My Favorite One-Liners: Part 95

In this series, I’m compiling some of the quips and one-liners that I’ll use with my students to hopefully make my lessons more memorable for them.

Today’s quip is one that I’ll use in a statistics class when we find an extraordinarily small P-value. For example:

There is a social theory that states that people tend to postpone their deaths until after some meaningful event… birthdays, anniversaries, the World Series.

In 1978, social scientists investigated obituaries that appeared in a Salt Lake City newspaper. Among the 747 obituaries examined, 60 of the deaths occurred in the three-month period preceding their birth month. However, if the day of death is independent of birthday, we would expect that 25% of these deaths would occur in this three-month period.

Does this study provide statistically significant evidence to support this theory? Use \alpha=0.01.

It turns out, using a one-tailed hypothesis test for proportions, that the test statistics is z = -10.71 and the P-value is about 4.5 \times 10^{-27}. After the computations, I’ll then discuss what the numbers mean.

I’ll begin by asking, “Is the null hypothesis [that the proportion of deaths really is 25%] possible?” The correct answer is, “Yes, it’s possible.” Even extraordinarily small P-values do not prove that the null hypothesis is impossible. To emphasize the point, I’ll say:

After all, I found a woman who agreed to marry me. So extremely unlikely events are still possible.

Once the laughter dies down, I’ll ask the second question, “Is the null hypothesis plausible?” Of course, the answer is no, and so we reject the null hypothesis in favor of the alternative.


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