Statistical demolition

What a remarkable article this is. Nickerson and Brown take apart a recent paper that claimed to show an effect of mindfulness on motivated perception. I am no psychologist and will make no judgment of the plausibility of the finding, but it is heartening (if somewhat scary) to see thorough statistical critique like this getting written in the public domain, and indeed getting published (well done Personality & Individual Differences). If we had more painful demolitions like this, we might have more caution being exercised by those who dabble in statistics. I am sympathetic, for the simple reason that they probably find it hard to track down a statistical collaborator, though I am always suspicious of psychologists’ tendency toward gung-ho number-crunching.

It does seem harsh to include one of the authors’ Masters thesis in the demolition though. They have to follow the advice of the supervisor (not a statistician), the requirements of the course, and they don’t get a chance to rewrite them after marking, like a doctoral thesis. I think it’s appropriate to look at it for an insight into the evolution of the ideas, but not to find mistakes. It would be a very unusual Masters thesis that did not contain mistakes; there are certainly some in mine.

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