BREAKING THE LAW! (of likelihood): to keep their fit measures in line (A), (B 2nd)



1.An Assumed Law of Statistical Evidence (law of likelihood)

Nearly all critical discussions of frequentist error statistical inference (significance tests, confidence intervals, p- values, power, etc.) start with the following general assumption about the nature of inductive evidence or support:

Data x are better evidence for hypothesis H1 than for H0 if x are more probable under H1 than under H0.

Ian Hacking (1965) called this the logic of support: x supports hypotheses H1 more than H0 if H1 is more likely, given x than is H0:

Pr(x; H1) > Pr(x; H0).

[With likelihoods, the data x are fixed, the hypotheses vary.]*


x is evidence for H1 over H0 if the likelihood ratio LR (H1 over H0 ) is greater than 1.

It is given in other ways besides, but it’s the same general idea. (Some will take the LR as actually quantifying the support, others leave it qualitative.)

In terms of rejection:

“An hypothesis should be rejected if and only if there is some rival hypothesis much better supported [i.e., much more likely] than it is.” (Hacking 1965, 89)

2. Barnard (British Journal of Philosophy of Science )

But this “law” will immediately be seen to fail on our minimal severity requirement. Hunting for an impressive fit, or trying and trying again, it’s easy to find a rival hypothesis H1 much better “supported” than H0 even when H0 is true. Or, as Barnard (1972) puts it, “there always is such a rival hypothesis, viz. that things just had to turn out the way they actually did” (1972 p. 129).  H0: the coin is fair, gets a small likelihood (.5)k given k tosses of a coin, while H1: the probability of heads is 1 just on those tosses that yield a head, renders the sequence of k outcomes maximally likely. This is an example of Barnard’s “things just had to turn out as they did”. Or, to use an example with P-values: a statistically significant difference, being improbable under the null H0 , will afford high likelihood to any number of explanations that fit the data well.

3.Breaking the law (of likelihood) by going to the “second,” error statistical level:

How does it fail our severity requirement? First look at what the frequentist error statistician must always do to critique an inference: she must consider the capability of the inference method that purports to provide evidence for a claim. She goes to a higher level or metalevel, as it were. In this case, the likelihood ratio plays the role of the needed statistic d(X). To put it informally, she asks:

What’s the probability the method would yield an LR disfavoring H0 compared to some alternative H1  even if H0 is true?

What’s the probability of so small a likelihood for H0 compared to H1, even if H0 adequately describes the data generating procedure? As Pearson and Neyman put it:

“[I]n order to fix a limit between ‘small’ and ‘large’ values of LR we must know how often such values appear when we deal with a true hypothesis. That is to say we must have knowledge of the chance of obtaining [so small a likelihood ratio] in the case where the hypothesis tested [H0 ] is true” (Pearson and Neyman 1930, 106).

Looking at “how often such values appear” of course turns on the sampling distribution of the LR viewed as a statistic. That’s why frequentist error statistical accounts are called sampling theory accounts. This requires considering other values that could have occurred, not just the one you got.

But this this breaks the law of likelihood and so is taboo for the likelihoodist! (Likewise for anyone holding the Likelihood Principle[i].)

Viewing the sampling distribution as taboo (once the data are given) is puzzling in the extreme[ii]. How can it be desirable to block out information about how the data were generated and the hypotheses specified? I fail to see how anyone can evaluate an inference from data x to a claim C without learning about the capabilities of the method, through the relevant sampling distribution. Readers of this blog know my favorite example to demonstrate the lack of error control if you look only at likelihoods: the case of optional stopping. (Keep sampling until you get a nominal p value of .05 against a 0 null hypothesis in two-sided Normal testing of the mean. You can be wrong with maximal probability.)

