“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

What have we learned from the Anil Potti training and test data fireworks ? Part 1 (draft 2)


Over 100 patients signed up for the chance to participate in the clinical trials at Duke (2007-10) that promised a custom-tailored cancer treatment spewed out by a cutting-edge prediction model developed by Anil Potti, Joseph Nevins and their team at Duke. Their model purported to predict your probable response to one or another chemotherapy based on microarray analyses of various tumors. While they are now described as “false pioneers” of personalized cancer treatments, it’s not clear what has been learned from the fireworks surrounding the Potti episode overall. Most of the popular focus has been on glaring typographical and data processing errors—at least that’s what I mainly heard about until recently. Although they were quite crucial to the science in this case,(surely more so than Potti’s CV padding) what interests me now are the general methodological and logical concerns that rarely make it into the popular press. Continue reading

Categories: science communication, selection effects, Statistical fraudbusting | 33 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

Blog Table of Contents: March and April 2014



BLOG Contents: March and April 2014
Compiled by Jean Miller and Nicole Jinn

March 2014

(3/1) Cosma Shalizi gets tenure (at last!) (metastat announcement)

(3/2) Significance tests and frequentist principles of evidence: Phil6334 Day #6

(3/3) Capitalizing on Chance (ii)

(3/4) Power, power everywhere–(it) may not be what you think! [illustration]

(3/8) Msc kvetch: You are fully dressed (even under you clothes)? Continue reading

Categories: blog contents | 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

Deconstructing Andrew Gelman: “A Bayesian wants everybody else to be a non-Bayesian.”

At the start of our seminar, I said that “on weekends this spring (in connection with Phil 6334, but not limited to seminar participants) I will post some of my ‘deconstructions of articles”. I began with Andrew Gelman‘s note  “Ethics and the statistical use of prior information”[i], but never posted my deconstruction of it. So since it’s Saturday night, and the seminar is just ending, here it is, along with related links to Stat and ESP research (including me, Jack Good, Persi Diaconis and Pat Suppes). Please share comments especially in relation to current day ESP research. Continue reading

Categories: Background knowledge, Gelman, Phil6334, Statistics | 35 Comments

Scientism and Statisticism: a conference* (i)

images-11A lot of philosophers and scientists seem to be talking about scientism these days–either championing it or worrying about it. What is it? It’s usually a pejorative term describing an unwarranted deference to the so-called scientific method over and above other methods of inquiry. Some push it as a way to combat postmodernism (is that even still around?) Stephen Pinker gives scientism a positive spin (and even offers it as a cure for the malaise of the humanities!)[1]. Anyway, I’m to talk at a conference on Scientism (*not statisticism, that’s my word) taking place in NYC May 16-17. It is organized by Massimo Pigliucci (chair of philosophy at CUNY-Lehman), who has written quite a lot on the topic in the past few years. Information can be found here. In thinking about scientism for this conference, however, I was immediately struck by this puzzle: Continue reading

Categories: Announcement, PhilStatLaw, science communication, Statistical fraudbusting, StatSci meets PhilSci | Tags: | 15 Comments

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

images-9If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call?(Fisherian Fraudbusters!)*

*[adapted from R. Parker's "Ghostbusters"]

When you need to warrant serious accusations of bad statistics, if not fraud, where do scientists turn? Answer: To the frequentist error statistical reasoning and to p-value scrutiny, first articulated by R.A. Fisher[i].The latest accusations of big time fraud in social psychology concern the case of Jens Förster. As Richard Gill notes:

The methodology here is not new. It goes back to Fisher (founder of modern statistics) in the 30’s. Many statistics textbooks give as an illustration Fisher’s re-analysis (one could even say: meta-analysis) of Mendel’s data on peas. The tests of goodness of fit were, again and again, too good. There are two ingredients here: (1) the use of the left-tail probability as p-value instead of the right-tail probability. (2) combination of results from a number of independent experiments using a trick invented by Fisher for the purpose, and well known to all statisticians. (Richard D. Gill)

Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, Fisher, significance tests, Statistical fraudbusting, Statistics | 42 Comments

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

spanos 2014

Aris Spanos’ overview of error statistical responses to familiar criticisms of statistical tests. Related reading is Mayo and Spanos (2011)

Categories: Error Statistics, frequentist/Bayesian, Phil6334, reforming the reformers, statistical tests, Statistics | Leave a comment

Winner of April Palindrome contest: Lori Wike


Lori Wike

Winner of April 2014 Palindrome Contest:

Lori Wike


Pose ad: ‘Elba fallacy amid aged? Amygdala error or real?’ Ad: gym ad? Egad! I may call a fabled Aesop.

The requirement: A palindrome with Elba plus “fallacy” with an optional second word: “error”. A palindrome using both topped an acceptable palindrome using only “fallacy”. All April submissions used both. Other April finalists are here.


Lori Wike is principal bassoonist of the Utah Symphony and is on the faculty of the University of Utah and Westminster College. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music and a Master of Arts degree in Comparative Literature from UC-Irvine.

