Posted by: rayseghers | October 18, 2009

Is Statistical Significance Meaningful?

Every once in a while I hear someone complaining about statistics and making the old claim that you can prove anything with statistics.  My comment is that “statistics don’t lie, people do.”

 The basic problem is that somewhere in our early education many students are turned off to math.  They develop a strong distrust and skepticism of numbers.  So, given that they don’t understand and trust numbers they dismiss them and instead listen to the interpretation provided to them in “plain English.”  Of course, this makes them prime targets of some unscrupulous numbers salesman.  (Please note that survey consultants never fall into this category.)

 The biggest lie that the average non-statistical person buys into is that statistical significance is equivalent to meaningfulness.  Well, I guess if you buy this then you really can prove anything with statistics.   Meaningfulness is in the eye of the beholder.  Statistical significance may tell you that some difference is big or that some relationship is strong, but that fact may or may not have any meaning for you.  Go beyond the math and understand what is really important.

 In a later post I’ll tell you about the IOT test of significance.


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