Just such examples, where the alternative is not a point value, led Barnard to abandon (or greatly restrict) the Likelihood Principle. Interestingly, in raising these criticisms of likelihood, Barnard is reviewing Ian Hacking’s 1965 book: The Logic of Statistical Inference. Only thing is, by the time of this 1972 review, Hacking had given it up as well! In fact, in the pages immediately following Barnard’s review of Hacking, is Hacking reviewing A.F. Edwards’ book Likelihood (1972) wherein Hacking explains why he’s thrown his own likelihood rule of support overboard.

4.Hacking (also BJPS)

A classic case is the normal distribution and a single observation. Reluctantly we will grant Edwards that the observation x is the best supported estimate of the unknown mean. But the hypothesis about the variance, with highest likelihood, is the assumption that there is no variance, which strikes us as monstrous. .. we must concede that as prior information we take for granted the variance is at least w. But even this will not do, for the best supported view on the variance is then that it is exactly w.

For a less artificial example, take the ‘tram-car’ or ‘tank’ problem We capture enemy tanks at random and note the serial numbers on their engines. We know the serial numbers start at 0001. We capture a tank number 2176. How many tanks did the enemy make? On the likelihood analysis, the best supported guess is: 2176. Now one can defend this remarkable result by saying that it does not follow that we should estimate the actual number as 2176, only that comparing individual numbers, 2176 is better supported than any larger figure. My worry is deeper. Let us compare the relative likelihood of the two hypotheses, 2176 and 3000. Now pass to a situation where we are measuring, say, widths of a grating, in which error has a normal distribution with known variance; we can devise data and a pair of hypotheses about the mean which will have the same log-likelihood ratio. I have no inclination to say that the relative support in the tank case is ‘exactly the same as’ that in the normal distribution case, even though the likelihood ratios are the same. Hence even on those increasingly rare days when I will rank hypotheses in order of their likelihoods, I cannot take the actual log-likelihood number as an objective measure of anything. (Hacking 1972, 136-137).

Hacking appears even more concerned with the fact that likelihood ratios do not enjoy a stable evidential meaning or calibration, than the lack of error control in likelihoodist accounts. But Hacking was still assuming the latter must be cashed out in terms of long run error performance[iii] as opposed to stringency of test.

I say: a method that makes it easy to declare evidence against hypotheses erroneously gives an unwarranted inference each time; a method that fails to directly pick up on optional stopping, data dredging, cherry picking, multiple testing or any of the other gambits that alter the capabilities of tests to avoid mistaken inferences are poor methods, but not because of their behavior in the long-run. They license unwarranted or questionable inferences in each and every application.This is so, I aver, even if we happen to know, through other means, that their inferred claim C is correct.

5.Three ways likelihoods arise in inference. Aug. 31 note at end of para.

Likelihoods are fundamental in all statistical inference accounts. One might separate how they arise in three groups (acknowledging divisions within each)

(1) likelihoods only (pure likelihoodist)

(2) likelihoods + priors (Bayesian)

(3) likelihoods + error probabilities based on sampling distributions (error statistics, sampling theory

Only the error statistician (3) requires breaking the likelihood law.[See note.] You can feed us fit measures from (1) and (2), and we will do the same thing: ask about the probability of so good (or poor) a fit between data and some claim C, even if C is false (true). The answer will be based on the sampling distribution of the relevant statistic, computed under the falsity of C, or discrepancies from what C asserts).[iv]

Aug 31 note: 

If someone wanted to describe the addition of the priors under rubric (2) as tantamount to “breaking the likelihood law”, as opposed to merely requiring it to be supplemented, nothing whatever changes in the point of this post. (It would seem to introduce idiosyncrasies in the usual formulation–but these are not germane to my post.) My sentence, in fact, might well have been “Only the error statistician (3) requires breaking the likelihood law and the likelihood principle (by dint of requiring considerations of the sampling distribution to obtain the evidential import of the data).




