# Incorporating Bayes factor into my understanding of scientific information and the replication crisis

March 10, 2018
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(This article was originally published at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

I was having this discussion with Dan Kahan, who was arguing that my ideas about type M and type S error, while mathematically correct, represent a bit of a dead end in that, if you want to evaluate statistically-based scientific claims, you’re better off simply using likelihood ratios or Bayes factors. Kahan would like to use the likelihood ratio to summarize the information from a study and then go from there. The problem with type M and type S errors is that, to determine these, you need some prior values for the unknown parameters in the problem.

I have a lot of problems with how Bayes factors are presented in textbooks and articles by various leading Bayesians, but I have nothing against Bayes factors in theory.

So I thought it might help for me to explain, using an example, how I’d use Bayes factors in a scenario where one could also use type M and type S errors.

The example is the beauty-and-sex-ratio study described here, and the is that the data are really weak (not a power=.06 study but a power=.0500001 study or something like that). The likelihood for the parameter is something like normal(.08, .03^2)–that is, there’s a point estimate of 0.08 (an 8 percentage point difference in Pr(girl birth), comparing children of beautiful parents to others) with a se of 0.03 (that is, 3 percentage points). From the literature and some math reasoning (not shown here) having to do with measurement error in the predictor, reasonable effect sizes are anywhere between 0 and, say, +/- 0.001 (one-tenth of a percentage points); see the above-linked paper.

The relevant Bayes factor here is not theta=0 vs theta!=0. Rather, it’s theta=-0.001 (say) vs. theta=0 vs. theta=+0.001. Result will show Bayes factors very close to 1 (i.e., essentially zero evidence); also relevant is the frequentist calculation of how variable the Bayes factors might be under the null hypothesis that theta=0.

I better clarify that last point: The null hypothesis is not scientifically interesting, nor do I learn anything useful about sex ratios from learning that the p-value of the data relative to the null hypothesis is 0.20, or 0.02, or 0.002, or whatever. However, the null hypothesis can be useful as a device for approximating the sampling distribution of a statistical procedure.

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