A Critique of Statistical Hypothesis Testing

The Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine just carried my paper on this topic:

Many have documented the difficulty of using the current paradigm of Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) to test and validate the effectiveness of alternative medical systems such as Ayurveda. This paper critiques the applicability of RCTs for all clinical knowledge-seeking endeavors, of which Ayurveda research is a part. This is done by examining statistical hypothesis testing, the underlying foundation of RCTs, from a practical and philosophical perspective. In the philosophical critique, the two main worldviews of probability are that of the Bayesian and the frequentist. The frequentist worldview is a special case of the Bayesian worldview requiring the unrealistic assumptions of knowing nothing about the universe and believing that all observations are unrelated to each other. Many have claimed that the first belief is necessary for science, and this claim is debunked by comparing variations in learning with different prior beliefs. Moving beyond the Bayesian and frequentist worldviews, the notion of hypothesis testing itself is challenged on the grounds that a hypothesis is an unclear distinction, and assigning a probability on an unclear distinction is an exercise that does not lead to clarity of action. This critique is of the theory itself and not any particular application of statistical hypothesis testing. A decision-making frame is proposed as a way of both addressing this critique and transcending ideological debates on probability. An example of a Bayesian decision-making approach is shown as an alternative to statistical hypothesis testing, utilizing data from a past clinical trial that studied the effect of Aspirin on heart attacks in a sample population of doctors. As a big reason for the prevalence of RCTs in academia is legislation requiring it, the ethics of legislating the use of statistical methods for clinical research is also examined.

Click here to see the full paper

Aspirin Study Model referred to in the paper (uses the Beta Distribution)


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