PhilStat/Law (“Bad Statistics” Cont.)

As a philosopher of science and statistics, as well as a sometime trader in (those dangerous) biotech stocks, I realize that what is warranted inferentially need not follow what appears to be licensed/unlicensed by the straight and narrow path of officially sanctioned statistics. Understanding the background theories, history, detailed data, and assorted rulings are relevant for evidential grounds, which (despite what we might sometimes think) are rather different from legal grounds. (Grounds for stock trading decisions take one to yet a third and different world, but there are intersections). I only heard of the particular (Actimmune) episode mentioned in my previous blog entry from reading Schactman’s recent post[i], and have only a smattering of the background—some of which might shift the initial impressions of readers.  As I’m about to leave London (not even time for a pic), I’ll just post the controversial press release itself, posted on (Dr. Barbara Martin’s) website PATHOPHILIA[ii]:


—Reduces Mortality by 70% in Patients with Mild to Moderate Disease— Continue reading

Categories: PhilStatLaw

“Bad statistics”: crime or free speech?

wavy-capital3Hunting for “nominally” significant differences, trying different subgroups and multiple endpoints, can result in a much higher probability of erroneously inferring evidence of a risk or benefit than the nominal p-value, even in randomized controlled trials. This was an issue that arose in looking at RCTs in development economics (an area introduced to me by Nancy Cartwright), as at our symposium at the Philosophy of Science Association last month[i][ii]. Reporting the results of hunting and dredging in just the same way as if the relevant claims were predesignated can lead to misleading reports of actual significance levels.[iii]

Still, even if reporting spurious statistical results is considered “bad statistics,” is it criminal behavior? I noticed this issue in Nathan Schachtman’s blog over the past couple of days. The case concerns a biotech company, InterMune, and its previous CEO, Dr. Harkonen. Here’s an excerpt from Schachtman’s discussion (part 1). Continue reading

Categories: PhilStatLaw, significance tests, spurious p values, Statistics

PhilStatLaw: Infections in the court

Nathan Schachtman appropriately refers to the way in which “dicta infects Daubert” in his latest blogpost Siracusano Dicta Infects Daubert Decisions. Here the “dicta” (or dictum?) is a throwaway remark on (lack of) statistical significance and causal inference by the Supreme Court, in an earlier case involving the drug company Matrixx (Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano). As I note in my post of last Feb,

“the ruling had nothing to do with what’s required to show cause and effect, but only what information a company is required to reveal to its shareholders in order not to mislead them (as regards information that could be of relevance to them in their cost-benefit assessments of the stock’s value and future price).”(See “Distortions in the Court”)

obiter dicta

  1. A judge’s incidental expression of opinion, not essential to the decision and not establishing precedent.
  2. An incidental remark.

It was already surprising that the Supreme Court took up that earlier case; the way they handled the irrelevant statistical issues was more so. Continue reading

Categories: PhilStatLaw, Statistics | Tags: , , , ,

Statistical Science Court?

Nathan Schactman has an interesting blog post onScientific illiteracy among the judiciary”:

February 29th, 2012

Ken Feinberg, speaking at a symposium on mass torts, asks what legal challenges do mass torts confront in the federal courts. The answer seems obvious.

Pharmaceutical cases that warrant federal court multi-district litigation (MDL) treatment typically involve complex scientific and statistical issues. The public deserves having MDL cases assigned to judges who have special experience and competence to preside in cases in which these complex issues predominate. There appears to be no procedural device to ensure that the judges selected in the MDL process have the necessary experience and competence, and a good deal of evidence to suggest that the MDL judges are not up to the task at hand.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Daubert, the Federal Judicial Center assumed responsibility for producing science and statistics tutorials to help judges grapple with technical issues in their cases. The Center has produced videotaped lectures as well as the Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, now in its third edition. Despite the Center’s best efforts, many federal judges have shown themselves to be incorrigible. It is time to revive the discussions and debates about implementing a “science court.”

I am intrigued to hear Schachtman revive the old and controversial idea of a “science court”, although it has actually never left, but has come up for debate every few years for the past 35 or 40 years! In the 80s, it was a hot topic in the new “science and values” movement, but I do not think it was ever really put to an adequate experimental test. The controversy directly relates to the whole issue of distinguishing evidential and policy issues (in evidence-based policy), Continue reading
Categories: philosophy of science, PhilStatLaw, Statistics | Tags: , , , ,

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