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# A tragedy of statistical theory

Summary:
A tragedy of statistical theory Methodologists (including myself) can at times exhibit poor judgment about which of their new discoveries, distinctions, and methods are of practical importance, and which are charitably described as ‘academic’ … Weighing the costs and benefits of proposed formalizations is crucial for allocating scarce resources for research and teaching, and can depend heavily on the application … Much benefit can accrue from thinking a problem through within these models, as long as the formal logic is recognized as an allegory for a largely unknown reality. A tragedy of statistical theory is that it pretends as if mathematical solutions are not only sufficient but ‘‘optimal’’ for dealing with analysis problems when the claimed

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## A tragedy of statistical theory

Methodologists (including myself) can at times exhibit poor judgment about which of their new discoveries, distinctions, and methods are of practical importance, and which are charitably described as ‘academic’ … Weighing the costs and benefits of proposed formalizations is crucial for allocating scarce resources for research and teaching, and can depend heavily on the application …

Much benefit can accrue from thinking a problem through within these models, as long as the formal logic is recognized as an allegory for a largely unknown reality. A tragedy of statistical theory is that it pretends as if mathematical solutions are not only sufficient but ‘‘optimal’’ for dealing with analysis problems when the claimed optimality is itself deduced from dubious assumptions … Likewise, we should recognize that mathematical sophistication seems to imbue no special facility for causal inference in the soft sciences, as witnessed for example by Fisher’s attacks on the smoking-lung cancer link.

Sander Greenland

Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.