[R-sig-ME] large data set implies rejection of null?

Jonathan Baron baron at psych.upenn.edu
Sat Nov 27 21:13:10 CET 2010

Although I said I would not reply anymore, I did think of one example
of what I thought was a perfectly well-controlled experiment that I
did.  I don't remember it very well and don't have a reprint (!), but
here is the citation:

Baron, J. (1974). Facilitation of perception by spelling
constraints. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 28, 37-50.

In one condition, subjects got practice with AB CD.  In another, they
got AB CD AD CB.  But the frequency of AB CD is the same in both
conditions, so frequency of presentation was perfectly controlled.
The former condition was superior in perception, thus showing that
subjects could use information about sequential constraints.  (Or
something like this.  I might be misremembering.)  Even a tiny effect
would have been theoretically interesting.  This involved many
thousands of observations per subject, as I recall.  Even with a tiny
effect with millions of observations, I cannot think of an alternative
explanation of a significant result (except the usual, that it was
chance and would not replicate).  There was no issue of sampling
because everything was counterbalanced.

I have done many other experiments that I think were well controlled,
but nothing as simple as this one.

I am not yet convinced that null hypotheses are never true.  They seem
to be true quite often in my lab. :(


On 11/27/10 14:22, Daniel Ezra Johnson wrote:
> On 11/24/10 07:59, Rolf Turner wrote:
> > >>
> > >> It is well known amongst statisticians that having a large enough data set will
> > >> result in the rejection of *any* null hypothesis, i.e. will result in a small
> > >> p-value.
> This seems to be a well-accepted guideline, probably because in the
> social sciences, usually, none of the predictors truly has an effect
> size of zero.
> However, unless I am misunderstanding it, the statement appears to me
> to be more generally false.
> For example, when the population difference of means actually equals
> zero, in a t-test, very large sample sizes do not lead to small
> p-values.
> set.seed(1)
> n <- 1000000  # 10^6
> dat.1 <- rnorm(n/2,0,1)
> dat.2 <- rnorm(n/2,0,1)
> t.test(dat.1,dat.2,var.equal=T)
> # p = 0.60
> set.seed(1)
> n <- 10000000  # 10^7
> dat.1 <- rnorm(n/2,0,1)
> dat.2 <- rnorm(n/2,0,1)
> t.test(dat.1,dat.2,var.equal=T)
> # p = 0.48
> set.seed(1)
> n <- 100000000  # 10^8
> dat.1 <- rnorm(n/2,0,1)
> dat.2 <- rnorm(n/2,0,1)
> t.test(dat.1,dat.2,var.equal=T)
> # p = 0.80
> Such results - where the null hypothesis is NOT rejected - would
> presumably also occur in any experimental situations where the null
> hypothesis was literally true, regardless of the size of the data set.
> No?
> Daniel
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Jonathan Baron, Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania
Home page: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~baron
Editor: Judgment and Decision Making (http://journal.sjdm.org)

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