Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

TagAnanya Sen

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Decreasing and increasing graph on chalkboard

The Cult of Statistical Significance — and the Neglect of Oomph

Statistical significance has little meaning when separated from practical importance

A central part of John Maynard Keynes’ explanation of the Great Depression was his assertion that household income affects household spending. When people lose their jobs and income, they cut back on their spending, which causes other people to lose their jobs and their income — propelling the economy downhill. Keynes’ theory was based on logic and common sense. It was later tested empirically with household survey data and with national income data compiled by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Figure 1 shows U.S. after-tax personal income and consumer spending for the years 1929 through 1940. Since income and spending both tend to grow over time along with the population, the data were converted to annual percentage changes. The observed statistical…