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Surprising Science

Statistics’ Shortcomings

Supposedly, the proper use of statistics makes relying on scientific results a safe bet. But in practice, widespread misuse of statistical methods makes science more like a crapshoot.

The ‘scientific method’ of testing hypotheses by statistical analysis stands on a flimsy foundation. Statistical tests are supposed to guide scientists in judging whether an experimental result reflects some real effect or is merely a random fluke, but the standard methods mix mutually inconsistent philosophies and offer no meaningful basis for making such decisions. Even when performed correctly, statistical tests are widely misunderstood and frequently misinterpreted. As a result, countless conclusions in the scientific literature are erroneous, and tests of medical dangers or treatments are often contradictory and confusing.


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