Guest Blog: STEPHEN SENN: ‘Fisher’s alternative to the alternative’

“You May Believe You Are a Bayesian But You Are Probably Wrong”


As part of the week of recognizing R.A.Fisher (February 17, 1890 – July 29, 1962), I reblog a guest post by Stephen Senn from 2012.  (I will comment in the comments.)

‘Fisher’s alternative to the alternative’

By: Stephen Senn

[2012 marked] the 50th anniversary of RA Fisher’s death. It is a good excuse, I think, to draw attention to an aspect of his philosophy of significance testing. In his extremely interesting essay on Fisher, Jimmie Savage drew attention to a problem in Fisher’s approach to testing. In describing Fisher’s aversion to power functions Savage writes, ‘Fisher says that some tests are more sensitive than others, and I cannot help suspecting that that comes to very much the same thing as thinking about the power function.’ (Savage 1976) (P473).

The modern statistician, however, has an advantage here denied to Savage. Savage’s essay was published posthumously in 1976 and the lecture on which it was based was given in Detroit on 29 December 1971 (P441). At that time Fisher’s scientific correspondence did not form part of his available oeuvre but in 1990 Henry Bennett’s magnificent edition of Fisher’s statistical correspondence (Bennett 1990) was published and this throws light on many aspects of Fisher’s thought including on significance tests.


The key letter here is Fisher’s reply of 6 October 1938 to Chester Bliss’s letter of 13 September. Bliss himself had reported an issue that had been raised with him by Snedecor on 6 September. Snedecor had pointed out that an analysis using inverse sine transformations of some data that Bliss had worked on gave a different result to an analysis of the original values. Bliss had defended his (transformed) analysis on the grounds that a) if a transformation always gave the same result as an analysis of the original data there would be no point and b) an analysis on inverse sines was a sort of weighted analysis of percentages with the transformation more appropriately reflecting the weight of information in each sample. Bliss wanted to know what Fisher thought of his reply.

Fisher replies with a ‘shorter catechism’ on transformations which ends as follows:

A…Have not Neyman and Pearson developed a general mathematical theory for deciding what tests of significance to apply?

B…Their method only leads to definite results when mathematical postulates are introduced, which could only be justifiably believed as a result of extensive experience….the introduction of hidden postulates only disguises the tentative nature of the process by which real knowledge is built up. (Bennett 1990) (p246)

It seems clear that by hidden postulates Fisher means alternative hypotheses and I would sum up Fisher’s argument like this. Null hypotheses are more primitive than statistics: to state a null hypothesis immediately carries an implication about an infinity of test
statistics. You have to choose one, however. To say that you should choose the one with the greatest power gets you nowhere. This power depends on the alternative hypothesis but how will you choose your alternative hypothesis? If you knew that under all circumstances in which the null hypothesis was true you would know which alternative was false you would already know more than the experiment was designed to find out. All that you can do is apply your experience to use statistics, which when employed in valid tests, reject the null hypothesis most often. Hence statistics are more primitive than alternative hypotheses and the latter cannot be made the justification of the former.

I think that this is an important criticism of Fisher’s but not entirely fair. The experience of any statistician rarely amounts to so much that this can be made the (sure) basis for the choice of test. I think that (s)he uses a mixture of experience and argument. I can give an example from my own practice. In carrying out meta-analyses of binary data I have theoretical grounds (I believe) for a prejudice against the risk difference scale and in favour of odds ratios. I think that this prejudice was originally analytic. To that extent I was being rather Neyman-Pearson. However some extensive empirical studies of large collections of meta-analyses have shown that there is less heterogeneity on the odds ratio scale compared to the risk-difference scale. To that extent my preference is Fisherian. However, there are some circumstances (for example where it was reasonably believed that only a small proportion of patients would respond) under which I could be persuaded that the odds ratio was not a good scale. This strikes me as veering towards the N-P.

Nevertheless, I have a lot of sympathy with Fisher’s criticism. It seems to me that what the practicing scientist wants to know is what is a good test in practice rather than what would be a good test in theory if this or that could be believed about the world.


