Five ways to fix statistics

Source: Nature

To use statistics well, researchers must study how scientists analyse and interpret data and then apply that information to prevent cognitive mistakes.

In the past couple of decades, many fields have shifted from data sets with a dozen measurements to data sets with millions. Methods that were developed for a world with sparse and hard-to-collect information have been jury-rigged to handle bigger, more-diverse and more-complex data sets. No wonder the literature is now full of papers that use outdated statistics, misapply statistical tests and misinterpret results. The application of P values to determine whether an analysis is interesting is just one of the most visible of many shortcomings.

It’s not enough to blame a surfeit of data and a lack of training in analysis1. It’s also impractical to say that statistical metrics such as P values should not be used to make decisions. Sometimes a decision (editorial or funding, say) must be made, and clear guidelines are useful.