Installment (B): an ad hoc clarificatory note, prompted by comments from an anonymous fan

6. Of tests and comparative support measures

The statements of “the” law of likelihood, and likelihood support logics are not all precisely identical. Some accounts are qualitative, merely indicating prima facie increased support; others will devise quantitative measures of support based on likelihoods. (There are at least 10 of them we covered in our recent seminar, maybe more.) Some will try out corresponding “tests” others not. One needn’t have anything like a test or a “rejection rule” to be a likelihoodist. I mentioned the construal in terms of tests because it is in the sentence just before the one I quote from Barnard, and wanted to be true to what he had just said about Hacking’s 1965 book.

Remember the topic of my post concerns criticisms of error statistical methods, and a principle (or “law”) of evidence used in those criticisms. (If you reject that principle, then presumably you wouldn’t use it to criticize error statistical methods, so we have no disagreement on this.) A clear rationale for connecting tests of hypotheses—be they Fisherian or N-P style—and logics of likelihood is to mount criticisms: to explain what’s wrong with those (Fisherian or N-P) tests, and how they may be cured of their problems.

Hacking lays out an impressive argument that all that is sensible in N-P likelihood ratio tests are captured by his conception of likelihood tests (the one he advanced back in 1965) while all the (apparently) counterintuitive parts are jettisoned. Now that I’ve access to my NYC library, I can quote the portion to which Barnard is alluding in his review of Hacking.

“Our theory of support leads directly to the theory of testing suggested in the last chapter [VI]. An hypothesis should be rejected if and only if there is some rival hypothesis much better supported than it is. Support has already been analysed in terms of ratios of likelihoods. But what shall serve as ‘much better supported’? For the present I leave this in abeyance, and speak merely of tests of different stringency. With each test will be associated a critical ratio. The greater the critical ratio, the more stringent the test. Roughly speaking hypothesis h will be rejected in favour of rival i at critical level alpha, just if the likelihood ratio of i to h exceeds alpha.” (Hacking 1965 p.89)

I don’t want to pursue this discussion of Hacking here. To repeat, my post concerns criticisms of error statistical methods. A foundational critique of a method of inference depends on holding another view or principle or method of inference. This post is an offshoot of the recent  posts here and here (7/14/14 and 8/17/14)..

Critiques in those posts are based on assuming that it is fair, reasonable, obvious or what have you, to criticize the way p-values arise in inference by means of a different view of inference. (I allude here to genuine or “audited” p-values, not mere nominal or computed p-values.) The p-value, it is reasoned, should be close to either a posterior probability (in the null hypothesis) or a likelihood ratio (or Bayes ratio). Ways to “fix” p-values are proposed to get them closer to these other measures. I don’t think there was anything controversial about this being the basic goal, not just of the particular papers we looked at, but mountains of papers that have been written and are being written this very moment.

I may continue with my intended follow-up (Part C)

*Note; I am not sure whether the powers that be are allowing us to say “data x is” nowadays–I read something about this, maybe it was by Pinker. Can somebody please ask Stephen Pinker for me? Thanks.

[i] Please search this blog for quite a lot on the likelihood principle and the strong likelihood principle.

[ii]I would say this even if we knew the model was adequate. Likelihood principlers may regard using the sampling distribution to test the model as legitimate.

[iii]Perhaps he still is, I don’t mean to saddle him with my testing construal of error probabilities at all. (Some hints of a shift exists in his 1980 article in the Braithwaite volume.)

[iv] This delineation comes from Cox and Hinkley, but I don’t have it here.


Barnard, G. (1972). Review of ‘The Logic of Statistical Inference’ by I. HackingBrit. J. Phil.Sci., 23(2): 123-132.

Hacking, I. (1965). Logic of Statistical Inference. Cambridge: CUP.

Hacking, I. (1972). “Review of Likelihood. An Account of the Statistical Concept of Likelihood and Its Application to Scientific Inference by A. F. Edwards,” Brit. J. Phil.Sci., 23(2): 132-137.

