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Is "Statistically Significant" Really Significant?

A new paper by psychologists E.J. Masicampo and David Lalande finds that an uncanny number of psychology findings just barely qualify as statistically significant.  From the abstract:

We examined a large subset of papers from three highly regarded journals. Distributions of p were found to be similar across the different journals. Moreover, p values were much more common immediately below .05 than would be expected based on the number of p values occurring in other ranges. This prevalence of p values just below the arbitrary criterion for significance was observed in all three journals.

The BPS Research Digest explains the likely causes:

The pattern of results could be indicative of dubious research practices, in which researchers nudge their results towards significance, for example by excluding troublesome outliers or adding new participants. Or it could reflect a selective publication bias in the discipline – an obsession with reporting results that have the magic stamp of statistical significance. Most likely it reflects a combination of both these influences. 

“[T]he field may benefit from practices aimed at counteracting the single-minded drive toward achieving statistical significance,” say Masicampo and Lalande.


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