Scientific method: Statistical errors

Scientific method: Statistical errors

by Regina Nuzzo

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DALE EDWIN MURRAY

“At the same time, statisticians are looking for better ways of thinking about data, to help scientists to avoid missing important information or acting on false alarms. “Change your statistical philosophy and all of a sudden different things become important,” says Steven Goodman, a physician and statistician at Stanford. “Then ‘laws’ handed down from God are no longer handed down from God. They’re actually handed down to us by ourselves, through the methodology we adopt.” ”
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“More broadly, researchers need to realize the limits of conventional statistics, Goodman says. They should instead bring into their analysis elements of scientific judgement about the plausibility of a hypothesis and study limitations that are normally banished to the discussion section: results of identical or similar experiments, proposed mechanisms, clinical knowledge and so on. Statistician Richard Royall of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, said that there are three questions a scientist might want to ask after a study: ‘What is the evidence?’ ‘What should I believe?’ and ‘What should I do?’ One method cannot answer all these questions, Goodman says: “The numbers are where the scientific discussion should start, not end.” ”

From Nature

 

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