Hacking, I. (1980). “The Theory of Probable Inference: Neyman, Peirce and Braithwaite.” In D. H. Mellor (ed.), Science, belief and behavior: Essays in honor of R.B. Braithwaite.  141-160. Cambridge: CUP.

Pearson, E.S. & Neyman, J. (1930). On the problem of two samples.Joint Statistical Papers by J. Neyman & E.S. Pearson, 99-115 (Berkeley: U. of Calif. Press). First published in  Bul. Acad. Pol.Sci. 73-96.


Categories: highly probable vs highly probed, law of likelihood, Likelihood Principle, Statistics | 50 Comments

Are P Values Error Probabilities? or, “It’s the methods, stupid!” (2nd install)



Despite the fact that Fisherians and Neyman-Pearsonians alike regard observed significance levels, or P values, as error probabilities, we occasionally hear allegations (typically from those who are neither Fisherian nor N-P theorists) that P values are actually not error probabilities. The denials tend to go hand in hand with allegations that P values exaggerate evidence against a null hypothesis—a problem whose cure invariably invokes measures that are at odds with both Fisherian and N-P tests. The Berger and Sellke (1987) article from a recent post is a good example of this. When leading figures put forward a statement that looks to be straightforwardly statistical, others tend to simply repeat it without inquiring whether the allegation actually mixes in issues of interpretation and statistical philosophy. So I wanted to go back and look at their arguments. I will post this in installments.

1. Some assertions from Fisher, N-P, and Bayesian camps

Here are some assertions from Fisherian, Neyman-Pearsonian and Bayesian camps: (I make no attempt at uniformity in writing the “P-value”, but retain the quotes as written.)

a) From the Fisherian camp (Cox and Hinkley):

For given observations y we calculate t = tobs = t(y), say, and the level of significance pobs by

pobs = Pr(T > tobs; H0).

….Hence pobs is the probability that we would mistakenly declare there to be evidence against H0, were we to regard the data under analysis as being just decisive against H0.” (Cox and Hinkley 1974, 66).

Thus pobs would be the Type I error probability associated with the test.

b) From the Neyman-Pearson N-P camp (Lehmann and Romano):

“[I]t is good practice to determine not only whether the hypothesis is accepted or rejected at the given significance level, but also to determine the smallest significance level…at which the hypothesis would be rejected for the given observation. This number, the so-called p-value gives an idea of how strongly the data contradict the hypothesis. It also enables others to reach a verdict based on the significance level of their choice.” (Lehmann and Romano 2005, 63-4) 

Very similar quotations are easily found, and are regarded as uncontroversial—even by Bayesians whose contributions stood at the foot of Berger and Sellke’s argument that P values exaggerate the evidence against the null. Continue reading

Categories: frequentist/Bayesian, J. Berger, P-values, Statistics | 31 Comments

Egon Pearson’s Heresy

E.S. Pearson: 11 Aug 1895-12 June 1980.

Today is Egon Pearson’s birthday: 11 August 1895-12 June, 1980.
E. Pearson rejected some of the familiar tenets that have come to be associated with Neyman and Pearson (N-P) statistical tests, notably the idea that the essential justification for tests resides in a long-run control of rates of erroneous interpretations–what he termed the “behavioral” rationale of tests. In an unpublished letter E. Pearson wrote to Birnbaum (1974), he talks about N-P theory admitting of two interpretations: behavioral and evidential:

“I think you will pick up here and there in my own papers signs of evidentiality, and you can say now that we or I should have stated clearly the difference between the behavioral and evidential interpretations. Certainly we have suffered since in the way the people have concentrated (to an absurd extent often) on behavioral interpretations”.

(Nowadays, some people concentrate to an absurd extent on “science-wise error rates in dichotomous screening”.)

