The Problem Isn’t Bad Incentives, It’s the Ritual Behind Them

[From the article, “Statistical Rituals: The Replication Delusion and How We Got There” by Gerd Gigerenzer, published in Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science]
“The “replication crisis” has been attributed to misguided external incentives gamed by researchers (the strategic-game hypothesis). Here, I want to draw attention to a complementary internal factor, namely, researchers’ widespread faith in a statistical ritual and associated delusions (the statistical-ritual hypothesis).”
“The crucial delusion is that the p value specifies the probability of a successful replication (i.e., 1 – p), which makes replication studies appear to be superfluous. A review of studies with 839 academic psychologists and 991 students shows that the replication delusion existed among 20% of the faculty teaching statistics in psychology, 39% of the professors and lecturers, and 66% of the students.”
“Two further beliefs, the illusion of certainty (e.g., that statistical significance proves that an effect exists) and Bayesian wishful thinking (e.g., that the probability of the alternative hypothesis being true is 1 – p), also make successful replication appear to be certain or almost certain, respectively.”
“In every study reviewed, the majority of researchers (56%–97%) exhibited one or more of these delusions.”
“Whereas the strategic-game hypothesis takes the incentives as given, the statistical-ritual hypothesis provides a deeper explanation of the roots of the replication crisis. Researchers are incentivized to aim for the product of the null ritual, statistical significance, not for goals that are ignored by it, such as high power, replication, and precise competing theories and proofs. The statistical-ritual hypothesis provides the rationale for the very incentives chosen by editors, administrators, and committees. Obtaining significant results became the surrogate for good science.”
To read the article, click here.

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