THE NULL RITUAL OR: P, P, P, PLAGIARISM
each time science news publishes bruce bower's article about potential problems with pernicious p-values in psychology - in 1997, 2013, 2018 & 2021 - it gets a little bit worse
this story was in episode 15 #pvalue #statistics #selfplagiarism
the error bar says
the error bar has returned to deal with an article about p-values in Science News.org.
p-values are statistical tools that researchers have used for more than a century to indicate the likelihood, or surprisingness, of experimental results, assuming that there was, in fact, no real result at all. it's part of what's often called 'null hypothesis significance testing,' used in many disciplines to help decide whether experimental effects are real.
the author of this latest article about p-values, Bruce Bower, claims that psychologists have been misled by p-values for more than 70 years; that we are trapped in what he calls the 'null ritual'.
psychologists are guilty, Bower argues, of continuously and mindlessly testing the null hypothesis, of not looking at or showing our data, not reporting averages, not developing theories & not repeating experiments.
the sooner we abandon this ritual, he argues, the sooner we can do proper science. you know, like psychology in the old days - bearded chaps such as Pavlov, Köhler & Piaget.
is psychology stuck in the null ritual?
there is so much wrong & not to like about this article that i could happily fill a whole episode describing it. i'll spare you the monologue & just give a brief critique.
first, as a whole, this article is a naïve, stroppy, clichéd, hatchet-job of the entire discipline of psychology. it's not an argument but a string of unqualified, sweeping, often incorrect statements. forty years ago Psychology awarded Bower an MSc. Psychology should take it back.
second, this article has been published before. in 1997, Bower wrote a very similar article.
third, this article has been published before. in 2013, Bower wrote a very similar article.
fourth, this article has been published before. in 2018, Bower wrote a very similar article.
fifth, that's right - Bower has written similar articles, using the same sources & quotations four times over 24 years. his go-to guys are Loftus, Gigerenzer & Rodin. why did he feel we needed to read this yet again? he's like an arsonist wandering around a police station with a dripping can of petrol.
sixth, his errors. what a list! i'll pick the worst:
Bower claims that psychology textbook writers created the idea of statistical significance in the mid-twentieth century. they didn't. as his colleague Tom Siegfried wrote - better - in 2010, it began in the nineteenth century.
Bower states that "Statistically significant results are rarely used as a launching pad for testing alternative explanations". no Mr Bower, we psychologists: a) do more than one experiment, b) test theories multiple times over our careers & c) have a discussion section in every article.
Bower talks of a golden age of Pavlov, Köhler & Piaget - three high-school textbook psychologists - who, he claims, didn't use the concept of 'statistical significance'. i'm not going to fact-check that claim, because i'm certain that Bower has read all of their collected works in their original Russian, German & French.
one thing i did do, however, is read what Jean Piaget said about psychologists in 1979:
"the psychologist seeks to be as logical as possible in his reasoning and he borrows formulas from the theory of probability when he does his statistics"