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Faye Flam

'Statistically Significant' Doesn't Mean 'Right'

Social scientists need to get smarter about using math.
Working on it.

Working on it.

Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

In response to charges that their field is churning out unreliable science, psychologists this month issued a defense that may be tough to dispute. At issue was a claim, published in the journal Science, that only 39 of 100 experiments published in psychology papers could be replicated. The counterpoint, also published in Science, questioned the assumption that the other 61 of the results must have been wrong.

If two experimental results are in conflict, who’s to say the original one was wrong and not the second one? Or maybe both are wrong if, as some argue, there’s a flaw in the way social scientists analyze data.