J. Philip Miller

Professor of Biostatistics

Washington University School of Medicine

Choosing and fitting statistical models to data occupies a large proportion of the time of many medical statisticians. It is an activity that requires the use of many specific and well-defined techniques such as using a certain algorithm to fit a model or calculate a particular diagnostic. However, the sequence of techniques used to select a model and decide its suitability will owe more to experience and judgment than technical expertise. Statistical modeling provides one of the best illustrations of Healy's remark that the practice of statistics is not a science but "that blend of knowledge and practical know-how" that he describes as a technology; in this respect statistics has much more in common with medicine than is often supposed.
-J.N.S. Matthews, "Choice of Model"  
in Encyclopedia of Biostatistics.

How to Practice Statistics


Ask questions in ways that allow for some real advance in understanding, not in ways to support a predetermined conclusion.


Draw up the protocols honestly, and do not depart from them unless you tell your readers.


Be very attentive to the quality of data, not just to get the best you can, but to measure the irreducible residual uncertainty from either bias or random variation.


Use the right "statistical" procedures in the right way.


Present results in ways and with explanations that will help readers to understand the real strengths and limitations of what you have done.


Do not over-generalize results, whether or not there are other, conflicting reports on the record.

John Bailar


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Last updated 3/7/2008