J. H. Bennett (1990) Statistical Inference and Analysis Selected Correspondence of R.A. Fisher, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

L. J. Savage (1976) On rereading R A Fisher. The Annals of Statistics, 441-500.

Categories: Fisher, S. Senn, Statistics | 5 Comments

Guest Blog: ARIS SPANOS: The Enduring Legacy of R. A. Fisher

By Aris Spanos

One of R. A. Fisher’s (17 February 1890 — 29 July 1962) most re­markable, but least recognized, achievement was to initiate the recast­ing of statistical induction. Fisher (1922) pioneered modern frequentist statistics as a model-based approach to statistical induction anchored on the notion of a statistical model, formalized by:

Mθ(x)={f(x;θ); θ∈Θ}; x∈Rn ;Θ⊂Rm; m < n; (1)

where the distribution of the sample f(x;θ) ‘encapsulates’ the proba­bilistic information in the statistical model.

Before Fisher, the notion of a statistical model was vague and often implicit, and its role was primarily confined to the description of the distributional features of the data in hand using the histogram and the first few sample moments; implicitly imposing random (IID) samples. The problem was that statisticians at the time would use descriptive summaries of the data to claim generality beyond the data in hand x0:=(x1,x2,…,xn) As late as the 1920s, the problem of statistical induction was understood by Karl Pearson in terms of invoking (i) the ‘stability’ of empirical results for subsequent samples and (ii) a prior distribution for θ.

Fisher was able to recast statistical inference by turning Karl Pear­son’s approach, proceeding from data x0 in search of a frequency curve f(x;ϑ) to describe its histogram, on its head. He proposed to begin with a prespecified Mθ(x) (a ‘hypothetical infinite population’), and view x0 as a ‘typical’ realization thereof; see Spanos (1999). Continue reading

Categories: Fisher, Spanos, Statistics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

R.A. Fisher: ‘Two New Properties of Mathematical Likelihood’

17 February 1890–29 July 1962

Today is R.A. Fisher’s birthday. I’ll post some different Fisherian items this week in honor of it. This paper comes just before the conflicts with Neyman and Pearson erupted.  Fisher links his tests and sufficiency, to the Neyman and Pearson lemma in terms of power.  It’s as if we may see them as ending up in a similar place while starting from different origins. I quote just the most relevant portions…the full article is linked below. Happy Birthday Fisher!

Two New Properties of Mathematical Likelihood

by R.A. Fisher, F.R.S.

Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series A, 144: 285-307 (1934)

  The property that where a sufficient statistic exists, the likelihood, apart from a factor independent of the parameter to be estimated, is a function only of the parameter and the sufficient statistic, explains the principle result obtained by Neyman and Pearson in discussing the efficacy of tests of significance.  Neyman and Pearson introduce the notion that any chosen test of a hypothesis H0 is more powerful than any other equivalent test, with regard to an alternative hypothesis H1, when it rejects H0 in a set of samples having an assigned aggregate frequency ε when H0 is true, and the greatest possible aggregate frequency when H1 is true. Continue reading

Categories: Fisher, phil/history of stat, Statistics | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Cox’s (1958) weighing machine example



A famous chestnut given by Cox (1958) recently came up in conversation. The example  “is now usually called the ‘weighing machine example,’ which draws attention to the need for conditioning, at least in certain types of problems” (Reid 1992, p. 582). When I describe it, you’ll find it hard to believe many regard it as causing an earthquake in statistical foundations, unless you’re already steeped in these matters. If half the time I reported my weight from a scale that’s always right, and half the time use a scale that gets it right with probability .5, would you say I’m right with probability ¾? Well, maybe. But suppose you knew that this measurement was made with the scale that’s right with probability .5? The overall error probability is scarcely relevant for giving the warrant of the particular measurement,knowing which scale was used. Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, Sir David Cox, Statistics, strong likelihood principle | 1 Comment

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



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 | 36 Comments

High error rates in discussions of error rates: no end in sight


waiting for the other shoe to drop…

“Guides for the Perplexed” in statistics become “Guides to Become Perplexed” when “error probabilities” (in relation to statistical hypotheses tests) are confused with posterior probabilities of hypotheses. Moreover, these posteriors are neither frequentist, subjectivist, nor default. Since this doublespeak is becoming more common in some circles, it seems apt to reblog a post from one year ago (you may wish to check the comments).

