P-values

Palavering about Palavering about P-values

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Nathan Schachtman (who was a special invited speaker at our recent Summer Seminar in Phil Stat) put up a post on his law blog the other day (“Palavering About P-values”) on an article by a statistics professor at Stanford, Helena Kraemer. “Palavering” is an interesting word choice of Schachtman’s. Its range of meanings is relevant here [i]; in my title, I intend both, in turn. You can read Schachtman’s full post here, it begins like this:

The American Statistical Association’s most recent confused and confusing communication about statistical significance testing has given rise to great mischief in the world of science and science publishing.[ASA II 2019] Take for instance last week’s opinion piece about “Is It Time to Ban the P Value?” Please.

Admittedly, their recent statement, which I refer to as ASA II, has seemed to open the floodgates to some very zany remarks about P-values, their meaning and role in statistical testing. Continuing with Schachtman’s post:

…Kraemer’s eye-catching title creates the impression that the p-value is unnecessary and inimical to valid inference.

Remarkably, Kraemer’s article commits the very mistake that the ASA set out to correct back in 2016 [ASA I], by conflating the probability of the data under a hypothesis of no association with the probability of a hypothesis given the data:

“If P value is less than .05, that indicates that the study evidence was good enough to support that hypothesis beyond reasonable doubt, in cases in which the P value .05 reflects the current consensus standard for what is reasonable.”

The ASA tried to break the bad habit of scientists’ interpreting p-values as allowing us to assign posterior probabilities, such as beyond a reasonable doubt, to hypotheses, but obviously to no avail.

While I share Schachtman’s puzzlement over a number of remarks in her article, this particular claim, while contorted, need not be regarded as giving a posterior probability to “that hypothesis” (the alternative to a test hypothesis). It is perhaps close to being tautological. If a P-value of .05 “reflects the current consensus standard for what is reasonable” evidence of a discrepancy from a test or null hypothesis, then it is reasonable evidence of such a discrepancy. Of course, she would have needed to say it’s a standard for “beyond a reasonable doubt” (BARD), but there’s no reason to suppose that that standard is best seen as a posterior probability.

I think we should move away from that notion, given how ill-defined and unobtainable it is. That a claim is probable, in any of the manifold senses that is meant, is very different from its having been well tested, corroborated, or its truth well-warranted. It might well be that finding statistically significant increased risks 3 or 4 times is sufficient for inferring a genuine risk exists–beyond a reasonable doubt– given the tests pass audits of their assumptions. The 5 sigma Higgs results warranted claiming a discovery insofar as there was a very high probability of getting less statistically significant results, were the bumps due to background alone. In other words, evidence BARD for H can be supplied by H’s having passed a sufficiently severe test (set of tests). It’s denial may be falsified in the strongest (fallible) manner possible in science. Back to Schachtman:

Perhaps in her most misleading advice, Kraemer asserts that:

“[w]hether P values are banned matters little. All readers (reviewers, patients, clinicians, policy makers, and researchers) can just ignore P values and focus on the quality of research studies and effect sizes to guide decision-making.”

Really? If a high quality study finds an “effect size” of interest, we can now ignore random error?

I agree her claim here is extremely strange, though one can surmise how it’s instigated by some suggested “reforms” in ASA II. It might also be the result of confusing observed or sample effect size with population or parametric effect size (or magnitude of discrepancy). But the real danger in speaking cavalierly about “banning” P-values is not that there aren’t some cases where genuine and spurious effects may be distinguished by eye-balling alone. It is that we lose an entire critical reasoning tool for determining if a statistical claim is based on methods with even moderate capability of revealing mistaken interpretations of data.  The first thing that a statistical consumer needs to ask those who assure them they’re not banning P-values, is whether they’ve so stripped them of their error statistical force as to deprive us of an essential tool for holding the statistical “experts” accountable.

