IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

The Cult of Statistical Significance – What Economists Should and Should Not Do to Make their Data Talk

  • Walter Krämer

This article takes issue with a rather devastating critique of statistical significance testing propagated in a recent book by Ziliak/McCloskey (2008) of the same title. Ziliak/McCloskey argue that statistical significance testing is a barrier rather than a booster for empirical research in economics and should therefore be abandoned altogether. The present article argues that this is good advice in some research areas but not in others, with the aim of making practitioners aware of various fallacies connected with the concept of statistical significance, and at the same time showing where significance testing is most fruitfully employed. Taking all issues which have appeared so far of the German Economic Review and a recent epidemiological meta-analysis as examples, the present paper shows that there has indeed been a lot of misleading work where confirmatory significance testing has played a major role, and that at the same time many promising avenues, best summarized under the heading “specification tests”, have not been used.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers (2008 onwards); Pay-per-view access from (2000 onwards with 2 years moving wall) and (2008 onwards)

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Duncker & Humblot, Berlin in its journal Schmollers Jahrbuch.

Volume (Year): 131 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 455-468

in new window

Handle: RePEc:aeq:aeqsjb:v131_y2011_i3_q3_p455-468
Contact details of provider: Web page:

Order Information: Web: Email:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Ronald Bachmann & Michael C. Burda, 2010. "Sectoral Transformation, Turbulence and Labor Market Dynamics in Germany," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 11, pages 37-59, 02.
  2. Lovell, Michael C, 1983. "Data Mining," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 65(1), pages 1-12, February.
  3. Walter Kraemer & Gerhard Arminger, 2010. ""True Believers" or Numerical Terrorism at the Nuclear Power Plant," CESifo Working Paper Series 3180, CESifo Group Munich.
  4. Bettina Becker & Silke Uebelmesser, 2010. "Health Insurance Competition in Germany - The Role of Advertising," Discussion Paper Series 2010_05, Department of Economics, Loughborough University, revised Mar 2010.
  5. Inmaculada Martínez-Zarzoso & Felicitas Nowak-Lehmann D. & Stephan Klasen & Mario Larch, 2009. "Does German Development Aid Promote German Exports?," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 10, pages 317-338, 08.
  6. McCloskey, Donald N, 1985. "The Loss Function Has Been Mislaid: The Rhetoric of Significance Tests," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(2), pages 201-05, May.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is featured on the following reading lists or Wikipedia pages:

  1. Economic Logic blog

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aeq:aeqsjb:v131_y2011_i3_q3_p455-468. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Gabriele Freudenmann)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.