Do you ever find yourself holding your breath when reading an exposition of significance tests that’s going swimmingly so far? If you’re a frequentist in exile, you know what I mean. I’m sure others feel this way too. When I came across Jim Frost’s posts on The Minitab Blog, I thought I might actually have located a success story. He does a good job explaining P-values (with charts), the duality between P-values and confidence levels, and even rebuts the latest “test ban” (the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy). Mere descriptive reports of observed differences that the editors recommend, Frost shows, are uninterpretable without a corresponding P-value or the equivalent. So far, so good. I have only small quibbles, such as the use of “likelihood” when meaning probability, and various and sundry nitpicky things. But watch how in some places significance levels are defined as the usual error probabilities —indeed in the glossary for the site—while in others it is denied they provide error probabilities. In those other places, error probabilities and error rates shift their meaning to posterior probabilities, based on priors representing the “prevalence” of true null hypotheses.

Begin with one of his kosher posts “Understanding Hypothesis Tests: Significance Levels (Alpha) and P values in Statistics” (blue is Frost): Continue reading

Categories: highly probable vs highly probed, J. Berger, reforming the reformers, Statistics | 1 Comment


3 years ago...

3 years ago…

MONTHLY MEMORY LANE: 3 years ago: January 2014. I mark in red three posts from each month that seem most apt for general background on key issues in this blog, excluding those reblogged recently[1], and in green up to 3 others I’d recommend[2].  Posts that are part of a “unit” or a group count as one. This month, I’m grouping the 3 posts from my seminar with A. Spanos, counting them as 1.

January 2014

  • (1/2) Winner of the December 2013 Palindrome Book Contest (Rejected Post)
  • (1/3) Error Statistics Philosophy: 2013
  • (1/4) Your 2014 wishing well. …
  • (1/7) “Philosophy of Statistical Inference and Modeling” New Course: Spring 2014: Mayo and Spanos: (Virginia Tech)
  • (1/11) Two Severities? (PhilSci and PhilStat)
  • (1/14) Statistical Science meets Philosophy of Science: blog beginnings
  • (1/16) Objective/subjective, dirty hands and all that: Gelman/Wasserman blogolog (ii)
  • (1/18) Sir Harold Jeffreys’ (tail area) one-liner: Sat night comedy [draft ii]
  • (1/22) Phil6334: “Philosophy of Statistical Inference and Modeling” New Course: Spring 2014: Mayo and Spanos (Virginia Tech) UPDATE: JAN 21
  • (1/24) Phil 6334: Slides from Day #1: Four Waves in Philosophy of Statistics
  • (1/25) U-Phil (Phil 6334) How should “prior information” enter in statistical inference?
  • (1/27) Winner of the January 2014 palindrome contest (rejected post)
  • (1/29) BOSTON COLLOQUIUM FOR PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: Revisiting the Foundations of Statistics


  • (1/31) Phil 6334: Day #2 Slides


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

[2] New Rule, July 30, 2016-very convenient.







Categories: 3-year memory lane, Bayesian/frequentist, Statistics | 1 Comment

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



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 | 46 Comments

BOSTON COLLOQUIUM FOR PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE: Understanding Reproducibility & Error Correction in Science


57th Annual Program

Download the 57th Annual Program

The Alfred I. Taub forum:


Cosponsored by GMS and BU’s BEST at Boston University.
Friday, March 17, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
The Terrace Lounge, George Sherman Union
775 Commonwealth Avenue

