“Cargo-Cult” Statistics. What Can Statisticians Do?

[From the blog “Cargo-cult statistics and scientific crisis” by Philip Stark and Andrea Saltelli, published by Significance magazine]
“Poor practice is catching up with science, manifesting in part in the failure of results to be reproducible and replicable. Various causes have been posited, but we believe that poor statistical education and practice are symptoms of and contributors to problems in science as a whole.”
“The problem is one of cargo-cult statistics – the ritualistic miming of statistics rather than conscientious practice. This has become the norm in many disciplines, reinforced and abetted by statistical education, statistical software, and editorial policies.”
“Statisticians can help with important, controversial issues with immediate consequences for society. We can help fight power asymmetries in the use of evidence. We can stand up for the responsible use of statistics, even when that means taking personal risks.”
“We should be vocally critical of cargo-cult statistics, including where study design is ignored, where p-values, confidence intervals and posterior distributions are misused, and where probabilities are calculated under irrelevant, misleading assumptions. We should be critical even when the abuses involve politically charged issues, such as the social cost of climate change. If an authority treats estimates based on an ad hoc collection of related numerical models with unknown, potentially large systematic errors as if they were a random sample from a distribution centred at the parameter, we should object – whether or not we like the conclusion.”
“We can insist that “service” courses foster statistical thinking, deep understanding, and appropriate scepticism, rather than promulgating cargo-cult statistics.”
To read more, click here.

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