The ASA 2016 Statement, with its “six principles,” has provoked some deliberate or ill-informed distortions in American judicial proceedings, but Kraemer’s editorial creates idiosyncratic meanings for p-values. Even the 2019 ASA “post-modernism” does not advocate ignoring random error and p-values, as opposed to proscribing dichotomous characterization of results as “statistically significant,” or not.

You may have an overly sanguine construal of ASA II (2019 ASA) (as merely “proscribing dichotomous characterization of results”). As I read it, although their actual position is quite vague, their recommended P-values appear to be merely descriptive and do not (or need )not have error probabilistic interpretations, even if assumptions pass audits. Granted, the important Principle 4 in ASA I (that data dredging and multiple testing invalidate P-values), implies that error control matters. But I think this is likely to be just another inconsistency between ASA I and II. Neither mentions Type I or II errors or power (except to say that it is not mentioning them). I think it is the onus of the ASA II authors to clarify this and other points I’ve discussed elsewhere on this blog.

[i]

  1. chattering, talking unproductively and at length
  2. persuading by flattery, browbeating or bullying

 

Categories: ASA Guide to P-values, P-values | Tags: | 10 Comments

Diary For Statistical War Correspondents on the Latest Ban on Speech

When science writers, especially “statistical war correspondents”, contact you to weigh in on some article, they may talk to you until they get something spicy, and then they may or may not include the background context. So a few writers contacted me this past week regarding this article (“Retire Statistical Significance”)–a teaser, I now suppose, to advertise the ASA collection growing out of that conference “A world beyond P ≤ .05” way back in Oct 2017, where I gave a paper*. I jotted down some points, since Richard Harris from NPR needed them immediately, and I had just gotten off a plane when he emailed. He let me follow up with him, which is rare and greatly appreciated. So I streamlined the first set of points, and dropped any points he deemed technical. I sketched the third set for a couple of other journals who contacted me, who may or may not use them. Here’s Harris’ article, which includes a couple of my remarks. Continue reading

Categories: ASA Guide to P-values, P-values | 40 Comments

A letter in response to the ASA’s Statement on p-Values by Ionides, Giessing, Ritov and Page

I came across an interesting letter in response to the ASA’s Statement on p-values that I hadn’t seen before. It’s by Ionides, Giessing, Ritov and Page, and it’s very much worth reading. I make some comments below. Continue reading

Categories: ASA Guide to P-values, P-values | 7 Comments

A small amendment to Nuzzo’s tips for communicating p-values

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I’ve been asked if I agree with Regina Nuzzo’s recent note on p-values [i]. I don’t want to be nit-picky, but one very small addition to Nuzzo’s helpful tips for communicating statistical significance can make it a great deal more helpful. Here’s my friendly amendment. She writes: Continue reading

Categories: P-values, science communication | 2 Comments

Statistics and the Higgs Discovery: 5-6 yr Memory Lane

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I’m reblogging a few of the Higgs posts at the 6th anniversary of the 2012 discovery. (The first was in this post.) The following, was originally “Higgs Analysis and Statistical Flukes: part 2″ (from March, 2013).[1]

Some people say to me: “This kind of [severe testing] 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 | 1 Comment

Why significance testers should reject the argument to “redefine statistical significance”, even if they want to lower the p-value*

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An argument that assumes the very thing that was to have been argued for is guilty of begging the question; signing on to an argument whose conclusion you favor even though you cannot defend its premises is to argue unsoundly, and in bad faith. When a whirlpool of “reforms” subliminally alter  the nature and goals of a method, falling into these sins can be quite inadvertent. Start with a simple point on defining the power of a statistical test.