  • Reputation, Variation, &, Control: Historical Perspectives
    Jutta Schickore History and Philosophy of Science & Medicine, Indiana University, Bloomington.
  • Crisis in Science: Time for Reform?
    Arturo Casadevall Molecular Microbiology & Immunology, Johns Hopkins
  • Severe Testing: The Key to Error Correction
    Deborah Mayo Philosophy, Virginia Tech
  • Replicate That…. Maintaining a Healthy Failure Rate in Science
    Stuart Firestein Biological Sciences, Columbia



Categories: Announcement, philosophy of science, Philosophy of Statistics, Statistical fraudbusting, Statistics | Leave a comment

Midnight With Birnbaum (Happy New Year 2016)

 Just as in the past 5 years since I’ve been blogging, I revisit that spot in the road at 11p.m., just outside the Elbar Room, get into a strange-looking taxi, and head to “Midnight With Birnbaum”. (The pic on the left is the only blurry image I have of the club I’m taken to.) I wonder if the car will come for me this year, given that my Birnbaum article has been out since 2014… The (Strong) Likelihood Principle–whether or not it is named–remains at the heart of many of the criticisms of Neyman-Pearson (N-P) statistics (and cognate methods). Yet as Birnbaum insisted, the “confidence concept” is the “one rock in a shifting scene” of statistical foundations, insofar as there’s interest in controlling the frequency of erroneous interpretations of data. (See my rejoinder.) Birnbaum bemoaned the lack of an explicit evidential interpretation of N-P methods. Maybe in 2017? Anyway, it’s 6 hrs later here, so I’m about to leave for that spot in the road… If I’m picked up, I’ll add an update at the end.

You know how in that (not-so) recent Woody Allen movie, “Midnight in Paris,” the main character (I forget who plays it, I saw it on a plane) is a writer finishing a novel, and he steps into a cab that mysteriously picks him up at midnight and transports him back in time where he gets to run his work by such famous authors as Hemingway and Virginia Wolf?  He is impressed when his work earns their approval and he comes back each night in the same mysterious cab…Well, imagine an error statistical philosopher is picked up in a mysterious taxi at midnight (New Year’s Eve 2011 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) and is taken back fifty years and, lo and behold, finds herself in the company of Allan Birnbaum.[i] There are a couple of brief (12/31/14 & 15) updates at the end.  



ERROR STATISTICIAN: It’s wonderful to meet you Professor Birnbaum; I’ve always been extremely impressed with the important impact your work has had on philosophical foundations of statistics.  I happen to be writing on your famous argument about the likelihood principle (LP).  (whispers: I can’t believe this!)

BIRNBAUM: Ultimately you know I rejected the LP as failing to control the error probabilities needed for my Confidence concept. Continue reading

Categories: Birnbaum Brakes, Statistics, strong likelihood principle | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

Szucs & Ioannidis Revive the Limb-Sawing Fallacy




When logical fallacies of statistics go uncorrected, they are repeated again and again…and again. And so it is with the limb-sawing fallacy I first posted in one of my “Overheard at the Comedy Hour” posts.* It now resides as a comic criticism of significance tests in a paper by Szucs and Ioannidis (posted this week),  Here’s their version:

“[P]aradoxically, when we achieve our goal and successfully reject Hwe will actually be left in complete existential vacuum because during the rejection of HNHST ‘saws off its own limb’ (Jaynes, 2003; p. 524): If we manage to reject H0then it follows that pr(data or more extreme data|H0) is useless because H0 is not true” (p.15).

Here’s Jaynes (p. 524):

“Suppose we decide that the effect exists; that is, we reject [null hypothesis] H0. Surely, we must also reject probabilities conditional on H0, but then what was the logical justification for the decision? Orthodox logic saws off its own limb.’ 

Ha! Ha! By this reasoning, no hypothetical testing or falsification could ever occur. As soon as H is falsified, the grounds for falsifying disappear! If H: all swans are white, then if I see a black swan, H is falsified. But according to this criticism, we can no longer assume the deduced prediction from H! What? Continue reading

Categories: Error Statistics, P-values, reforming the reformers, Statistics | 14 Comments


3 years ago...

