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Beyond probabilism

from Lars Syll

“Getting philosophical” is not about articulating rarified concepts divorced from statistical practice. It is to provide tools to avoid obfuscating the terms and issues being bandied about …

mayoDo I hear a protest? “There is nothing philosophical about our criticism of statistical significance tests (someone might say). The problem is that a small P-value is invariably, and erroneously, interpreted as giving a small probability to the null hypothesis.” Really? P-values are not intended to be used this way; presupposing they ought to be so interpreted grows out of a specific conception of the role of probability in statistical inference. That conception is philosophical. Methods characterized through the lens of over-simple epistemological orthodoxies are methods misapplied and mischaracterized. This may lead one to lie, however unwittingly, about the nature and goals of statistical inference, when what we want is to tell what’s true about them …

One does not have evidence for a claim if nothing has been done to rule out ways the claim may be false. If data x agree with a claim C but the method used is practically guaranteed to find such agreement, and had little or no capability of finding flaws with C even if they exist, then we have bad evidence, no test …  

Statistical inference uses data to reach claims about aspects of processes and mechanisms producing them, accompanied by an assessment of the properties of the inference methods: their capabilities to control and alert us to erroneous interpretations. We need to report if the method has satisfied the most minimal requirement for solving such a problem. Has anything been tested with a modicum of severity, or not? The severe tester also requires reporting of what has been poorly probed … Informal​ statistical testing, the crude dichotomy of “pass/fail” or “significant or not” will scarcely do. We must determine the magnitudes (and directions) of any statistical discrepancies warranted, and the limits to any substantive claims you may be entitled to infer from the statistical ones.

Deborah Mayo’s book underlines more than anything else the importance of not equating science with statistical calculation or applied probability theory.

The ‘frequentist’ long-run perspective in itself says nothing about how ‘severely’ tested are hypotheses and claims. It doesn’t give​ us the evidence we seek.

And ‘Bayesian’ consistency and coherence are as silent. All science entail human judgement, and using statistical models doesn’t relieve us of that necessity. Choosing between theories and hypotheses can never be a question of inner coherence and consistency.

Probabilism — in whatever form it takes — says absolutely​ nothing about reality.​

  1. lobdillj
    January 22, 2019 at 1:33 am


  2. rogerglewis
    January 22, 2019 at 2:02 am

    Hi Lars,

    I Like Hans Rosling’s Possibilism,( https://www.nature.com/news/three-minutes-with-hans-rosling-will-change-your-mind-about-the-world-1.21143 ) the very first Statistics Lecture I ever Attended was preceded by the lecturer with the old Joke about Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics.
    Even in Statistics Motivation on Context are inherent in the boundary conditions.
    Whilst the dismal science, as faith-based humanity, is really metaphysical, a 2nd law-free- zone with no use for evidence, we will remain in what Bruce Charlton calls. “The insanity of pure abstract altruism”.
    Pure disinterested altruism, imposed on all by abstract systems, is, therefore, a logical consequence of the moral primacy of pure altruism…
    It is also insane and lacks any test in reality.
    PC is good by definition and for no other reason; especially not because PC has been found to be good.
    PC stands or falls by the fact of a secular intellectual ruling elite, and can be imposed widely by this elite only by the recent technologies of modern mass media.
    And PC is only possible in a fully materialist and secular society: where this-worldly ‘goods’ and their just (i.e. altruistic) allocation can assume ultimate importance, over-riding all other considerations (such as the saving of souls).


    The Scientific academy has succumbed to the Rovian Actors in history Syndrome as described by Ron Susskind.

    ´´The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” He continued “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
    Suskind, Ron (2004-10-17). Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush. The New York Times Magazine.

    ´´every living thing can become healthy, strong and fruitful only within a horizon; if it is incapable of
    drawing a horizon around itself or, on the other hand, too selfish to
    restrict its vision to the limits of a horizon drawn by another, it will wither
    away feebly or overhastily to its early demise. Cheerfulness, clear conscience,
    the carefree deed, faith in the future, all this depends in the case of an individual as well as of a people, on there being a line which distinguishes what is clear and in full view from the dark and unilluminable; it depends on one’s being able to forget at the right time as
    well as to remember at the right time; on discerning with strong instinctual
    feelings when there is need to experience historically and when unhistorically.
    Precisely this is the proposition the reader is invited to consider:
    the unhistorical and the historical are equally necessary for the health of
    an individual, a people and a culture. ”

    Friedrich Nietzsche: 1844-1900




    Click to access lewis-convention1.pdf

    Yet, in the end, the theory of games is scaffolding. I can restate
    my analysis of convention without it. The result is a theory along
    the lines of Hume’s, in his discussion of the origin of justice and
    property. Convention turns out to be
    4 The Strategy), of Conflict
    (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960).
    a general sense of common.interest; which sense all the members
    of the society express to one another, and which induces them
    to regulate their conduct by certain rules. I observe that it will
    be to my interest [e.g.] to leave another in the possession of his
    goods, provided he will act in the same manner with regard
    to me

    ´´I would define the episteme retrospectively as the strategic apparatus which permits of separating out from among all the statements which are possible those that will be
    acceptable within, I won’t say a scientific theory, but a field of scientificity, and which it is possible to say are true or false. The episteme is the ‘apparatus’ which makes possible the separation, not of the true from the false, but of what may from what may not be characterised as
    scientific.”[1] Michel Foucault.


    “Whenever you get two people interpreting the same data in different ways,” “that’s metaphysics.” is a quote from an interview published in Scientific American with Thomas Khun the coiner of the term and proposer of the concept of paradigm shifts.


    I Think Rupert Sheldrake sums up the “Science Republic” ( Polyani ) Best though with his Science Delusion Ted Talk.

  3. Frank Salter
    January 22, 2019 at 8:42 am

    Again the elephant in the room is being ignored. The real world develops over time. Theoretical relationships must satisfy the requirements of the quantity calculus. The fitting of functional equations that are no better than and more likely worse fits than arbitrary equations is the reason why no progress will ever be made attempting to follow the same path as that which has failed for over 250 years. The methods being used will never lead to even one valid theory. Time is the insuperable problem in conventional approaches.

  4. Helen Sakho
    January 23, 2019 at 2:41 am

    They have a lot of Time and as many Elephants as they wish to kill. So, all seems in order. Amusing video though, thank you Lars.

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