Commentaries on Significance Testing

Compiled by David F. Parkhurst, School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405

Not only do we as individuals get locked into single-minded views, but we also reinforce these views for each other until the culture itself suffers from the same mindlessness. There is an awareness of this in science. Scientists proceed along a path gathering data that builds an accepted wisdom. At some point someone turns everyone's attention to a very different view of the previously acknowledged truth. This phenomenon happens frequently enough that scientists are generally not surprised by what is called a paradigm shift. In a recent New York Times article psychologist Dean Radin described four stages of adopting ideas: "The first is, 1. 'It's impossible.' 2. 'Maybe it's possible, but it's weak and uninteresting.' 3. 'It is true and I told you so.' 4. 'I thought of it first.'" I would add a fifth stage, "We always knew that. How could it be otherwise?" Ellen J. Langer (1997), Radin (1996); see References below.

I suspect (and hope) that such a paradigm shift is occurring with the very way we "build wisdom" from the data we gather, namely, a shift away from significance testing toward more rational ways of extracting knowledge from data. I only wish it would occur more quickly than it is.


Comments and suggestions may be sent to Additional quotes (of all three types) will be considered for inclusion if documented, with page numbers included.

Keywords: Null hypothesis significance testing, statistical hypothesis testing, Type I error, Type II error, statistical power.

Last Updated: September 27, 1997


Copyright 1997, The Trustees of Indiana University