Statistical Illiteracy and Governance

David Randall:

No rigorous and fair-minded researcher with any understanding of statistics, experimental design, or the irreproducibility crisis would take this study seriously. Indeed, the fact that it passed peer review is yet more evidence that peer review now functions to credential and accelerate groupthink rather than to deter it.

Such shoddy research is far too common in the sciences and social sciences. This is a grave enough problem in its own right, but it has more serious consequences for America as a whole. We have delegated policymaking authority to professionals who claim expertise in wide swathes of administrative policy, judicial decisionmaking, and legislation. Those experts who claim the mantle of “Science” are foremost among these would-be professional experts. Such men and women far too frequently subordinate the search for truth to the search to impose a preferred policy. Their shoddy research methods are part and parcel of their desire to forward a political agenda—although it should be emphasized that even researchers without a political agenda now use statistical and experimental methods guaranteed to produce a mass of false results.

Shoddy research dovetails astonishingly well with radical polemic.