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Size Matters: The Standard Error of Regressions in the American Economic Review

Listed author(s):
  • Stephen T. Ziliak
  • Deirdre N. McCloskey

Significance testing as used has no theoretical justification. Our article in the Journal of Economic Literature (1996) showed that of the 182 full-length papers published in the 1980s in the American Economic Review 70% did not distinguish economic from statistical significance. Since 1996 many colleagues have told us that practice has improved. We interpret their response as an empirical claim, a judgment about a fact. Our colleagues, unhappily, are mistaken: significance testing is getting worse. We find here that in the next decade, the 1990s, of the 137 papers using a test of statistical significance in the AER fully 82% mistook a merely statistically significant finding for an economically significant finding. A super majority (81%) believed that looking at the sign of a coefficient sufficed for science, ignoring size. The mistake is causing economic damage: losses of jobs and justice, and indeed of human lives (especially in, to mention another field enchanted with statistical significance as against substantive significance, medical science). The confusion between fit and importance is causing false hypotheses to be accepted and true hypotheses to be rejected. We propose a publication standard for the future: “Tell me the oomph of your coefficient; and do not confuse it with merely statistical significance.â€

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Article provided by Econ Journal Watch in its journal Econ Journal Watch.

Volume (Year): 1 (2004)
Issue (Month): 2 (August)
Pages: 331-358

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Handle: RePEc:ejw:journl:v:1:y:2004:i:2:p:331-358
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  1. Deirdre N. McCloskey & Stephen T. Ziliak, 1996. "The Standard Error of Regressions," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(1), pages 97-114, March.
  2. Card, David & Krueger, Alan B, 1994. "Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 772-793, September.
  3. Bernheim, B Douglas & Wantz, Adam, 1995. "A Tax-Based Test of the Dividend Signaling Hypothesis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(3), pages 532-551, June.
  4. Keuzenkamp,Hugo A., 2000. "Probability, Econometrics and Truth," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521553599, September.
  5. Keuzenkamp, H.A. & Magnus, J.R., 1995. "On tests and significance in econometrics," Other publications TiSEM 1808e2e0-3805-4999-b9a1-5, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.
  6. Darnell, A C, 1997. "Imprecise Tests and Imprecise Hypotheses," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 44(3), pages 247-268, August.
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  9. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1999. "The Art of Labormetrics," NBER Working Papers 6927, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Solon, Gary, 1992. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, June.
  11. Angrist, Joshua D, 1995. "The Economic Returns to Schooling in the West Bank and Gaza Strip," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(5), pages 1065-1087, December.
  12. 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 201-205, May.
  13. Hendricks, Kenneth & Porter, Robert H, 1996. "The Timing and Incidence of Exploratory Drilling on Offshore Wildcat Tracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 388-407, June.
  14. Zimmerman, David J, 1992. "Regression toward Mediocrity in Economic Stature," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(3), pages 409-429, June.
  15. Keuzenkamp, Hugo A. & Magnus, Jan R., 1995. "On tests and significance in econometrics," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 5-24, May.
  16. Kachelmeier, Steven J & Shehata, Mohamed, 1992. "Examining Risk Preferences under High Monetary Incentives: Experimental Evidence from the People's Republic of China," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 82(5), pages 1120-1141, December.
  17. David Colander, 2000. "New Millennium Economics: How Did It Get This Way, and What Way Is It?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(1), pages 121-132, Winter.
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