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Ethical Use of Statistics in Research Dr. Larry A. Nelson, Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Assistant Dean for International Programs, College of Agriculture.

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Presentation on theme: "Ethical Use of Statistics in Research Dr. Larry A. Nelson, Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Assistant Dean for International Programs, College of Agriculture."— Presentation transcript:

1 Ethical Use of Statistics in Research Dr. Larry A. Nelson, Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Assistant Dean for International Programs, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

2  Background Recent Interest Recent Interest Development of a course on Research Ethics Development of a course on Research Ethics - 1 hour credit - To be required at some cooperating institutions - One component – Ethical Use of Statistics - Discuss Proposed content of the module today - Value your ideas and comment Importance of Statistics in Research Importance of Statistics in Research Credit to Michael Crotty. Marcia Gumpertz – moral support and guidance for several years

3 Ethics in Application of Statistics Ethics in Application of Statistics –Teaching, consulting for planning, execution, data analysis and interpretation –Overheard on NCSU Campus History Professor: “Be suspicious of a professional who attempts to develop a set of ethics for his or her own field” –Undergraduate Student in Philosophy, “I hate Ethics ”

4  Population, Process, Data Relationship Relationships Relationships Poor Practice – Making a Mistake or Misconduct: Importance of competence and Maturity in Research and use of Statistics Poor Practice – Making a Mistake or Misconduct: Importance of competence and Maturity in Research and use of Statistics Objectivity and Trustworthiness Objectivity and Trustworthiness Objectivity in Asking Right Questions Objectivity in Asking Right Questions Objectivity in Answering the Questions Objectivity in Answering the Questions

5  Responsibility of the Researcher and Statistician PLANNING PHASE ResearcherStatistician Seek statistical training Keep up to date with statistical technology Seek statistical advice Teach principles Use minimum experiment size Provide statistical input to plan Select experimental material properly Give researcher different alternatives Develop detailed research plan Exercise proper protocols for human or animal experiments

6 EXECUTION PHASE ResearchStatistician Carry out study as planned Give road map/for execution Log important dates related to data Point out weak links in research chain

7 ANALYSIS PHASE ResearcherStatistician Study data patterns Assist in studying data patterns Keep integrity of data set Choose proper statistical analytical procedure Assist in choosing analytical procedure Choose probability levels, contrasts to make, etc. Assist in choosing probability levels, contrasts, etc. Avoid result guided procedures Keep data, but not statistical methods used, confidential

8 INTERPRETATION AND REPORTING ResearcherStatistician Provide description of statistical methods Assist in writing statistical methods used Present results in such a way that reader can evaluate the interpretation Review interpretation. Modification if necessary Report variability estimates such an standard deviation or variance

9 RESPONSIBILITY OF RESEARCHER AND STATISTICIAN Promote high standards of scientific inquiry and professionalism Promote high standards of scientific inquiry and professionalism Involve appropriate techniques for research Involve appropriate techniques for research Honor the rights of other researchers – give credit to other researcher where due Honor the rights of other researchers – give credit to other researcher where due Consider interdependence of natural, social and technological systems Consider interdependence of natural, social and technological systems Give objectivity a major role Give objectivity a major role Guard against misinterpretation and misuse of data Guard against misinterpretation and misuse of data

10 Good Practices Checklist Planning is very important in experimentation Planning is very important in experimentation Statistician can assist in planning Statistician can assist in planning Planning does not ensure success but avoids built-in disasters Planning does not ensure success but avoids built-in disasters Statistics cannot compensate for negative impacts of persisting in a faulty line of research Statistics cannot compensate for negative impacts of persisting in a faulty line of research

11 Good Planning Can Prevent: Costly waste of resources Costly waste of resources Difficult statistical analysis Difficult statistical analysis Data for which interpretation is controversial Data for which interpretation is controversial An experiment which is precise but which answers the wrong questions An experiment which is precise but which answers the wrong questions

12 Setting Up Original Hypothesis Objectively 2 Rules: 1. Hypothesis should be clearly related to original problem 2. The hypothesis should be stated as simply as possible

13 IV. Discipline Specific Ethical Issues Flexibility needed: Ethics vary Among Different Application Areas Business Application:Withholding Negative Results Problem Formulation Important – Involve Statistician Design Considerations: Costs, Definition of Population, Sampling Frame

14 Statistician provides report but does not make decisions for management Company should have same responsibilities to a salaried statistician as to a consulting one (and conversely). See: Deming, W.W., Sample Designs in Business Research. Wiley NY 1960.

15 Medical Application Medical review boards Medical review boards Informed consent Informed consent Methods of selecting subjects Methods of selecting subjects Withholding a treatment to a control group Withholding a treatment to a control group Access to data Access to data Confidentiality of identity of subjects Confidentiality of identity of subjects

16 V. Ethical Issues in Interpretation and Reporting Insufficient statistical methods description Insufficient statistical methods description Statistical significance vs. practical significance Statistical significance vs. practical significance Access to data Access to data Kinds of means in the factorial experiment reporting Kinds of means in the factorial experiment reporting Reporting of measures of dispersion Reporting of measures of dispersion Proper decimal reporting Proper decimal reporting Bonafide scientific conclusions vs. speculation Bonafide scientific conclusions vs. speculation Clarity of reporting Clarity of reporting Indication that results are not final word Indication that results are not final word Enumeration of new study questions Enumeration of new study questions

17 VI. Case Studies Skagerrak Case – Precautionary Principle Skagerrak Case – Precautionary Principle 2 Highly respected scientists interpret their results differently Case emphasized 2 critical aspects of research 1.The actual statistical analysis 2.How and when to disseminate the information from research Elton’s Withholding of Anomalous Data Elton’s Withholding of Anomalous Data US Census: Use of sample survey methods to adjust census counts US Census: Use of sample survey methods to adjust census counts

18 References Cited and Some Reading Material on Ethical Use of Statistics: Bailan, John C 1997 Science, Statistics and Deception” in Research Ethics: A Reader, (Deni Elliott and Judy E. Stein, eds. University Press of New England, Honover). Buhl-Mortensen and Stellan Welin 1998 The Ethics of Doing Policy Relevant Science: The Precautionary Principle and the Significance of Non-Significant Results, Science and Engineering Ethics, Opragen Publications, Surrey. Deming, W.E Sample Designs in Business Research, John Wiley and Sons, New York. Cooper, B. Holmes 1990 The Honest Truth About Lying with Statistics, Charles C. Thomas, Springfield. Huff, Darrel 1954 How to Lie with Statistics, W.W. Norton & Co. New York. Leavitt, Fred 2001 Evaluating Scientific Research: Separating Fact from Fiction, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River.

19 Moore, David S Data Ethics, An Introduction, From the Supplemental Material for David S. Moore and George P. McCabe: Introduction to the Practice of Statistics, 5 th Ed. W.H. Freeman. Pittinger, David, Hypothesis Testing as a Moral Choice, in Ethics and Behavior (II (2), 2001). Whitbeck, Caroline 1998 Responsibility of research Integrity, Chapter 6 in Ethics in Engineering Practice and Research. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Professional Codes of Ethics for Statistics: Web Sites American Statistical Association: International Statistical Institute:


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