PhD Candidate Athena Engman on Statistical Significance in Quantitative Sociology

January 23, 2019 by Nico Golinski

PhD Candidate Athena Engman published an article in Quality and Quantity that examines the concept of statistical significance, its history, and the consequences of its misinterpretation. She argues that the potential consequences of the misuse of the concept of statistical significance outweigh its benefits.

Athena Engman is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. She studies epistemology, philosophy of mind, and medical sociology. Her thesis probes the experiences of organ transplant recipients.

We have posted the citation and the abstract of the article below. The full text is available through the University of Toronto Library Portal here.

Engman, Athena. 2013. "Is There Life After P<0.05? Statistical Significance and Quantitative Sociology." Quality and Quantity, 47(1):257-270.

The overwhelming majority of quantitative work in sociology reports levels of statistical significance. Often, significance is reported with little or no discussion of what it actually entails philosophically, and this can be problematic when analyses are interpreted. Often, significance is understood to represent the probability of the null hypothesis (usually understood as a lack of relationship between two or more variables). This understanding is simply erroneous. The first section of this paper deals with this common misunderstanding. The second section gives a history of significance testing in the social sciences, with reference to the historical foundations of many common misinterpretations of significance testing. The third section is devoted to a discussion of the consequences of misinterpreting statistical significance for sociology. It is argued that reporting statistical significance provides sociology with very little value, and that the consequences of misinterpreting significance values outweighs the benefits of their use.

Read the full article here.