Misused statistics in the wild

Here is a blog post (from Andrew Gelman’s blog) about an article (also by Andrew Gelman) about the misuse of statistics, if you will, in the wild.

From his blog: “The article begins as follows:

In the past few years, Satoshi Kanazawa, a reader in management and research methodology at the London School of Economics, published a series of papers in the Journal of Theoretical Biology with titles such as “Big and Tall Parents Have More Sons” (2005), “Violent Men Have More Sons” (2006), “Engineers Have More Sons, Nurses Have More Daughters” (2005), and “Beautiful Parents Have More Daughters” (2007). More recently, he has publicized some of these claims in an article, “10 Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature,” for Psychology Today and in a book written with Alan S. Miller, Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters.
However, the statistical analysis underlying Kanazawa’s claims has been shown to have basic flaws, with some of his analyses making the error of controlling for an intermediate outcome in estimating a causal effect, and another analysis being subject to multiple-comparisons problems. These are technical errors (about which more later) that produce misleading results. In short, Kanazawa’s findings are not statistically significant, and the patterns he analyzed could well have occurred by chance. Had the lack of statistical significance been noticed in the review process, these articles would almost certainly not have been published in the journal. The fact of their appearance (and their prominence in the media and a popular book) leads to an interesting statistical question: How should we think about research findings that are intriguing but not statistically significant? . . .”

Note: Have you ever heard anyone say something like, “You know ‘they’ say beautiful parents have more daughters.” Ever wondered who the “they” is they were talking about? In this case, it’s Kanazawa. And he’s wrong. So, sometimes even “they” are wrong. Pretty scary cause most people trust the “they”.

Cheers.

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Posted on July 30, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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