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Misinterpreting a Failure to Disconfirm as a Confirmation: A Recurrent Misreading of Significance Tests

  • Thomas Mayer

When a significance test fails to disconfirm a hypothesis economist often interpret this as evidence that this hypothesis is valid. Six such examples are cited from recent journals. But this is a misinterpretation of what significance tests show. Presumably this misinterpretation is founded on the valid principle that every failure to disconfirm a hypothesis adds to its credibility. But that principle defines â??failure to disconfirmâ?? in a way that differs sharply from the way that this phrase is used in the context of significance tests. Some ways of ameliorating this problem exist.

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Paper provided by California Davis - Department of Economics in its series Department of Economics with number 01-08.

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Handle: RePEc:fth:caldec:01-08
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  1. Kevin Hoover & Stephen Perez, 2001. "Three attitudes towards data mining," Journal of Economic Methodology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(2), pages 195-210.
  2. Hans-Martin Krolzig & David Hendry, 1999. "Computer Automation of General-to-Specific Model Selection Procedures," Computing in Economics and Finance 1999 314, Society for Computational Economics.
  3. Shang-Jin Wei, 1997. "How Taxing is Corruption on International Investors?," NBER Working Papers 6030, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Susanna Loeb & Marianne E. Page, 2000. "Examining The Link Between Teacher Wages And Student Outcomes: The Importance Of Alternative Labor Market Opportunities And Non-Pecuniary Variation," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 82(3), pages 393-408, August.
  5. Hands,D. Wade, 2001. "Reflection without Rules," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521497152.
  6. 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.
  7. James T. Hamilton & W. Kip Viscusi, 1999. "Are Risk Regulators Rational? Evidence from Hazardous Waste Cleanup Decisions," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(4), pages 1010-1027, September.
  8. Kevin Hoover & Stephen J. Perez, 2003. "Data Mining Reconsidered: Encompassing And The General-To-Specific Approach To Specification Search," Working Papers 9727, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  9. McCloskey, Donald N, 1983. "The Rhetoric of Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 481-517, June.
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