Banishing “Black/White Thinking”

eNeuro publishes some teaching guidance

You may recall that eNeuro published a great editorial and a supporting paper by Bob and me–mainly Bob. Info is here.

It has now published a lovely article giving teaching advice about ways to undermine students’ natural tendency to think dichotomously. If I could wave a magic wand and change a single thing about researchers’ thinking and approach to data analysis, I’d ask the magic fairy to replace Yes/No research questions with ‘How much…?’ and ‘To what extent…?’ questions. Then maybe we could at last move beyond blinkered significant/nonsignificant, yes/no thinking to estimation thinking. The article (pic below) is here.

Literally hundreds of statisticians have rightly called for an end to statistical significance testing (Amrhein et al., 2019; Wasserstein et al., 2019). But the practice of arbitrarily thresholding p values is not only deeply embedded in statistical practice, it is also congenial to the human mind. It is thus not sufficient to tell our students, “Don’t do this.” We must vividly show them why the practice is wrong and its effects detrimental to scientific progress. I offer three teaching examples I have found to be useful in prompting students to think more deeply about the problem and to begin to interpret the results of statistical procedures as measures of how evidence should change our beliefs, and not as bright lines separating truth from falsehood.

In the abstract (above), I love ‘congenial to the human mind‘. Yes, we seem to have an inbuilt tendency to think in a black-white way. Overcoming this is the challenge, especially when it has been endlessly reinforced during more than half a century of obeisance to p < .05. I also love the ‘vividly‘–surely the best way to get our message across. That’s why I keep banging on about the dance of the p values, and significance roulette. (Search for these at YouTube.)

Scroll down for the interesting bits

Before you click on the pdf link, scroll right down to see the reviewing history of the ms. Bob was the reviewer. The story is a nice example of constructive peer reviewing. Bob and the editor liked the original and made a number of suggestions for strengthening it. The author adopted many of these, but in some cases explained why they were not adopted.

Note also that there are some PowerPoint slides for download, to help the busy teacher.



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