Significance tests die hard: The amazing persistence of a probabilistic misconception


Authors: 
Falk, R., & Greenbaum, C. W.
Category: 
Pages: 
Jan-35
Year: 
1993
Publisher: 
Theory and Psychology
Abstract: 

We present a critique showing the flawed logical structure of statistical significance tests. We then attempt to analyze, why, in spite of this faulty reasoning the use of significance tests persists. We identify the illusion of probabilistic proof by contradiction as a central stumbling block, because it is based on a misleading generalization of reasoning from logic to inference under uncertainty. We present new data from a student sample and examples from the psychological literature showing the strength and prevalence of this illusion. We identify some intrinsic cognitive mechanisms (similarity to modus tollens reasoning; verbal ambiguity in describing the meaning of significance tests; and the need to rule out chance findings) and extrinsic social pressures which help to maintain the illusion. We conclude by mentioning some alternative methods for presenting and analyzing psychological data, none of which can be considered the ultimate method.

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