3 years ago…

MONTHLY MEMORY LANE: 3 years ago: December 2013. I mark in red three posts from each month that seem most apt for general background on key issues in this blog, excluding those reblogged recently[1], and in green up to 3 others I’d recommend[2].  Posts that are part of a “unit” or a group count as one. In this post, that makes 12/27-12/28 count as one.

December 2013

  • (12/3) Stephen Senn: Dawid’s Selection Paradox (guest post)
  • (12/7) FDA’s New Pharmacovigilance
  • (12/9) Why ecologists might want to read more philosophy of science (UPDATED)
  • (12/11) Blog Contents for Oct and Nov 2013
  • (12/14) The error statistician has a complex, messy, subtle, ingenious piece-meal approach
  • (12/15) Surprising Facts about Surprising Facts
  • (12/19) A. Spanos lecture on “Frequentist Hypothesis Testing
  • (12/24) U-Phil: Deconstructions [of J. Berger]: Irony & Bad Faith 3
  • (12/25) “Bad Arguments” (a book by Ali Almossawi)
  • (12/26) Mascots of Bayesneon statistics (rejected post)
  • (12/27) Deconstructing Larry Wasserman
  • (12/28) More on deconstructing Larry Wasserman (Aris Spanos)
  • (12/28) Wasserman on Wasserman: Update! December 28, 2013
  • (12/31) Midnight With Birnbaum (Happy New Year)

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

[2] New Rule, July 30, 2016-very convenient.







Categories: 3-year memory lane, Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Statistics | 1 Comment

S. Senn: “Placebos: it’s not only the patients that are fooled” (Guest Post)

Stephen Senn

Stephen Senn

Placebos: it’s not only the patients that are fooled

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

In my opinion a great deal of ink is wasted to little purpose in discussing placebos in clinical trials. Many commentators simply do not understand the nature and purpose of placebos. To start with the latter, their only purpose is to permit blinding of treatments and, to continue to the former, this implies that their nature is that they are specific to the treatment studied.

Consider an example. Suppose that Pannostrum Pharmaceuticals wishes to prove that its new treatment for migraine, Paineaze® (which is in the form of a small red circular pill) is superior to the market-leader offered by Allexir Laboratories, Kalmer® (which is a large purple lozenge). Pannostrum decides to do a head-to head comparison and of course, therefore will require placebos. Every patient will have to take a red pill and a purple lozenge. In the Paineaze arm what is red will be Paineaze and what is purple ‘placebo to Kalmer’. In the Kalmer arm what is red will be ‘placebo to Paineaze’ and what is purple will be Kalmer.


Continue reading

Categories: PhilPharma, PhilStat/Med, Statistics, Stephen Senn | 6 Comments

“Tests of Statistical Significance Made Sound”: excerpts from B. Haig



I came across a paper, “Tests of Statistical Significance Made Sound,” by Brian Haig, a psychology professor at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. It hits most of the high notes regarding statistical significance tests, their history & philosophy and, refreshingly, is in the error statistical spirit! I’m pasting excerpts from his discussion of “The Error-Statistical Perspective”starting on p.7.[1]

The Error-Statistical Perspective

An important part of scientific research involves processes of detecting, correcting, and controlling for error, and mathematical statistics is one branch of methodology that helps scientists do this. In recognition of this fact, the philosopher of statistics and science, Deborah Mayo (e.g., Mayo, 1996), in collaboration with the econometrician, Aris Spanos (e.g., Mayo & Spanos, 2010, 2011), has systematically developed, and argued in favor of, an error-statistical philosophy for understanding experimental reasoning in science. Importantly, this philosophy permits, indeed encourages, the local use of ToSS, among other methods, to manage error. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, fallacy of rejection, P-values, Statistics | 12 Comments

Gelman at the PSA: “Confirmationist and Falsificationist Paradigms in Statistical Practice”: Comments & Queries

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-23-07-pmTo resume sharing some notes I scribbled down on the contributions to our Philosophy of Science Association symposium on Philosophy of Statistics (Nov. 4, 2016), I’m up to Gelman. Comments on Gigerenzer and Glymour are here and here. Gelman didn’t use slides but gave a very thoughtful, extemporaneous presentation on his conception of “falsificationist Bayesianism”, its relation to current foundational issues, as well as to error statistical testing. My comments follow his abstract.