When Erich Lehmann, in his review of my “Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge” (EGEK 1996), called Pearson “the hero of Mayo’s story,” it was because I found in E.S.P.’s work, if only in brief discussions, hints, and examples, the key elements for an “inferential” or “evidential” interpretation of N-P statistics. Granted, these “evidential” attitudes and practices have never been explicitly codified to guide the interpretation of N-P tests. If they had been, I would not be on about providing an inferential philosophy all these years.[i] Nevertheless, “Pearson and Pearson” statistics (both Egon, not Karl) would have looked very different from Neyman and Pearson statistics, I suspect. One of the few sources of E.S. Pearson’s statistical philosophy is his (1955) “Statistical Concepts in Their Relation to Reality”. It begins like this: Continue reading

Categories: phil/history of stat, Philosophy of Statistics, Statistics | Tags: , | 2 Comments

What did Nate Silver just say? Blogging the JSM 2013

imagesMemory Lane: August 6, 2013. My initial post on JSM13 (8/5/13) was here.

Nate Silver gave his ASA Presidential talk to a packed audience (with questions tweeted[i]). Here are some quick thoughts—based on scribbled notes (from last night). Silver gave a list of 10 points that went something like this (turns out there were 11):

1. statistics are not just numbers

2. context is needed to interpret data

3. correlation is not causation

4. averages are the most useful tool

5. human intuitions about numbers tend to be flawed and biased

6. people misunderstand probability

7. we should be explicit about our biases and (in this sense) should be Bayesian?

8. complexity is not the same as not understanding

9. being in the in crowd gets in the way of objectivity

10. making predictions improves accountability Continue reading

Categories: Statistics, StatSci meets PhilSci | 3 Comments

Neyman, Power, and Severity

April 16, 1894 – August 5, 1981

NEYMAN: April 16, 1894 – August 5, 1981

Jerzy Neyman: April 16, 1894-August 5, 1981. This reblogs posts under “The Will to Understand Power” & “Neyman’s Nursery” here & here.

Way back when, although I’d never met him, I sent my doctoral dissertation, Philosophy of Statistics, to one person only: Professor Ronald Giere. (And he would read it, too!) I knew from his publications that he was a leading defender of frequentist statistical methods in philosophy of science, and that he’d worked for at time with Birnbaum in NYC.

Some ten 15 years ago, Giere decided to quit philosophy of statistics (while remaining in philosophy of science): I think it had to do with a certain form of statistical exile (in philosophy). He asked me if I wanted his papers—a mass of work on statistics and statistical foundations gathered over many years. Could I make a home for them? I said yes. Then came his caveat: there would be a lot of them.

As it happened, we were building a new house at the time, Thebes, and I designed a special room on the top floor that could house a dozen or so file cabinets. (I painted it pale rose, with white lacquered book shelves up to the ceiling.) Then, for more than 9 months (same as my son!), I waited . . . Several boxes finally arrived, containing hundreds of files—each meticulously labeled with titles and dates.  More than that, the labels were hand-typed!  I thought, If Ron knew what a slob I was, he likely would not have entrusted me with these treasures. (Perhaps he knew of no one else who would  actually want them!) Continue reading

Categories: Neyman, phil/history of stat, power, Statistics | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Roger Berger on Stephen Senn’s “Blood Simple” with a response by Senn (Guest posts)

Roger BergerRoger L. Berger

School Director & Professor
School of Mathematical & Natural Science
Arizona State University

Comment on S. Senn’s post: Blood Simple? The complicated and controversial world of bioequivalence”(*)

First, I do agree with Senn’s statement that “the FDA requires conventional placebo-controlled trials of a new treatment to be tested at the 5% level two-sided but since they would never accept a treatment that was worse than placebo the regulator’s risk is 2.5% not 5%.” The FDA procedure essentially defines a one-sided test with Type I error probability (size) of .025. Why it is not just called this, I do not know. And if the regulators believe .025 is the appropriate Type I error probability, then perhaps it should be used in other situations, e.g., bioequivalence testing, as well.

