IN THE NEWS: Undark (March 21, 2019)

[From the article “Stats Experts Plead: Just Say No to P-Hacking” by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, published in Undark]
“For decades, researchers have used a statistical measure called the p-value — a widely-debated statistic that even scientists find difficult to define — that is often a requirement for publication in academic journals. In many fields, experimental results that yield a p-value less than 0.05 (p<0.05) are typically labelled as “statistically significant.” Lower p-values imply that a result is more likely real, instead of a statistical fluke.”
“Playing with data to meet the significance thresholds required for publication — known as p-hacking — is an actual thing in academia.”
“In response to concerns, the ASA has released advice on how researchers should — and should not — use p-values, devoting an entire issue of its quarterly publication, The American Statistician, to the topic.”
“The ASA is suggesting a different approach. The organization wants to move academic research beyond significance thresholds, so that studies aren’t selectively published because of their statistical outcomes.”
“Not everyone is convinced the ASA’s recommendations will have the desired effect.”
“‘Statisticians have been calling for better statistical practices and education for many decades and these calls have not resulted in substantial change,’ Trafimow says. ‘I see no reason to believe that the special issue or editorial would have an effect now where similar calls in the past have failed.'”
“Others question the ASA’s approach. “I don’t think statisticians should be telling researchers what they should do,” says Daniël Lakens, an experimental psychologist at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Instead, he adds, they should be helping researchers ask what they really want to know and give more tailored field-specific practical advice.”
“Unlike the ASA in its editorial, Johnson believes that researchers, especially non-statisticians, would benefit from thresholds to indicate significance.”
“Lakens, who advocates for researchers to choose thresholds as long as they justify them, agrees, noting that bright line rules may be necessary in some fields.”
“But allowing cut-offs, even in select cases, may mean that researchers’ biases encourage p-hacking — even if unconsciously, notes Regina Nuzzo, a statistician at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. and an associate editor of the ASA’s special issue. For Nuzzo, a substantial change will require educating researchers during college years …”
To read more, click here.

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