Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Top 10 Commandments of Statistical Inference: #7

The seventh commandment of Statistical Inference is:

Though Shalt not bear false witness against they control group.

To understand this commandment, first you must know what a control group. Typically, when doing a scientific study, one has looks at the difference between two groups that are statistically the same. The first group is the experimental group in which they receive the treatment, the second; the control group, is the group which does not receive the treatment (e.g., placebo). So, how can someone bear false witness (lie) about the control group? The first, and most common is not making sure the control group is statistically the same from the experimental group. By not sampling properly, and then saying that they are the “same” as the experimental group when they are not, this could affect your results. Also, you could have introduced confounding variables into the mix by not controlling both groups properly. You know have no idea if what you see in the experiment is happening because of the treatment, or because of variables you did not control for. Finally, all people can be biased, even researchers. They want to prove their theory. If the experiment is testing in anyway the effectiveness of a treatment, they may have a tendency to favor the experimental group unknowingly. This is why researchers do “double-blind’ studies in which neither the test group nor the researcher knows who belongs in which group.

Not all testing is strict scientific testing, but make sure that you are sampling the correct groups, controlling for the correct variables, and not allowing biases to enter into the results.

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