John Walker's Electronic House

Rum Doings Episode 118: Enemies Are Trying In Vain To Calumniate You

by on Sep.21, 2012, under Rum Doings

Episode 118 of Rum Doings we begin with Nick’s revelation that all Austrians are Nazis, then learn the TRUTH about what tooth dreams mean.

An extended argument about the efficacy of acupuncture gets a little heated, before we realise it’s time for our weekly round-up of Romney’s adventures.

There’s no Rum Doings next week, as John’s away on his holidays, so imagine an episode of your own creation.

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8 Comments for this entry

  • ruaidhri

    I simply could not watch all of the mitt romney video mentioned this week. It was physically too painful to get through.

  • Gassalasca

    The discussion about “significant” reminded me of this recent LL post:

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4203

  • Marek

    Is is hard to take a statement of “you do not understand science” seriously, if you follow it up with a invisible flying dragon argument. If your stance regarding an issue is that it cannot be tested in any way, than the issue in hand in unscientific in its very nature.

    It is impressive how much of a difference tone of a person providing arguments makes. During the placebo conversation the only thing that I was able to concentrate on, was the fact that Nick sound like a freaking dalek when he is agitated, and John has an impressive control over his emotions.

  • Name required

    Skype is now becoming boring.

  • mister k

    On significance, to be precise, what it means is that IF there ISN’T a significant difference between two treatments, then you’d expect to observe this result 5% (or less) of the time. So if we compared 2 identical sugar pills then 5% of the time we would find a significant difference between them.

    Note that increasing the size of your study does not protect you from this, as Nick alluded to. You increase the ability to notice a distance, but your failure rate will always be 5%.

    Note also that this does not tell you the probability that there is a difference. The probability that two treatments are different given that you have a significant result is given by bayes theorem, and is a bit long winded to give here, but is critically dependent on the probability of the treatments being different, which you don’t know apriori. With the identical sugar pills the probability is of course 0, as we know that they aren’t different, so no manner of tests will persuade us otherwise.

    Note also that in practice, as we don’t deal with identical pills, we simply wouldn’t expect things to be identical, so a large enough sample size will find a significant difference. Most drug trials do focus on a clinically significant difference, which is meant to be based on some meaningful amount.

    Note also that this is based on the mean difference between two pills, so that itself can be misleading if the data has interesting properties.

    On a related note, the significance test assumes that the data is normal (usually), which is never actually true in practice (although often true enough to get away with it)

    Note finally that, following from that note earlier that we will spot a difference where there is none 5% of the time, we can discover differences in data by looking enough. This is often what happens in studies where we are told that food x causes y, as given a large enough data set I can always find some signficant relationship.

    So a few things to note the next time you hear about a significant result. Relying on statistical results alone to demonstrate efficacy is dangerous without lots of repeated studies.

  • Arthur Barnhouse

    Mitt’s little speech was a real terrible blow to him. The funny part was that his operatives claimed at first that it would somehow help his poll numbers. It’s hard to imagine something worse coming to light about him.

    Speaking of his extended media team, they’ve been spending the past week trying to cook up a fake gaffe from Obama to take heat off Mitt. Take a look at this sad endeavor: http://www.slate.com/blogs/weigel/2012/09/24/today_on_the_great_pointless_crippling_candidate_gaffe_beat.html

  • Alex

    I’m not sure if I can agree with Nick’s ‘ generic lower back stimulation vs actual placebo’ argument.

    If you use that logic, then is a sugar pill really a placebo? Maybe the effect of a pill is actually induced by the sensation of placing it in your mouth, swallowing it and then feeling it travel down your throat.

  • Geetoo

    No Alex, your comparison does not follow. We know that the effect of medication is not induced by the act of swallowing a pill.