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Durham University

School of Education

Staff Profile

Publication details for Prof Stephen Gorard

Gorard, S. (2016). Damaging real lives through obstinacy: re-emphasising why significance testing is wrong. Sociological Research Online 21(1): 2.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper reminds readers of the absurdity of statistical significance testing, despite its continued widespread use as a supposed method for analysing numeric data. There have been complaints about the poor quality of research employing significance tests for a hundred years, and repeated calls for researchers to stop using and reporting them. There have even been attempted bans. Many thousands of papers have now been written, in all areas of research, explaining why significance tests do not work. There are too many for all to be cited here. This paper summarises the logical problems as described in over 100 of these prior pieces. It then presents a series of demonstrations showing that significance tests do not work in practice. In fact, they are more likely to produce the wrong answer than a right one. The confused use of significance testing has practical and damaging consequences for people's lives. Ending the use of significance tests is a pressing ethical issue for research. Anyone knowing the problems, as described over one hundred years, who continues to teach, use or publish significance tests is acting unethically, and knowingly risking the damage that ensues.