Memory Lane: reblog July 11, 2012 (+ updates at the end).
I suppose[ed] this was somewhat of a joke from the ISBA, prompted by Dennis Lindley, but as I [now] accord the actual extent of jokiness to be only ~10%, I’m sharing it on the blog [i]. Lindley (according to O’Hagan) wonders why scientists require so high a level of statistical significance before claiming to have evidence of a Higgs boson. It is asked: “Are the particle physics community completely wedded to frequentist analysis? If so, has anyone tried to explain what bad science that is?”
Bad science? I’d really like to understand what these representatives from the ISBA would recommend, if there is even a shred of seriousness here (or is Lindley just peeved that significance levels are getting so much press in connection with so important a discovery in particle physics?)
Well, read the letter and see what you think.
On Jul 10, 2012, at 9:46 PM, ISBA Webmaster wrote:
A question from Dennis Lindley prompts me to consult this list in search of answers.
We’ve heard a lot about the Higgs boson. The news reports say that the LHC needed convincing evidence before they would announce that a particle had been found that looks like (in the sense of having some of the right characteristics of) the elusive Higgs boson. Specifically, the news referred to a confidence interval with 5-sigma limits.
Now this appears to correspond to a frequentist significance test with an extreme significance level. Five standard deviations, assuming normality, means a p-value of around 0.0000005. A number of questions spring to mind.
1. Why such an extreme evidence requirement? We know from a Bayesian perspective that this only makes sense if (a) the existence of the Higgs boson (or some other particle sharing some of its properties) has extremely small prior probability and/or (b) the consequences of erroneously announcing its discovery are dire in the extreme. Neither seems to be the case, so why 5-sigma?
2. Rather than ad hoc justification of a p-value, it is of course better to do a proper Bayesian analysis. Are the particle physics community completely wedded to frequentist analysis? If so, has anyone tried to explain what bad science that is? Continue reading →