I. Redefine Power?

Given that power is one of the most confused concepts from Neyman-Pearson (N-P) frequentist testing, it’s troubling that in “Redefine Statistical Significance”, power gets redefined too. “Power,” we’re told, is a Bayes Factor BF “obtained by defining H1 as putting ½ probability on μ = ± m for the value of m that gives 75% power for the test of size α = 0.05. This H1 represents an effect size typical of that which is implicitly assumed by researchers during experimental design.” (material under Figure 1). Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, fallacy of rejection, P-values, reforming the reformers, spurious p values | 15 Comments

Erich Lehmann’s 100 Birthday: Neyman Pearson vs Fisher on P-values

Erich Lehmann 20 November 1917 – 12 September 2009

Erich Lehmann was born 100 years ago today! (20 November 1917 – 12 September 2009). Lehmann was Neyman’s first student at Berkeley (Ph.D 1942), and his framing of Neyman-Pearson (NP) methods has had an enormous influence on the way we typically view them.*

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I got to know Erich in 1997, shortly after publication of EGEK (1996). One day, I received a bulging, six-page, handwritten letter from him in tiny, extremely neat scrawl (and many more after that).  He began by telling me that he was sitting in a very large room at an ASA (American Statistical Association) meeting where they were shutting down the conference book display (or maybe they were setting it up), and on a very long, wood table sat just one book, all alone, shiny red.

He said ” I wonder if it might be of interest to me!”  So he walked up to it….  It turned out to be my Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge (1996, Chicago), which he reviewed soon after[0]. (What are the chances?) Some related posts on Lehmann’s letter are here and here.

Continue reading

Categories: Fisher, P-values, phil/history of stat | 3 Comments

Yoav Benjamini, “In the world beyond p < .05: When & How to use P < .0499…"

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These were Yoav Benjamini’s slides,”In the world beyond p<.05: When & How to use P<.0499…” from our session at the ASA 2017 Symposium on Statistical Inference (SSI): A World Beyond p < 0.05. (Mine are in an earlier post.) He begins by asking:

However, it’s mandatory to adjust for selection effects, and Benjamini is one of the leaders in developing ways to carry out the adjustments. Even calling out the avenues for cherry-picking and multiple testing, long known to invalidate p-values, would make replication research more effective (and less open to criticism). Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, P-values, replication research, selection effects | 22 Comments

Going round and round again: a roundtable on reproducibility & lowering p-values

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There will be a roundtable on reproducibility Friday, October 27th (noon Eastern time), hosted by the International Methods Colloquium, on the reproducibility crisis in social sciences motivated by the paper, “Redefine statistical significance.” Recall, that was the paper written by a megateam of researchers as part of the movement to require p ≤ .005, based on appraising significance tests by a Bayes Factor analysis, with prior probabilities on a point null and a given alternative. It seems to me that if you’re prepared to scrutinize your frequentist (error statistical) method on grounds of Bayes Factors, then you must endorse using Bayes Factors (BFs) for inference to begin with. If you don’t endorse BFs–and, in particular, the BF required to get the disagreement with p-values–*, then it doesn’t make sense to appraise your non-Bayesian method on grounds of agreeing or disagreeing with BFs. For suppose you assess the recommended BFs from the perspective of an error statistical account–that is, one that checks how frequently the method would uncover or avoid the relevant mistaken inference.[i] Then, if you reach the stipulated BF level against a null hypothesis, you will find the situation is reversed, and the recommended BF exaggerates the evidence!  (In particular, with high probability, it gives an alternative H’ fairly high posterior probability, or comparatively higher probability, even though H’ is false.) Failing to reach the BF cut-off, by contrast, can find no evidence against, and even finds evidence for, a null hypothesis with high probability, even when non-trivial discrepancies exist. They’re measuring very different things, and it’s illicit to expect an agreement on numbers.[ii] We’ve discussed this quite a lot on this blog (2 are linked below [iii]).

If the given list of panelists is correct, it looks to be 4 against 1, but I’ve no doubt that Lakens can handle it.

Continue reading

Categories: Announcement, P-values, reforming the reformers, selection effects | 5 Comments

Deconstructing “A World Beyond P-values”

.A world beyond p-values?

