectations. These are some of the concepts we bandy about by giving various interpretations to mathematical statistics, to statistical theory, and to probabilistic models. But are they real? The question of “ontology” asks about such things, and given the “Ontology and Methodology” conference here at Virginia Tech (May 4, 5), I’d like to get your thoughts (for possible inclusion in a Mayo-Spanos presentation).*  Also, please consider attending**.

Interestingly, I noticed the posts that have garnered the most comments have touched on philosophical questions of the nature of entities and processes behind statistical idealizations (e.g.,

1. When an interpretation is supplied for a formal statistical account, its theorems may well turn out to express approximately true claims, and the interpretation may be deemed useful, but this does not mean the concepts give correct descriptions of reality. The interpreted axioms, and inference principles, are chosen to reflect a given philosophy, or set of intended aims: roughly, to use probabilistic ideas (i) to control error probabilities of methods (Neyman-Pearson, Fisher), or (ii) to assign and update degrees of belief, actual or rational (Bayesian).  But this does not mean its adherents have to take seriously the realism of all the concepts generated. In fact ,we often (on this blog) see supporters of various stripes of frequentist and Bayesian accounts running far away from taking their accounts literally, even as those interpretations are, or at least were, the basis and motivation for the development of the formal edifice (“we never meant this literally”).  But are these caveats on the same order? Or do some threaten the entire edifice of the account?

Starting with the error statistical account, recall Egon Pearson in his “Statistical Concepts in Their Relation to Reality” making it clear to Fisher that the business of controlling erroneous actions in the long run, acceptance sampling in industry and 5-year plans, only arose with Wald, and were never really part of the original Neyman-Pearson tests (declaring that the behaviorist philosophy was Neyman’s, not his).  The paper itself may be found here. I was interested to hear (Mayo 2005)  Neyman’s arch opponent, Bruno de Finetti, remark (quite correctly) that the expression “inductive behavior…that was for Neyman simply a slogan underlining and explaining the difference between his, the Bayesian and the Fisherian formulations” became with Abraham Wald’s work, “something much more substantial” (de Finetti 1972, 176).

Granted, it has not been obvious to people just how to interpret N-P tests “evidentially “ or “inferentially”—the subject of my work over many years. But there always seemed to me to be enough hints and examples to see what was intended: A statistical hypothesis H assigns probabilities to possible outcomes, and the warrant for accepting H as adequate—for an error statistician– is in terms of how well corroborated H is: how well H has stood up to tests that would have detected flaws in H, at least with very high probability. So the grounds for holding or using H are error statistical. The control and assessment of error probabilities may be used inferentially to determine the capabilities of methods to detect the adequacy/inadequacy of models, and express the extent of the discrepancies that have been identified. We also employ these ideas to detect gambits that make it too easy to find evidence for claims, even if the claims have been subjected to weak tests and biased procedures. A recent post is here.

The account has never professed to supply a unified logic, or any kind of logic for inference. The idea that there was a single rational way to make inferences was ridiculed by Neyman (whose birthday is April 16). Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Statistics | 61 Comments

Who is allowed to cheat? I.J. Good and that after dinner comedy hour….

UnknownIt was from my Virginia Tech colleague I.J. Good (in statistics), who died four years ago (April 5, 2009), at 93, that I learned most of what I call “howlers” on this blog. His favorites were based on the “paradoxes” of stopping rules.

“In conversation I have emphasized to other statisticians, starting in 1950, that, in virtue of the ‘law of the iterated logarithm,’ by optional stopping an arbitrarily high sigmage, and therefore an arbitrarily small tail-area probability, can be attained even when the null hypothesis is true. In other words if a Fisherian is prepared to use optional stopping (which usually he is not) he can be sure of rejecting a true null hypothesis provided that he is prepared to go on sampling for a long time. The way I usually express this ‘paradox’ is that a Fisherian [but not a Bayesian] can cheat by pretending he has a plane to catch like a gambler who leaves the table when he is ahead” (Good 1983, 135) [*]

This paper came from a conference where we both presented, and he was extremely critical of my error statistical defense on this point. (I was a year out of grad school, and he a University Distinguished Professor.) 

One time, years later, after hearing Jack give this howler for the nth time, “a Fisherian [but not a Bayesian] can cheat, etc.,” I was driving him to his office, and suddenly blurted out what I really thought:

“You know Jack, as many times as I have heard you tell this, I’ve always been baffled as to its lesson about who is allowed to cheat. Error statisticians require the overall and not the ‘computed’ significance level be reported. To us, what would be cheating would be reporting the significance level you got after trying and trying again in just the same way as if the test had a fixed sample size. True, we are forced to fret about how stopping rules alter the error probabilities of tests, while the Bayesian is free to ignore them, but why isn’t the real lesson that the Bayesian is allowed to cheat?” (A published version of my remark may be found in EGEK p. 351: “As often as my distinguished colleague presents this point…”)

 To my surprise, or actually shock, after pondering this a bit, Jack said something like, “Hmm, I never thought of it this way.”

images-3By the way, the story of the “after dinner Bayesian comedy hour” on this blog, did not allude to Jack but to someone who gave a much more embellished version. Since it’s Saturday night, let’s once again listen into the comedy hour that unfolded at my dinner table at an academic conference:

 Did you hear the one about the researcher who gets a phone call from the guy analyzing his data? First the guy congratulates him and says, “The results show a Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Comedy, Statistics | Tags: , , | 68 Comments

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