Senn refers to a paper by Hsu and me (Berger and Hsu (1996)), and then attempts to characterize what we said. Unfortunately, I believe he has mischaracterized. Continue reading

Categories: bioequivalence, frequentist/Bayesian, PhilPharma, Statistics | Tags: , | 22 Comments

S. Senn: “Responder despondency: myths of personalized medicine” (Guest Post)

Stephen Senn


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

Responder despondency: myths of personalized medicine

The road to drug development destruction is paved with good intentions. The 2013 FDA report, Paving the Way for Personalized Medicine  has an encouraging and enthusiastic foreword from Commissioner Hamburg and plenty of extremely interesting examples stretching back decades. Given what the report shows can be achieved on occasion, given the enthusiasm of the FDA and its commissioner, given the amazing progress in genetics emerging from the labs, a golden future of personalized medicine surely awaits us. It would be churlish to spoil the party by sounding a note of caution but I have never shirked being churlish and that is exactly what I am going to do. Continue reading

Categories: evidence-based policy, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 49 Comments

Continued:”P-values overstate the evidence against the null”: legit or fallacious?



Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, CIs and tests, fallacy of rejection, highly probable vs highly probed, P-values, Statistics | 39 Comments

“P-values overstate the evidence against the null”: legit or fallacious? (revised)

0. July 20, 2014: Some of the comments to this post reveal that using the word “fallacy” in my original title might have encouraged running together the current issue with the fallacy of transposing the conditional. Please see a newly added Section 7.

Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, CIs and tests, fallacy of rejection, highly probable vs highly probed, P-values, Statistics | 71 Comments

Higgs discovery two years on (2: Higgs analysis and statistical flukes)

Higgs_cake-sI’m reblogging a few of the Higgs posts, with some updated remarks, on this two-year anniversary of the discovery. (The first was in my last post.) The following, was originally “Higgs Analysis and Statistical Flukes: part 2″ (from March, 2013).[1]

Some people say to me: “This kind of reasoning is fine for a ‘sexy science’ like high energy physics (HEP)”–as if their statistical inferences are radically different. But I maintain that this is the mode by which data are used in “uncertain” reasoning across the entire landscape of science and day-to-day learning (at least, when we’re trying to find things out)[2] Even with high level theories, the particular problems of learning from data are tackled piecemeal, in local inferences that afford error control. Granted, this statistical philosophy differs importantly from those that view the task as assigning comparative (or absolute) degrees-of-support/belief/plausibility to propositions, models, or theories.  Continue reading

Categories: Higgs, highly probable vs highly probed, P-values, Severity, Statistics | 13 Comments

Higgs Discovery two years on (1: “Is particle physics bad science?”)


July 4, 2014 was the two year anniversary of the Higgs boson discovery. As the world was celebrating the “5 sigma!” announcement, and we were reading about the statistical aspects of this major accomplishment, I was aghast to be emailed a letter, purportedly instigated by Bayesian Dennis Lindley, through Tony O’Hagan (to the ISBA). Lindley, according to this letter, wanted to know:

“Are the particle physics community completely wedded to frequentist analysis?  If so, has anyone tried to explain what bad science that is?”

Fairly sure it was a joke, I posted it on my “Rejected Posts” blog for a bit until it checked out [1]. (See O’Hagan’s “Digest and Discussion”) Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, fallacy of non-significance, Higgs, Lindley, Statistics | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Some ironies in the ‘replication crisis’ in social psychology (4th and final installment)

freud mirror espThere are some ironic twists in the way social psychology is dealing with its “replication crisis”, and they may well threaten even the most sincere efforts to put the field on firmer scientific footing–precisely in those areas that evoked the call for a “daisy chain” of replications. Two articles, one from the Guardian (June 14), and a second from The Chronicle of Higher Education (June 23) lay out the sources of what some are calling “Repligate”. The Guardian article is “Physics Envy: Do ‘hard’ sciences hold the solution to the replication crisis in psychology?”

