The Supreme Court can’t do statistics. And, what’s worse, they don’t know what they don’t know.

August 9, 2017
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(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

Kevin Lewis points us to this article by Ryan Enos, Anthony Fowler, and Christopher Havasy, who write:

This article examines the negative effect fallacy, a flawed statistical argument first utilized by the Warren Court in Elkins v. United States. The Court argued that empirical evidence could not determine whether the exclusionary rule prevents future illegal searches and seizures because “it is never easy to prove a negative,” inappropriately conflating the philosophical and arithmetic definitions of the word negative. Subsequently, the Court has repeated this mistake in other domains, including free speech, voting rights, and campaign finance. The fallacy has also proliferated into the federal circuit and district court levels. Narrowly, our investigation aims to eradicate the use of the negative effect fallacy in federal courts. More broadly, we highlight several challenges and concerns with the increasing use of statistical reasoning in court decisions. As courts continue to evaluate statistical and empirical questions, we recommend that they evaluate the evidence on its own merit rather than relying on convenient arguments embedded in precedent.

Damn. I thought I’d never say this, but Earl Warren knows about as much about statistics as the editors of Perspectives on Psychological Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

I’d hope for better from the U.S. Supreme Court. Seriously.

Lots of psychology professors, including editors at top journals, don’t know statistics but feel the need to pretend that they do. But nobody expects a judge to know statistics. So one would think this would enable these judges to feel free to contact the nation’s top statistical experts for advice as needed. No need to try to wing it, right?

As Mark Twain might have said, it’s not what you don’t know that kills you, it’s what you know for sure that ain’t true.

The post The Supreme Court can’t do statistics. And, what’s worse, they don’t know what they don’t know. appeared first on Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science.



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