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Significance Tests / Hypothesis Testing

Another way your data can fool you is when you don't reject the null hypothesis, even though it's not true. If the true proportion of female chicks is 51%, the null hypothesis of a 50% proportion is not true, but you're unlikely to get a significant difference from the null hypothesis unless you have a huge sample size. Failing to reject the null hypothesis, even though it's not true, is a "false negative" or "Type II error." This is why we never say that our data shows the null hypothesis to be true; all we can say is that we haven't rejected the null hypothesis.

Step 5. Since -value = 0.2938  0.05 (the  value), we cannot reject the null hypothesis.

In the second experiment, you are going to put human volunteers with high blood pressure on a strict low-salt diet and see how much their blood pressure goes down. Everyone will be confined to a hospital for a month and fed either a normal diet, or the same foods with half as much salt. For this experiment, you wouldn't be very interested in the P value, as based on prior research in animals and humans, you are already quite certain that reducing salt intake will lower blood pressure; you're pretty sure that the null hypothesis that "Salt intake has no effect on blood pressure" is false. Instead, you are very interested to know how much the blood pressure goes down. Reducing salt intake in half is a big deal, and if it only reduces blood pressure by 1 mm Hg, the tiny gain in life expectancy wouldn't be worth a lifetime of bland food and obsessive label-reading. If it reduces blood pressure by 20 mm with a confidence interval of ±5 mm, it might be worth it. So you should estimate the effect size (the difference in blood pressure between the diets) and the confidence interval on the difference.

Support or Reject Null Hypothesis

Click the link the skip to the situation you need to support or reject null hypothesis for:

Sample question: A researcher claims that more than 23% of community members go to church regularly. In a recent survey, 126 out of 420 people stated they went to church regularly. Is there enough evidence at α = 0.05 to support this claim? Use the P-Value method to support or reject null hypothesis.

The primary goal of a statistical test is to determine whether an observed data set is so different from what you would expect under the null hypothesis that you should reject the null hypothesis. For example, let's say you are studying sex determination in chickens. For breeds of chickens that are bred to lay lots of eggs, female chicks are more valuable than male chicks, so if you could figure out a way to manipulate the sex ratio, you could make a lot of chicken farmers very happy. You've fed chocolate to a bunch of female chickens (in birds, unlike mammals, the female parent determines the sex of the offspring), and you get 25 female chicks and 23 male chicks. Anyone would look at those numbers and see that they could easily result from chance; there would be no reason to reject the null hypothesis of a 1:1 ratio of females to males. If you got 47 females and 1 male, most people would look at those numbers and see that they would be extremely unlikely to happen due to luck, if the null hypothesis were true; you would reject the null hypothesis and conclude that chocolate really changed the sex ratio. However, what if you had 31 females and 17 males? That's definitely more females than males, but is it really so unlikely to occur due to chance that you can reject the null hypothesis? To answer that, you need more than common sense, you need to calculate the probability of getting a deviation that large due to chance.

the null hypothesis is rejected when it is true b.

the null hypothesis is not rejected when it is false c.

A Bayesian would insist that you put in numbers just how likely you think the null hypothesis and various values of the alternative hypothesis are, before you do the experiment, and I'm not sure how that is supposed to work in practice for most experimental biology. But the general concept is a valuable one: as Carl Sagan summarized it, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Now instead of testing 1000 plant extracts, imagine that you are testing just one. If you are testing it to see if it kills beetle larvae, you know (based on everything you know about plant and beetle biology) there's a pretty good chance it will work, so you can be pretty sure that a P value less than 0.05 is a true positive. But if you are testing that one plant extract to see if it grows hair, which you know is very unlikely (based on everything you know about plants and hair), a P value less than 0.05 is almost certainly a false positive. In other words, if you expect that the null hypothesis is probably true, a statistically significant result is probably a false positive. This is sad; the most exciting, amazing, unexpected results in your experiments are probably just your data trying to make you jump to ridiculous conclusions. You should require a much lower P value to reject a null hypothesis that you think is probably true.

the probability of rejecting the null hypothesis when the null hypothesis is true.
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One can never prove the truth of a statistical (null) hypothesis.

A fairly common criticism of the hypothesis-testing approach to statistics is that the null hypothesis will always be false, if you have a big enough sample size. In the chicken-feet example, critics would argue that if you had an infinite sample size, it is impossible that male chickens would have exactly the same average foot size as female chickens. Therefore, since you know before doing the experiment that the null hypothesis is false, there's no point in testing it.

failing to reject the null hypothesis when it is false.

In the olden days, when people looked up P values in printed tables, they would report the results of a statistical test as "PPP>0.10", etc. Nowadays, almost all computer statistics programs give the exact P value resulting from a statistical test, such as P=0.029, and that's what you should report in your publications. You will conclude that the results are either significant or they're not significant; they either reject the null hypothesis (if P is below your pre-determined significance level) or don't reject the null hypothesis (if P is above your significance level). But other people will want to know if your results are "strongly" significant (P much less than 0.05), which will give them more confidence in your results than if they were "barely" significant (P=0.043, for example). In addition, other researchers will need the exact P value if they want to combine your results with others into a .

failing to reject the null hypothesis when it is true.

You should decide whether to use the one-tailed or two-tailed probability before you collect your data, of course. A one-tailed probability is more powerful, in the sense of having a lower chance of false negatives, but you should only use a one-tailed probability if you really, truly have a firm prediction about which direction of deviation you would consider interesting. In the chicken example, you might be tempted to use a one-tailed probability, because you're only looking for treatments that decrease the proportion of worthless male chickens. But if you accidentally found a treatment that produced 87% male chickens, would you really publish the result as "The treatment did not cause a significant decrease in the proportion of male chickens"? I hope not. You'd realize that this unexpected result, even though it wasn't what you and your farmer friends wanted, would be very interesting to other people; by leading to discoveries about the fundamental biology of sex-determination in chickens, in might even help you produce more female chickens someday. Any time a deviation in either direction would be interesting, you should use the two-tailed probability. In addition, people are skeptical of one-tailed probabilities, especially if a one-tailed probability is significant and a two-tailed probability would not be significant (as in our chocolate-eating chicken example). Unless you provide a very convincing explanation, people may think you decided to use the one-tailed probability after you saw that the two-tailed probability wasn't quite significant, which would be cheating. It may be easier to always use two-tailed probabilities. For this handbook, I will always use two-tailed probabilities, unless I make it very clear that only one direction of deviation from the null hypothesis would be interesting.

rejecting the null hypothesis when it is true.

This criticism only applies to two-tailed tests, where the null hypothesis is "Things are exactly the same" and the alternative is "Things are different." Presumably these critics think it would be okay to do a one-tailed test with a null hypothesis like "Foot length of male chickens is the same as, or less than, that of females," because the null hypothesis that male chickens have smaller feet than females could be true. So if you're worried about this issue, you could think of a two-tailed test, where the null hypothesis is that things are the same, as shorthand for doing two one-tailed tests. A significant rejection of the null hypothesis in a two-tailed test would then be the equivalent of rejecting one of the two one-tailed null hypotheses.

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