Monthly Archives: August 2016

TragiComedy hour: P-values vs posterior probabilities vs diagnostic error rates

Did you hear the one about the frequentist significance tester when he was shown the nonfrequentist nature of p-values?

Critic: I just simulated a long series of tests on a pool of null hypotheses, and I found that among tests with p-values of .05, at least 22%—and typically over 50%—of the null hypotheses are true!

Frequentist Significance Tester: Scratches head: But rejecting the null with a p-value of .05 ensures erroneous rejection no more than 5% of the time!

Raucous laughter ensues!

(Hah, hah… “So funny, I forgot to laugh! Or, I’m crying and laughing at the same time!) Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Comedy, significance tests, Statistics | 9 Comments

Larry Laudan: “‘Not Guilty’: The Misleading Verdict” (Guest Post)

Larry Laudan


Prof. Larry Laudan
Lecturer in Law and Philosophy
University of Texas at Austin

“‘Not Guilty’: The Misleading Verdict and How It Fails to Serve either Society or the Innocent Defendant”

Most legal systems in the developed world share in common a two-tier verdict system: ‘guilty’ and ‘not guilty’.  Typically, the standard for a judgment of guilty is set very high while the standard for a not-guilty verdict (if we can call it that) is quite low. That means any level of apparent guilt less than about 90% confidence that the defendant committed the crime leads to an acquittal (90% being the usual gloss on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, although few legal systems venture a definition of BARD that precise). According to conventional wisdom, the major reason for setting the standard as high as we do is the desire, even the moral necessity, to shield the innocent from false conviction. Continue reading

Categories: L. Laudan, PhilStat Law | Tags: | 22 Comments

History of statistics sleuths out there? “Ideas came into my head as I sat on a gate overlooking an experimental blackcurrant plot”–No wait, it was apples, probably

E.S.Pearson on Gate

E.S.Pearson on a Gate, Mayo sketch

Here you see my scruffy sketch of Egon drawn 20 years ago for the frontispiece of my book, “Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge” (EGEK 1996). The caption is

“I might recall how certain early ideas came into my head as I sat on a gate overlooking an experimental blackcurrant plot… –E.S Pearson, “Statistical Concepts in Their Relation to Reality”.

He is responding to Fisher to “dispel the picture of the Russian technological bogey”. [i]

So, as I said in my last post, just to make a short story long, I’ve recently been scouring around the history and statistical philosophies of Neyman, Pearson and Fisher for purposes of a book soon to be completed, and I discovered a funny little error about this quote. Only maybe 3 or 4 people alive would care, but maybe someone out there knows the real truth.

OK, so I’d been rereading Constance Reid’s great biography of Neyman, and in one place she interviews Egon about the sources of inspiration for their work. Here’s what Egon tells her: Continue reading

Categories: E.S. Pearson, phil/history of stat, Statistics | 1 Comment

Performance or Probativeness? E.S. Pearson’s Statistical Philosophy

egon pearson

E.S. Pearson (11 Aug, 1895-12 June, 1980)

This is a belated birthday post for E.S. Pearson (11 August 1895-12 June, 1980). It’s basically a post from 2012 which concerns an issue of interpretation (long-run performance vs probativeness) that’s badly confused these days. I’ve recently been scouring around the history and statistical philosophies of Neyman, Pearson and Fisher for purposes of a book soon to be completed. I recently discovered a little anecdote that calls for a correction in something I’ve been saying for years. While it’s little more than a point of trivia, it’s in relation to Pearson’s (1955) response to Fisher (1955)–the last entry in this post.  I’ll wait until tomorrow or the next day to share it, to give you a chance to read the background. 


Are methods based on error probabilities of use mainly to supply procedures which will not err too frequently in some long run? (performance). Or is it the other way round: that the control of long run error properties are of crucial importance for probing the causes of the data at hand? (probativeness). I say no to the former and yes to the latter. This, I think, was also the view of Egon Sharpe (E.S.) Pearson. 

Cases of Type A and Type B

“How far then, can one go in giving precision to a philosophy of statistical inference?” (Pearson 1947, 172)

Continue reading

Categories: 4 years ago!, highly probable vs highly probed, phil/history of stat, Statistics | Tags: | Leave a comment

If you think it’s a scandal to be without statistical falsification, you will need statistical tests (ii)

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 2.55.33 PM


1. PhilSci and StatSci. I’m always glad to come across statistical practitioners who wax philosophical, particularly when Karl Popper is cited. Best of all is when they get the philosophy somewhere close to correct. So, I came across an article by Burnham and Anderson (2014) in Ecology:

While the exact definition of the so-called ‘scientific method’ might be controversial, nearly everyone agrees that the concept of ‘falsifiability’ is a central tenant [sic] of empirical science (Popper 1959). It is critical to understand that historical statistical approaches (i.e., P values) leave no way to ‘test’ the alternative hypothesis. The alternative hypothesis is never tested, hence cannot be rejected or falsified!… Surely this fact alone makes the use of significance tests and P values bogus. Lacking a valid methodology to reject/falsify the alternative science hypotheses seems almost a scandal.” (Burnham and Anderson p. 629)

Well I am (almost) scandalized by this easily falsifiable allegation! I can’t think of a single “alternative”, whether in a “pure” Fisherian or a Neyman-Pearson hypothesis test (whether explicit or implicit) that’s not falsifiable; nor do the authors provide any. I grant that understanding testability and falsifiability is far more complex than the kind of popularized accounts we hear about; granted as well, theirs is just a short paper.[1] But then why make bold declarations on the topic of the “scientific method and statistical science,” on falsifiability and testability? Continue reading

Categories: P-values, Severity, statistical tests, Statistics, StatSci meets PhilSci | 22 Comments

S. Senn: “Painful dichotomies” (Guest Post)


Stephen Senn
Head of  Competence Center for Methodology and Statistics (CCMS)
Luxembourg Institute of Health
Twitter @stephensenn

Painful dichotomies

The tweet read “Featured review: Only 10% people with tension-type headaches get a benefit from paracetamol” and immediately I thought, ‘how would they know?’ and almost as quickly decided, ‘of course they don’t know, they just think they know’. Sure enough, on following up the link to the Cochrane Review in the tweet it turned out that, yet again, the deadly mix of dichotomies and numbers needed to treat had infected the brains of researchers to the extent that they imagined that they had identified personal response. (See Responder Despondency for a previous post on this subject.)

The bare facts they established are the following:

The International Headache Society recommends the outcome of being pain free two hours after taking a medicine. The outcome of being pain free or having only mild pain at two hours was reported by 59 in 100 people taking paracetamol 1000 mg, and in 49 out of 100 people taking placebo.

and the false conclusion they immediately asserted is the following

This means that only 10 in 100 or 10% of people benefited because of paracetamol 1000 mg.

To understand the fallacy, look at the accompanying graph. Continue reading

Categories: junk science, PhilStat/Med, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 27 Comments

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