The article in the Chronicle of Higher Education also gets credit for its title: “Replication Crisis in Psychology Research Turns Ugly and Odd”. I’ll likely write this in installments…(2nd, 3rd , 4th)


The Guardian article answers yes to the question “Do ‘hard’ sciences hold the solution“:

Psychology is evolving faster than ever. For decades now, many areas in psychology have relied on what academics call “questionable research practices” – a comfortable euphemism for types of malpractice that distort science but which fall short of the blackest of frauds, fabricating data.
Continue reading

Categories: junk science, science communication, Statistical fraudbusting, Statistics | 53 Comments

Blog Contents: May 2014

metablog old fashion typewriter


May 2014

(5/1) Putting the brakes on the breakthrough: An informal look at the argument for the Likelihood Principle

(5/3) You can only become coherent by ‘converting’ non-Bayesianly

(5/6) Winner of April Palindrome contest: Lori Wike

(5/7) A. Spanos: Talking back to the critics using error statistics (Phil6334)

(5/10) Who ya gonna call for statistical Fraudbusting? R.A. Fisher, P-values, and error statistics (again)

(5/15) Scientism and Statisticism: a conference* (i) Continue reading

Categories: blog contents, Metablog, Statistics | Leave a comment

Big Bayes Stories? (draft ii)

images-15“Wonderful examples, but let’s not close our eyes,”  is David J. Hand’s apt title for his discussion of the recent special issue (Feb 2014) of Statistical Science called Big Bayes Stories” (edited by Sharon McGrayne, Kerrie Mengersen and Christian Robert.) For your Saturday night/ weekend reading, here are excerpts from Hand, another discussant (Welsh), scattered remarks of mine, along with links to papers and background. I begin with David Hand:

 [The papers in this collection] give examples of problems which are well-suited to being tackled using such methods, but one must not lose sight of the merits of having multiple different strategies and tools in one’s inferential armory.(Hand [1])_

…. But I have to ask, is the emphasis on ‘Bayesian’ necessary? That is, do we need further demonstrations aimed at promoting the merits of Bayesian methods? … The examples in this special issue were selected, firstly by the authors, who decided what to write about, and then, secondly, by the editors, in deciding the extent to which the articles conformed to their desiderata of being Bayesian success stories: that they ‘present actual data processing stories where a non-Bayesian solution would have failed or produced sub-optimal results.’ In a way I think this is unfortunate. I am certainly convinced of the power of Bayesian inference for tackling many problems, but the generality and power of the method is not really demonstrated by a collection specifically selected on the grounds that this approach works and others fail. To take just one example, choosing problems which would be difficult to attack using the Neyman-Pearson hypothesis testing strategy would not be a convincing demonstration of a weakness of that approach if those problems lay outside the class that that approach was designed to attack.

Hand goes on to make a philosophical assumption that might well be questioned by Bayesians: Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Honorary Mention, Statistics | 62 Comments

“Statistical Science and Philosophy of Science: where should they meet?”


Four score years ago (!) we held the conference “Statistical Science and Philosophy of Science: Where Do (Should) They meet?” at the London School of Economics, Center for the Philosophy of Natural and Social Science, CPNSS, where I’m visiting professor [1] Many of the discussions on this blog grew out of contributions from the conference, and conversations initiated soon after. The conference site is here; my paper on the general question is here.[2]

My main contribution was “Statistical Science Meets Philosophy of Science Part 2: Shallow versus Deep Explorations” SS & POS 2. It begins like this: 

1. Comedy Hour at the Bayesian Retreat[3]

 Overheard at the comedy hour at the Bayesian retreat: Did you hear the one about the frequentist… Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, Philosophy of Statistics, Severity, Statistics, StatSci meets PhilSci | 23 Comments

A. Spanos: “Recurring controversies about P values and confidence intervals revisited”


Aris Spanos
Wilson E. Schmidt Professor of Economics
Department of Economics, Virginia Tech

Recurring controversies about P values and confidence intervals revisited*
Ecological Society of America (ESA) ECOLOGY
Forum—P Values and Model Selection (pp. 609-654)
Volume 95, Issue 3 (March 2014): pp. 645-651


The use, abuse, interpretations and reinterpretations of the notion of a P value has been a hot topic of controversy since the 1950s in statistics and several applied fields, including psychology, sociology, ecology, medicine, and economics.

