Vale Danny Kahneman, Giant of Statistical Cognition and Much Else

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Danny Kahneman died on 27 March at 90. The APS announcement is here. I’ve posted about him before. The best quick read may be this 2016 New Yorker piece by Cass R. Sunstein and Richard Thaler of Nudge fame.

He won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2002 for foundational work on behavioural economics that was joint with Amos Tversky, who died in 1996.

I have two particular reasons for thinking of him:

‘Law’ of Small Numbers

A misconception rather than a law, this was described in the famous article Kahneman and Tversky (1971): Even quantitatively literate psychology researchers were likely to grossly over-estimate the probability that a replication of a study that obtained p = .05 would itself be statistically significant. This was a very early example of statistical cognition, the field that has been my primary research interest these last 25 years or so.

Moreover, that demonstration of drastic under-estimation of the sampling variability of the p value helped prompt my development of the dance of the p values, p intervals (Cumming, 2008), and statistical roulette–all of which are attempts to dramatise the sampling variability of p. I have hoped that such dramatisations would help undermine researchers’ seeming addiction to p values that has persisted despite numerous cogent critiques over more than half a century.

Anne Treisman

Anne, a distinguished cognitive psychologist, during 1968-1971 supervised my DPhil research at Oxford. In 1978 she married Daniel Kahneman. They moved to North America and were together at Princeton for many years before her death in 2018.

She appears at left receiving from Obama the U.S. National Medal of Science in 2013.

I salute the memory of these two fine scientists from whom I’ve learned an enormous amount.

Geoff

Cumming, G. (2008). Replication and p Intervals: p values predict the future only vaguely, but confidence intervals do much better. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(4), 286–300. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00079.x

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1971). Belief in the law of small numbers. Psychological Bulletin, 76(2), 105–110. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0031322

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