I was asked to write something explaining the background of my slides (posted here) in relation to the recent ASA “A World Beyond P-values” conference. I took advantage of some long flight delays on my return to jot down some thoughts:

The contrast between the closing session of the conference “A World Beyond P-values,” and the gist of the conference itself, shines a light on a pervasive tension within the “Beyond P-Values” movement. Two very different debates are taking place. First there’s the debate about how to promote better science. This includes welcome reminders of the timeless demands of rigor and integrity required to avoid deceiving ourselves and others–especially crucial in today’s world of high-powered searches and Big Data. That’s what the closing session was about. [1] Continue reading

Categories: P-values, Philosophy of Statistics, reforming the reformers | 9 Comments

Statistical skepticism: How to use significance tests effectively: 7 challenges & how to respond to them

Here are my slides from the ASA Symposium on Statistical Inference : “A World Beyond p < .05”  in the session, “What are the best uses for P-values?”. (Aside from me,our session included Yoav Benjamini and David Robinson, with chair: Nalini Ravishanker.)

7 QUESTIONS

  • Why use a tool that infers from a single (arbitrary) P-value that pertains to a statistical hypothesis H0 to a research claim H*?
  • Why use an incompatible hybrid (of Fisher and N-P)?
  • Why apply a method that uses error probabilities, the sampling distribution, researcher “intentions” and violates the likelihood principle (LP)? You should condition on the data.
  • Why use methods that overstate evidence against a null hypothesis?
  • Why do you use a method that presupposes the underlying statistical model?
  • Why use a measure that doesn’t report effect sizes?
  • Why do you use a method that doesn’t provide posterior probabilities (in hypotheses)?

 

Categories: P-values, spurious p values, statistical tests, Statistics | Leave a comment

New venues for the statistics wars

I was part of something called “a brains blog roundtable” on the business of p-values earlier this week–I’m glad to see philosophers getting involved.

Next week I’ll be in a session that I think is intended to explain what’s right about P-values at an ASA Symposium on Statistical Inference : “A World Beyond p < .05”. Continue reading

Categories: Announcement, Bayesian/frequentist, P-values | 3 Comments

Thieme on the theme of lowering p-value thresholds (for Slate)

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Here’s an article by Nick Thieme on the same theme as my last blogpost. Thieme, who is Slate’s 2017 AAAS Mass Media Fellow, is the first person to interview me on p-values who (a) was prepared to think through the issue for himself (or herself), and (b) included more than a tiny fragment of my side of the exchange.[i]. Please share your comments.

Will Lowering P-Value Thresholds Help Fix Science? P-values are already all over the map, and they’re also not exactly the problem.

 

 

Illustration by Slate

                 Illustration by Slate

Last week a team of 72 scientists released the preprint of an article attempting to address one aspect of the reproducibility crisis, the crisis of conscience in which scientists are increasingly skeptical about the rigor of our current methods of conducting scientific research.

Their suggestion? Change the threshold for what is considered statistically significant. The team, led by Daniel Benjamin, a behavioral economist from the University of Southern California, is advocating that the “probability value” (p-value) threshold for statistical significance be lowered from the current standard of 0.05 to a much stricter threshold of 0.005. Continue reading

Categories: P-values, reforming the reformers, spurious p values | 14 Comments

“A megateam of reproducibility-minded scientists” look to lowering the p-value

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Having discussed the “p-values overstate the evidence against the null fallacy” many times over the past few years, I leave it to readers to disinter the issues (pro and con), and appraise the assumptions, in the most recent rehearsal of the well-known Bayesian argument. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with demanding everyone work with a lowered p-value–if you’re so inclined to embrace a single, dichotomous standard without context-dependent interpretations, especially if larger sample sizes are required to compensate the loss of power. But lowering the p-value won’t solve the problems that vex people (biasing selection effects), and is very likely to introduce new ones (see my comment). Kelly Servick, a reporter from Science, gives the ingredients of the main argument given by “a megateam of reproducibility-minded scientists” in an article out today: Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, highly probable vs highly probed, P-values, reforming the reformers | 57 Comments

3 YEARS AGO (JULY 2014): MEMORY LANE

3 years ago...

