Fixing statistics is more than a technical issue

Too many practitioners who discuss the misuse of statistics in science propose technical remedies to a problem that is essentially social, cultural and ethical (see J. Leek et al. Nature 551, 557–559; 2017). In our view, technical fixes are doomed.

As Steven Goodman writes in the article, there is nothing technically wrong with P values. But even when they are correct and appropriate, they can be misunderstood, misrepresented and misused — often in the haste to serve publication and career. P values should instead serve as a check on the quality of evidence.

The great paradox of science is that passionate practitioners must carefully produce dispassionate facts (J. Ravetz Scientific Knowledge and its Social Problems Oxford Univ. Press; 1971). Meticulous technical and normative judgement, as well as morals and morale, are necessary to navigate the forking paths of the statistical garden.

Unless peer review and rewards in academia change to encourage such virtues, the present crisis will remain intractable (see also A. Saltelli and S. Funtowicz Futures 91, 5–11; 2017).

Nature 553, 281 (2018)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-00647-9


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