Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Quantitative purgatory

According to the Catholic Church, Purgatory is a place or condition of punishment for those who although possessed of grace are not entirely free from sin. As an atheist I never really thought that purgatory was something I would need to concern myself about until I became a quantitative researcher. As a someone whose PhD was once described as 385 pages of statistical tables and some text, I flatter myself that although not a statistician I can make SPSS do what I want it to do and I can understand the results it gives me. I can look at a mess of data,  know what questions to ask it and comprehend the answer I come up with. I know when to use non-parametric tests and I can identify scenarios when only a parametric test will do. In other words like Michael Faraday, Gregor Mendel and Thomas Edison I am an amateur. However, being a keen amateur does not mean my quantitative activities are less accurate or appropriate than those of Charles Spearrman (a well known statistician although really a psychologist) or Jacob Cohen (another well known statistician who started life a psychologist). I'm not asking you to believe that the Haigh Test for statistical complexity is imminent, what I am asking is - why, when the stats tests I'm using are really, really simple am I constantly told I need to have a statistician on my research team!?!

It's annoying for me as someone who can do simple stats such as cross tabs and ANOVAs (even, dare I say it, some multivariate regression) and it must be bloody annoying for statisticians who have studied for 3 years or more to be constantly asked to advise on what, for them, is the statistical equivalent of learning to use a spoon.

So, here I sit, in statistical purgatory - in a state of grace because I understand what 'p' values are for but full of sin because I don't have a stats degree. The only good thing is...there are loads of us here.