The initial controversy between Fisher’s significance testing and the Neyman and Pearson (N-P; 1933) hypothesis testing concerned the extent to which the pre-data Type  I  error  probability  α can  address the arbitrariness and potential abuse of Fisher’s post-data  threshold for the value. Continue reading

Categories: CIs and tests, Error Statistics, Fisher, P-values, power, Statistics | 32 Comments

“The medical press must become irrelevant to publication of clinical trials.”

pmed0020138g001“The medical press must become irrelevant to publication of clinical trials.” So said Stephen Senn at a recent meeting of the Medical Journalists’ Association with the title: “Is the current system of publishing clinical trials fit for purpose?” Senn has thrown a few stones in the direction of medical journals in guest posts on this blog, and in this paper, but it’s the first I heard him go this far. He wasn’t the only one answering the conference question “No!” much to the surprise of medical journalist Jane Feinmann, whose article I am excerpting:

 So what happened? Medical journals, the main vehicles for publishing clinical trials today, are after all the ‘gatekeepers of medical evidence’—as they are described in Bad Pharma, Ben Goldacre’s 2012 bestseller. …

… The Alltrials campaign, launched two years ago on the back of Goldacre’s book, has attracted an extraordinary level of support. … Continue reading

Categories: PhilPharma, science communication, Statistics | 5 Comments

Stephen Senn: Blood Simple? The complicated and controversial world of bioequivalence (guest post)

Stephen SennBlood Simple?
The complicated and controversial world of bioequivalence

by Stephen Senn*


Those not familiar with drug development might suppose that showing that a new pharmaceutical formulation (say a generic drug) is equivalent to a formulation that has a licence (say a brand name drug) ought to be simple. However, it can often turn out to be bafflingly difficult[1]. Continue reading

Categories: bioequivalence, confidence intervals and tests, PhilPharma, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 22 Comments

Allan Birnbaum, Philosophical Error Statistician: 27 May 1923 – 1 July 1976

27 May 1923-   1 July 1976

Today is Allan Birnbaum’s Birthday. Birnbaum’s (1962) classic “On the Foundations of Statistical Inference” is in Breakthroughs in Statistics (volume I 1993).  I’ve a hunch that Birnbaum would have liked my rejoinder to discussants of my forthcoming paper (Statistical Science): Bjornstad, Dawid, Evans, Fraser, Hannig, and Martin and Liu. I hadn’t realized until recently that all of this is up under “future papers” here [1]. You can find the rejoinder: STS1404-004RA0-2. That takes away some of the surprise of having it all come out at once (and in final form). For those unfamiliar with the argument, at the end of this entry are slides from a recent, entirely informal, talk that I never posted, as well as some links from this blog. Happy Birthday Birnbaum! Continue reading

Categories: Birnbaum, Birnbaum Brakes, Likelihood Principle, Statistics | Leave a comment

The Science Wars & the Statistics Wars: More from the Scientism workshop

images-11-1Here are the slides from my presentation (May 17) at the Scientism workshop in NYC. (They’re sketchy since we were trying for 25-30 minutes.) Below them are some mini notes on some of the talks.

Now for my informal notes. Here’s a link to the Speaker abstracts;the presentations may now be found at the conference site here. Comments, questions, and corrections are welcome. Continue reading

Categories: evidence-based policy, frequentist/Bayesian, Higgs, P-values, scientism, Statistics, StatSci meets PhilSci | 11 Comments

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