Statistics as a Counter to Heavyweights…who wrote this?

February 14, 2013

(This article was originally published at Error Statistics Philosophy » Statistics, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

questionmark pinkWhen any scientific conclusion is supposed to be [shown or disproved] on experimental evidence [or data], critics who still refuse to accept the conclusion are accustomed to take one of two lines of attack. They may claim that the interpretation of the [data] is faulty, that the results reported are not in fact those which should have been expected had the conclusion drawn been justified, or that they might equally well have arisen had the conclusion drawn been false. Such criticisms of interpretation are usually treated as falling within the domain of statistics. They are often made by professed statisticians against the work of others whom they regard as ignorant of or incompetent in statistical technique; and, since the interpretation of any considerable body of data is likely to involve computations it is natural enough that questions involving the logical implications of the results of the arithmetical processes implied should be relegated to the statistician. At least I make no complaint of this convention. The statistician cannot evade the responsibility for understanding the processes he applies or recommends. My immediate point is that the questions involved can be dissociated from all that is strictly technical in the statistician’s craft…..

The other type of criticism to which experimental results [or data] are exposed is that the experiment itself was ill designed or, of course, badly executed….This type of criticism is usually made by what I might call a heavyweight authority. Prolonged experience, or at least the long possession of a scientific reputation, is almost a pre-requisite for developing successfully this line of attack. Technical details are seldom in evidence. The authoritative assertion “His controls are totally inadequate” must have temporarily discredited many a promising line of work; and such an authoritarian method of judgment must surely continue, human nature being what it is, so long as [general methods for data generation, modeling and analysis] are lacking…

[T]he subject matter [of this work] has been regarded from the point of view of an experimenter [or data analyst], who wishes to carry out his work competently, and having done so wishes to safeguard his results, so far as they are validly established, from ignorant criticism by different sorts of superior persons.

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