Continue reading

Categories: Announcement, Palindrome | 1 Comment

You can only become coherent by ‘converting’ non-Bayesianly

Mayo looks at Bayesian foundations

“What ever happened to Bayesian foundations?” was one of the final topics of our seminar (Mayo/SpanosPhil6334). In the past 15 years or so, not only have (some? most?) Bayesians come to accept violations of the Likelihood Principle, they have also tended to disown Dutch Book arguments, and the very idea of inductive inference as updating beliefs by Bayesian conditionalization has evanescencd. In one of Thursday’s readings, by Baccus, Kyburg, and Thalos (1990)[1], it is argued that under certain conditions, it is never a rational course of action to change belief by Bayesian conditionalization. Here’s a short snippet for your Saturday night reading (the full paper is http://errorstatistics.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/bacchus_kyburg_thalos-against-conditionalization.pdf): Continue reading

Categories: Bayes' Theorem, Phil 6334 class material, Statistics | Tags: , | 29 Comments

Putting the brakes on the breakthrough: An informal look at the argument for the Likelihood Principle



Friday, May 2, 2014, I will attempt to present my critical analysis of the Birnbaum argument for the (strong) Likelihood Principle, so as to be accessible to a general philosophy audience (flyer below). Can it be done? I don’t know yet, this is a first. It will consist of:

  • Example 1: Trying and Trying Again: Optional stopping
  • Example 2: Two instruments with different precisions
    [you shouldn’t get credit (or blame) for something you didn’t do]
  • The Breakthough: Birnbaumization
  • Imaginary dialogue with Allan Birnbaum

The full paper is here. My discussion takes several pieces a reader can explore further by searching this blog (e.g., under SLP, brakes e.g., here, Birnbaum, optional stopping). I will post slides afterwards.

Mayo poster

Categories: Announcement, Birnbaum Brakes, Statistics, strong likelihood principle | 23 Comments

Able Stats Elba: 3 Palindrome nominees for April! (rejected post)

images-7It’s good to know that in this incredibly stressed month[i], as we deal with end of semester deadlines, exams, applications and whatnot, that some people have found time for the errorstatistics palindrome contest–in fact, it’s the first time ever that I’ve received three (quite good) candidates (below)! (Help the Elba judges by voting for 1-3, error@vt.edu) Continue reading

Categories: Palindrome | 2 Comments

Reliability and Reproducibility: Fraudulent p-values through multiple testing (and other biases): S. Stanley Young (Phil 6334: Day#13)


images-6S. Stanley Young, PhD
Assistant Director for Bioinformatics
National Institute of Statistical Sciences
Research Triangle Park, NC

Here are Dr. Stanley Young’s slides from our April 25 seminar. They contain several tips for unearthing deception by fraudulent p-value reports. Since it’s Saturday night, you might wish to perform an experiment with three 10-sided dice*,recording the results of 100 rolls (3 at a time) on the form on slide 13. An entry, e.g., (0,1,3) becomes an imaginary p-value of .013 associated with the type of tumor, male-female, old-young. You report only hypotheses whose null is rejected at a “p-value” less than .05. Forward your results to me for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

*Sets of 10-sided dice will be offered as a palindrome prize beginning in May.

Categories: Phil6334, science communication, spurious p values, Statistical fraudbusting, Statistics | Tags: | 12 Comments

Phil 6334 Visitor: S. Stanley Young, “Statistics and Scientific Integrity”

We are pleased to announce our guest speaker at Thursday’s seminar (April 24, 2014): Statistics and Scientific Integrity”:

YoungPhoto2008S. Stanley Young, PhD 
Assistant Director for Bioinformatics
National Institute of Statistical Sciences
Research Triangle Park, NC

Author of Resampling-Based Multiple Testing, Westfall and Young (1993) Wiley.





The main readings for the discussion are:


Categories: Announcement, evidence-based policy, Phil6334, science communication, selection effects, Statistical fraudbusting, Statistics | 4 Comments

Phil 6334: Foundations of statistics and its consequences: Day #12

picture-216-1We interspersed key issues from the reading for this session (from Howson and Urbach) with portions of my presentation at the Boston Colloquium (Feb, 2014): Revisiting the Foundations of Statistics in the Era of Big Data: Scaling Up to Meet the Challenge. (Slides below)*.

Someone sent us a recording  (mp3)of the panel discussion from that Colloquium (there’s a lot on “big data” and its politics) including: Mayo, Xiao-Li Meng (Harvard), Kent Staley (St. Louis), and Mark van der Laan (Berkeley). 

See if this works: | mp3

*There’s a prelude here to our visitor on April 24: Professor Stanley Young from the National Institute of Statistical Sciences.


Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Phil6334 | 43 Comments

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


Spill Cam

Spill Cam

Four 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 (see video clip that was added below).Remember junk shots, top kill, blowout preventers? [1] The EPA has lifted its gulf drilling ban on BP just a couple of weeks ago* (BP has paid around $13 $27 billion in fines and compensation), and April 20, 2014, is the deadline to properly file forms for new compensations.

(*After which BP had another small spill in Lake Michigan.)

But what happened to the 200 million gallons of oil? 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, let’s listen in to a reblog of a spill-related variation on the second of two original “overheard at the comedy hour” jokes. 

Categories: Comedy, Statistics | 8 Comments

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