Confirmationist and Falsificationist Paradigms in Statistical Practice



Andrew Gelman

There is a divide in statistics between classical frequentist and Bayesian methods. Classical hypothesis testing is generally taken to follow a falsificationist, Popperian philosophy in which research hypotheses are put to the test and rejected when data do not accord with predictions. Bayesian inference is generally taken to follow a confirmationist philosophy in which data are used to update the probabilities of different hypotheses. We disagree with this conventional Bayesian-frequentist contrast: We argue that classical null hypothesis significance testing is actually used in a confirmationist sense and in fact does not do what it purports to do; and we argue that Bayesian inference cannot in general supply reasonable probabilities of models being true. The standard research paradigm in social psychology (and elsewhere) seems to be that the researcher has a favorite hypothesis A. But, rather than trying to set up hypothesis A for falsification, the researcher picks a null hypothesis B to falsify, which is then taken as evidence in favor of A. Research projects are framed as quests for confirmation of a theory, and once confirmation is achieved, there is a tendency to declare victory and not think too hard about issues of reliability and validity of measurements. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Gelman, Shalizi, Statistics | 148 Comments


3 years ago...

3 years ago…

MONTHLY MEMORY LANE: 3 years ago: November 2013. I mark in red three posts from each month that seem most apt for general background on key issues in this blog, excluding those reblogged recently[1], and in green up to 3 others I’d recommend[2].  Posts that are part of a “unit” or a group count as one. Here I’m counting 11/9, 11/13, and 11/16 as one

November 2013

  • (11/2) Oxford Gaol: Statistical Bogeymen
  • (11/4) Forthcoming paper on the strong likelihood principle
  • (11/9) Null Effects and Replication (cartoon pic)
  • (11/9) Beware of questionable front page articles warning you to beware of questionable front page articles (iii)
  • (11/13) T. Kepler: “Trouble with ‘Trouble at the Lab’?” (guest post)
  • (11/16) PhilStock: No-pain bull
  • (11/16) S. Stanley Young: More Trouble with ‘Trouble in the Lab’ (Guest post)
  • (11/18) Lucien Le Cam: “The Bayesians hold the Magic”
  • (11/20) Erich Lehmann: Statistician and Poet
  • (11/23) Probability that it is a statistical fluke [i]
  • (11/27)The probability that it be a statistical fluke” [iia]
  • (11/30) Saturday night comedy at the “Bayesian Boy” diary (rejected post*)

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

[2] New Rule, July 30, 2016-very convenient.







Categories: 3-year memory lane, Error Statistics, Statistics | Leave a comment

Gigerenzer at the PSA: “How Fisher, Neyman-Pearson, & Bayes Were Transformed into the Null Ritual”: Comments and Queries (ii)



Gerd Gigerenzer, Andrew Gelman, Clark Glymour and I took part in a very interesting symposium on Philosophy of Statistics at the Philosophy of Science Association last Friday. I jotted down lots of notes, but I’ll limit myself to brief reflections and queries on a small portion of each presentation in turn, starting with Gigerenzer’s “Surrogate Science: How Fisher, Neyman-Pearson, & Bayes Were Transformed into the Null Ritual.” His complete slides are below my comments. I may write this in stages, this being (i).



  1. Good scientific practice–bold theories, double-blind experiments, minimizing measurement error, replication, etc.–became reduced in the social science to a surrogate: statistical significance.

I agree that “good scientific practice” isn’t some great big mystery, and that “bold theories, double-blind experiments, minimizing measurement error, replication, etc.” are central and interconnected keys to finding things out in error prone inquiry. Do the social sciences really teach that inquiry can be reduced to cookbook statistics? Or is it simply that, in some fields, carrying out surrogate science suffices to be a “success”? Continue reading

Categories: Fisher, frequentist/Bayesian, Gigerenzer, Gigerenzer, P-values, spurious p values, Statistics | 11 Comments


3 years ago...

