Monthly Archives: September 2018

Excursion 2: Taboos of Induction and Falsification: Tour I (first stop)

StatSci/PhilSci Museum

Where you are in the Journey* 

Cox: [I]n some fields foundations do not seem very important, but we both think that foundations of statistical inference are important; why do you think that is?

Mayo: I think because they ask about fundamental questions of evidence, inference, and probability … we invariably cross into philosophical questions about empirical knowledge and inductive inference. (Cox and Mayo 2011, p. 103)

Contemporary philosophy of science presents us with some taboos: Thou shalt not try to find solutions to problems of induction, falsification, and demarcating science from pseudoscience. It’s impossible to understand rival statistical accounts, let alone get beyond the statistics wars, without first exploring how these came to be “lost causes.” I am not talking of ancient history here: these problems were alive and well when I set out to do philosophy in the 1980s. I think we gave up on them too easily, and by the end of Excursion 2 you’ll see why. Excursion 2 takes us into the land of “Statistical Science and Philosophy of Science” (StatSci/PhilSci). Our Museum Guide gives a terse thumbnail sketch of Tour I. Here’s a useful excerpt:

Once the Problem of Induction was deemed to admit of no satisfactory, non-circular solutions (~1970s), philosophers of science turned to building formal logics of induction using the deductive calculus of probabilities, often called Confirmation Logics or Theories. A leader of this Confirmation Theory movement was Rudolf Carnap. A distinct program, led by Karl Popper, denies there is a logic of induction, and focuses on Testing and Falsification of theories by data. At best a theory may be accepted or corroborated if it fails to be falsified by a severe test. The two programs have analogues to distinct methodologies in statistics: Confirmation theory is to Bayesianism as Testing and Falsification are to Fisher and Neyman–Pearson.


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Categories: induction, Statistical Inference as Severe Testing | 2 Comments

All She Wrote (so far): Error Statistics Philosophy: 7 years on

Error Statistics Philosophy: Blog Contents (7 years) [i]
By: D. G. Mayo

Dear Reader: I began this blog 7 years ago (Sept. 3, 2011)! A big celebration is taking place at the Elbar Room this evening, both for the blog and the appearance of my new book: Statistical Inference as Severe Testing: How to Get Beyond the Statistics Wars (CUP). While a special rush edition made an appearance on Sept 3, in time for the RSS meeting in Cardiff, it was decided to hold off on the festivities until copies of the book were officially available (yesterday)! If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by for some Elba Grease


Many of the discussions in the book were importantly influenced (corrected and improved) by reader’s comments on the blog over the years. I thank readers for their input. Please peruse the offerings below, taking advantage of the discussions by guest posters and readers! I posted the first 3 sections of Tour I (in Excursion i) here, here, and here.
This blog will return to life, although I’m not yet sure of exactly what form it will take. Ideas are welcome. The tone of a book differs from a blog, so we’ll have to see what voice emerges here.


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Categories: 3-year memory lane, 4 years ago!, blog contents, Metablog | 2 Comments

Excursion 1 Tour I (3rd stop): The Current State of Play in Statistical Foundations: A View From a Hot-Air Balloon (1.3)


How can a discipline, central to science and to critical thinking, have two methodologies, two logics, two approaches that frequently give substantively different answers to the same problems? … Is complacency in the face of contradiction acceptable for a central discipline of science? (Donald Fraser 2011, p. 329)

We [statisticians] are not blameless … we have not made a concerted professional effort to provide the scientific world with a unified testing methodology. (J. Berger 2003, p. 4)

From the aerial perspective of a hot-air balloon, we may see contemporary statistics as a place of happy multiplicity: the wealth of computational ability allows for the application of countless methods, with little handwringing about foundations. Doesn’t this show we may have reached “the end of statistical foundations”? One might have thought so. Yet, descending close to a marshy wetland, and especially scratching a bit below the surface, reveals unease on all sides. The false dilemma between probabilism and long-run performance lets us get a handle on it. In fact, the Bayesian versus frequentist dispute arises as a dispute between probabilism and performance. This gets to my second reason for why the time is right to jump back into these debates: the “statistics wars” present new twists and turns. Rival tribes are more likely to live closer and in mixed neighborhoods since around the turn of the century. Yet, to the beginning student, it can appear as a jungle.

Statistics Debates: Bayesian versus Frequentist

These days there is less distance between Bayesians and frequentists, especially with the rise of objective [default] Bayesianism, and we may even be heading toward a coalition government. (Efron 2013, p. 145)

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Excursion 1 Tour I (2nd stop): Probabilism, Performance, and Probativeness (1.2)


I shall be concerned with the foundations of the subject. But in case it should be thought that this means I am not here strongly concerned with practical applications, let me say right away that confusion about the foundations of the subject is responsible, in my opinion, for much of the misuse of the statistics that one meets in fields of application such as medicine, psychology, sociology, economics, and so forth. (George Barnard 1985, p. 2)

While statistical science (as with other sciences) generally goes about its business without attending to its own foundations, implicit in every statistical methodology are core ideas that direct its principles, methods, and interpretations. I will call this its statistical philosophy. To tell what’s true about statistical inference, understanding the associated philosophy (or philosophies) is essential. Discussions of statistical foundations tend to focus on how to interpret probability, and much less on the overarching question of how probability ought to be used in inference. Assumptions about the latter lurk implicitly behind debates, but rarely get the limelight. If we put the spotlight on them, we see that there are two main philosophies about the roles of probability in statistical inference: We may dub them performance (in the long run) and probabilism. Continue reading

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Excursion 1 Tour I: Beyond Probabilism and Performance: Severity Requirement (1.1)

The cruise begins…

I’m talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is [beyond] not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you’re maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. (Feynman 1974/1985, p. 387)

It is easy to lie with statistics. Or so the cliché goes. It is also very difficult to uncover these lies without statistical methods – at least of the right kind. Self- correcting statistical methods are needed, and, with minimal technical fanfare, that’s what I aim to illuminate. Since Darrell Huff wrote How to Lie with Statistics in 1954, ways of lying with statistics are so well worn as to have emerged in reverberating slogans:

  • Association is not causation.
  • Statistical significance is not substantive significamce
  • No evidence of risk is not evidence of no risk.
  • If you torture the data enough, they will confess.

Exposés of fallacies and foibles ranging from professional manuals and task forces to more popularized debunking treatises are legion. New evidence has piled up showing lack of replication and all manner of selection and publication biases. Even expanded “evidence-based” practices, whose very rationale is to emulate experimental controls, are not immune from allegations of illicit cherry picking, significance seeking, P-hacking, and assorted modes of extra- ordinary rendition of data. Attempts to restore credibility have gone far beyond the cottage industries of just a few years ago, to entirely new research programs: statistical fraud-busting, statistical forensics, technical activism, and widespread reproducibility studies. There are proposed methodological reforms – many are generally welcome (preregistration of experiments, transparency about data collection, discouraging mechanical uses of statistics), some are quite radical. If we are to appraise these evidence policy reforms, a much better grasp of some central statistical problems is needed.

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Categories: Statistical Inference as Severe Testing, Statistics | 8 Comments

The Physical Reality of My New Book! Here at the RSS Meeting


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