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The Insignificance of Statistical Significance Testing


Statistical testing of hypotheses in the wildlife field has increased dramatically in recent years. Even more recent is an emphasis on power analysis associated with hypothesis testing (The Wildlife Society 1995). While this trend was occurring, statistical hypothesis testing was being deemphasized in some other disciplines. As an example, the American Psychological Association seriously debated a ban on presenting results of such tests in the Association's scientific journals. That proposal was rejected, not because it lacked merit, but due to its appearance of censorship (Meehl 1997).

The issue was highlighted at the 1998 annual conference of The Wildlife Society, in Buffalo, New York, where the Biometrics Working Group sponsored a half-day symposium on Evaluating the Role of Hypothesis Testing–Power Analysis in Wildlife Science. Speakers at that session who addressed statistical hypothesis testing were virtually unanimous in their opinion that the tool was overused, misused, and often inappropriate.

My objectives are to briefly describe statistical hypothesis testing, discuss common but incorrect interpretations of resulting P-values, mention some shortcomings of hypothesis testing, indicate why hypothesis testing is conducted, and outline some alternatives.

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