3 years ago…

MONTHLY MEMORY LANE: 3 years ago: October 2013. I mark in red three posts from each month that seem most apt for general background on key issues in this blog, excluding those reblogged recently[1], and in green up to 3 others I’d recommend[2].  Posts that are part of a “unit” or a pair count as one.

October 2013

  • (10/3) Will the Real Junk Science Please Stand Up? (critical thinking)
  • (10/5) Was Janina Hosiasson pulling Harold Jeffreys’ leg?
  • (10/9) Bad statistics: crime or free speech (II)? Harkonen update: Phil Stat / Law /Stock
  • (10/12) Sir David Cox: a comment on the post, “Was Hosiasson pulling Jeffreys’ leg?”(10/5 and 10/12 are a pair)
  • (10/19) Blog Contents: September 2013
  • (10/19) Bayesian Confirmation Philosophy and the Tacking Paradox (iv)*
  • (10/25) Bayesian confirmation theory: example from last post…(10/19 and 10/25 are a pair)
  • (10/26) Comedy hour at the Bayesian (epistemology) retreat: highly probable vs highly probed (vs what ?)
  • (10/31) WHIPPING BOYS AND WITCH HUNTERS (interesting to see how things have changed and stayed the same over the past few years, share comments)

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

[2] New Rule, July 30, 2016-very convenient.







Categories: 3-year memory lane, Error Statistics, Statistics | 22 Comments

For Statistical Transparency: Reveal Multiplicity and/or Just Falsify the Test (Remark on Gelman and Colleagues)



Gelman and Loken (2014) recognize that even without explicit cherry picking there is often enough leeway in the “forking paths” between data and inference so that by artful choices you may be led to one inference, even though it also could have gone another way. In good sciences, measurement procedures should interlink with well-corroborated theories and offer a triangulation of checks– often missing in the types of experiments Gelman and Loken are on about. Stating a hypothesis in advance, far from protecting from the verification biases, can be the engine that enables data to be “constructed”to reach the desired end [1].

[E]ven in settings where a single analysis has been carried out on the given data, the issue of multiple comparisons emerges because different choices about combining variables, inclusion and exclusion of cases…..and many other steps in the analysis could well have occurred with different data (Gelman and Loken 2014, p. 464).

An idea growing out of this recognition is to imagine the results of applying the same statistical procedure, but with different choices at key discretionary junctures–giving rise to a multiverse analysis, rather than a single data set (Steegen, Tuerlinckx, Gelman, and Vanpaemel 2016). One lists the different choices thought to be plausible at each stage of data processing. The multiverse displays “which constellation of choices corresponds to which statistical results” (p. 797). The result of this exercise can, at times, mimic the delineation of possibilities in multiple testing and multiple modeling strategies. Continue reading

Categories: Bayesian/frequentist, Error Statistics, Gelman, P-values, preregistration, reproducibility, Statistics | 9 Comments

A new front in the statistics wars? Peaceful negotiation in the face of so-called ‘methodological terrorism’

images-30I haven’t been blogging that much lately, as I’m tethered to the task of finishing revisions on a book (on the philosophy of statistical inference!) But I noticed two interesting blogposts, one by Jeff Leek, another by Andrew Gelman, and even a related petition on Twitter, reflecting a newish front in the statistics wars: When it comes to improving scientific integrity, do we need more carrots or more sticks? 

Leek’s post, from yesterday, called “Statistical Vitriol” (29 Sep 2016), calls for de-escalation of the consequences of statistical mistakes:

Over the last few months there has been a lot of vitriol around statistical ideas. First there were data parasites and then there were methodological terrorists. These epithets came from established scientists who have relatively little statistical training. There was the predictable backlash to these folks from their counterparties, typically statisticians or statistically trained folks who care about open source.
Continue reading

Categories: Anil Potti, fraud, Gelman, pseudoscience, Statistics | 15 Comments

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