Mindless Statistics

Below is the opening paragraph of the article Mindless Statistics by Gerd Gigerenzer (The bold was added by me):

I once visited a distinguished statistical textbook author, whose book went through many editions, and whose name does not matter. His textbook represents the relative best in the social sciences. He was not a statistician; otherwise, his text would likely not have been used in a psychology class. In an earlier edition, he had included a chapter on Bayesian statistics, and also mentioned (albeit in only one sentence) that there was a development in statistical theory from R.A. Fisher to Jerzy-Neyman and Egon S. Pearson. To mention the existence of alternative methods and the names associated with them is virtually unheard of in psychology. I asked the author why he removed the chapter on Bayes as well as the innocent sentence from all subsequent editions. “What made you present statistics as if it had only a single hammer, rather than a toolbox? Why did you mix Fisher’s and Neyman–Pearson’s theories into an inconsistent hybrid that every decent statistician would reject?”

To his credit, I should say that the author did not attempt to deny that he had produced the illusion that there is only one tool. But he let me know who was to blame for this. There were three culprits: his fellow researchers, the university  administration, and his publisher. Most researchers, he argued, are not really interested in statistical thinking, but only in how to get their papers published. The administration at his university promoted researchers according to the number of their publications, which reinforced the researchers’ attitude. And he passed on the responsibility to his publisher, who demanded a single-recipe cookbook. No controversies, please. His publisher had forced him to take out the chapter on Bayes as well as the sentence that named alternative theories, he explained. At the end of our conversation, I asked him what kind of statistical theory he himself believed in. “Deep in my heart,” he confessed, “I am a Bayesian.”

If the author was telling me the truth, he had sold his heart for multiple editions of a famous book whose message he did not believe in. He had sacrificed his intellectual integrity for  success. Ten thousands of students have read his text, believing that it reveals the method of science. Dozens of less informed textbook writers copied from his text, churning out a flood of offspring textbooks, and not noticing the mess.


Posted on February 7, 2012, in Academia. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Reblogged this on chrisbeeleyimh.

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