3 years ago…

MONTHLY MEMORY LANE: 3 years ago: July 2014. I mark in red 3-4 posts from each month that seem most apt for general background on key issues in this blog, excluding those reblogged recently[1]. Posts that are part of a “unit” or a group count as one. This month there are three such groups: 7/8 and 7/10; 7/14 and 7/23; 7/26 and 7/31.

July 2014

  • (7/7) Winner of June Palindrome Contest: Lori Wike
  • (7/8) Higgs Discovery 2 years on (1: “Is particle physics bad science?”)
  • (7/10) Higgs Discovery 2 years on (2: Higgs analysis and statistical flukes)
  • (7/14) “P-values overstate the evidence against the null”: legit or fallacious? (revised)
  • (7/23) Continued:”P-values overstate the evidence against the null”: legit or fallacious?
  • (7/26) S. Senn: “Responder despondency: myths of personalized medicine” (Guest Post)
  • (7/31) Roger Berger on Stephen Senn’s “Blood Simple” with a response by Senn (Guest Posts)

[1] Monthly memory lanes began at the blog’s 3-year anniversary in Sept, 2014.

 

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Categories: 3-year memory lane, Higgs, P-values | Leave a comment

If you’re seeing limb-sawing in P-value logic, you’re sawing off the limbs of reductio arguments

images-2I was just reading a paper by Martin and Liu (2014) in which they allude to the “questionable logic of proving H0 false by using a calculation that assumes it is true”(p. 1704).  They say they seek to define a notion of “plausibility” that

“fits the way practitioners use and interpret p-values: a small p-value means H0 is implausible, given the observed data,” but they seek “a probability calculation that does not require one to assume that H0 is true, so one avoids the questionable logic of proving H0 false by using a calculation that assumes it is true“(Martin and Liu 2014, p. 1704).

Questionable? A very standard form of argument is a reductio (ad absurdum) wherein a claim C  is inferred (i.e., detached) by falsifying ~C, that is, by showing that assuming ~C entails something in conflict with (if not logically contradicting) known results or known truths [i]. Actual falsification in science is generally a statistical variant of this argument. Supposing Hin p-value reasoning plays the role of ~C. Yet some aver it thereby “saws off its own limb”! Continue reading

Categories: P-values, reforming the reformers, Statistics | 13 Comments

Er, about those other approaches, hold off until a balanced appraisal is in

I could have told them that the degree of accordance enabling the ASA’s “6 principles” on p-values was unlikely to be replicated when it came to most of the “other approaches” with which some would supplement or replace significance tests– notably Bayesian updating, Bayes factors, or likelihood ratios (confidence intervals are dual to hypotheses tests). [My commentary is here.] So now they may be advising a “hold off” or “go slow” approach until some consilience is achieved. Is that it? I don’t know. I was tweeted an article about the background chatter taking place behind the scenes; I wasn’t one of people interviewed for this. Here are some excerpts, I may add more later after it has had time to sink in. (check back later)

“Reaching for Best Practices in Statistics: Proceed with Caution Until a Balanced Critique Is In”

J. Hossiason

“[A]ll of the other approaches*, as well as most statistical tools, may suffer from many of the same problems as the p-values do. What level of likelihood ratio in favor of the research hypothesis will be acceptable to the journal? Should scientific discoveries be based on whether posterior odds pass a specific threshold (P3)? Does either measure the size of an effect (P5)?…How can we decide about the sample size needed for a clinical trial—however analyzed—if we do not set a specific bright-line decision rule? 95% confidence intervals or credence intervals…offer no protection against selection when only those that do not cover 0, are selected into the abstract (P4). (Benjamini, ASA commentary, pp. 3-4)

