Misalignment Between Research Hypotheses and Statistical Hypotheses: A Threat to Evidence-Based Medicine?

Topoi 40 (2):307-318 (2019)
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Evidence-based medicine frequently uses statistical hypothesis testing. In this paradigm, data can only disconfirm a research hypothesis’ competitors: One tests the negation of a statistical hypothesis that is supposed to correspond to the research hypothesis. In practice, these hypotheses are often misaligned. For instance, directional research hypotheses are often paired with non-directional statistical hypotheses. Prima facie, one cannot gain proper evidence for one’s research hypothesis employing a misaligned statistical hypothesis. This paper sheds lights on the nature of and the reasons for such misalignments and it provides a thorough analysis of whether they pose a threat to evidence-based medicine. The upshots are that the misalignments are often hidden for clinicians and that although some cases of misalignments can be partially counterbalanced, the overall threat is non-negligible. The counterbalances either lead to methodological inadequacy, loss of statistical power, or involve a lack of information that could be crucial for decision making. This result casts doubt on various findings of medical studies in addition to issues associated with under-powered studies or the replication crisis.



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Insa Lawler
University of North Carolina, Greensboro

References found in this work

An Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic.Ian Hacking - 2001 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
Directional statistical decisions.Henry F. Kaiser - 1960 - Psychological Review 67 (3):160-167.

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