Friday, February 29, 2008

Top 10 Commandments of Statistical Inference: #6

So, the 6th commandment of Statistical Inference is:

Thy shalt not covet thy Colleague’s data.

This sounds like a pretty easy one, but I am amazed to see even now people who view other people’s data and “want what they have.” Why is this so bad? This can drive people to reach beyond what they should in an effort to find “statistical significance” to keep up with the Joneses. How do they do this? Maybe when the numbers don’t match-up they use a less stringent model. Perhaps they refuse to use an adjustment when the situation calls for it. This leads them to travel in and out of the grey that is statistics. These tactics are egregious enough, but then there are those that understand statistics even less and wonder why their data doesn’t look like someone else’s. Many times I have been asked, and sometimes almost blamed or considered a bad statistician, if the data doesn’t look like someone else’s. In some limited fashions I have been prodded to make it look more favorable. This was refused much to the persons chagrin as they did not understand that it was much more than just data integrity on the line.

Bottom line, data is data. It can be made into anything that you want, but only those that truly understand it and use it correctly will learn and help improve the situation. Wishing to have the results of others is not an issue in itself; if it helps you drive improvement towards that goal. It’s when it drives you to look the other way in the analysis where it causes problems.

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