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander right?  Many statisticians seconded George Cobb who urged “the board to set aside time at least once every year to consider the potential value of similar statements” to the recent ASA p-value report. Disappointingly, a preliminary survey of leaders in statistics, many from the original p-value group, aired striking disagreements on best and worst practices with respect to these other approaches. The Executive Board is contemplating a variety of recommendations, minimally, that practitioners move with caution until they can put forward at least a few agreed upon principles for interpreting and applying Bayesian inference methods. The words we heard ranged from “go slow” to “moratorium [emphasis mine]. Having been privy to some of the results of this survey, we at Stat Report Watch decided to contact some of the individuals involved. Continue reading

Categories: P-values, reforming the reformers, Statistics | 6 Comments

The ASA Document on P-Values: One Year On

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I’m surprised it’s a year already since posting my published comments on the ASA Document on P-Values. Since then, there have been a slew of papers rehearsing the well-worn fallacies of tests (a tad bit more than the usual rate). Doubtless, the P-value Pow Wow raised people’s consciousnesses. I’m interested in hearing reader reactions/experiences in connection with the P-Value project (positive and negative) over the past year. (Use the comments, share links to papers; and/or send me something slightly longer for a possible guest post.)
Some people sent me a diagram from a talk by Stephen Senn (on “P-values and the art of herding cats”). He presents an array of different cat commentators, and for some reason Mayo cat is in the middle but way over on the left side,near the wall. I never got the key to interpretation.  My contribution is below: 

Chart by S.Senn

“Don’t Throw Out The Error Control Baby With the Bad Statistics Bathwater”

D. Mayo*[1]

The American Statistical Association is to be credited with opening up a discussion into p-values; now an examination of the foundations of other key statistical concepts is needed. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, P-values, science communication, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 14 Comments

Hocus pocus! Adopt a magician’s stance, if you want to reveal statistical sleights of hand

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Here’s the follow-up post to the one I reblogged on Feb 3 (please read that one first). When they sought to subject Uri Geller to the scrutiny of scientists, magicians had to be brought in because only they were sufficiently trained to spot the subtle sleight of hand shifts by which the magician tricks by misdirection. We, too, have to be magicians to discern the subtle misdirections and shifts of meaning in the discussions of statistical significance tests (and other methods)—even by the same statistical guide. We needn’t suppose anything deliberately devious is going on at all! Often, the statistical guidebook reflects shifts of meaning that grow out of one or another critical argument. These days, they trickle down quickly to statistical guidebooks, thanks to popular articles on the “statistics crisis in science”. The danger is that their own guidebooks contain inconsistencies. To adopt the magician’s stance is to be on the lookout for standard sleights of hand. There aren’t that many.[0]

I don’t know Jim Frost, but he gives statistical guidance at the minitab blog. The purpose of my previous post is to point out that Frost uses the probability of a Type I error in two incompatible ways in his posts on significance tests. I assumed he’d want to clear this up, but so far he has not. His response to a comment I made on his blog is this: Continue reading

Categories: frequentist/Bayesian, P-values, reforming the reformers, S. Senn, Statistics | 39 Comments

The “P-values overstate the evidence against the null” fallacy

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The allegation that P-values overstate the evidence against the null hypothesis continues to be taken as gospel in discussions of significance tests. All such discussions, however, assume a notion of “evidence” that’s at odds with significance tests–generally Bayesian probabilities of the sort used in Jeffrey’s-Lindley disagreement (default or “I’m selecting from an urn of nulls” variety). Szucs and Ioannidis (in a draft of a 2016 paper) claim “it can be shown formally that the definition of the p value does exaggerate the evidence against H0” (p. 15) and they reference the paper I discuss below: Berger and Sellke (1987). It’s not that a single small P-value provides good evidence of a discrepancy (even assuming the model, and no biasing selection effects); Fisher and others warned against over-interpreting an “isolated” small P-value long ago.  But the formulation of the “P-values overstate the evidence” meme introduces brand new misinterpretations into an already confused literature! The following are snippets from some earlier posts–mostly this one–and also includes some additions from my new book (forthcoming). 

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, fallacy of rejection, highly probable vs highly probed, P-values, Statistics | 47 Comments

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