Statistical model specification and power: recommendations on the use of test-qualified pooling in analysis of experimental data

Nick Colegrave, Graeme D. Ruxton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

A common approach to the analysis of experimental data across much of the biological sciences is test-qualified pooling. Here non-significant terms are dropped from a statistical model, effectively pooling the variation associated with each removed term with the error term used to test hypotheses (or estimate effect sizes). This pooling is only carried out if statistical testing on the basis of applying that data to a previous more complicated model provides motivation for this model-simplification; hence the pooling is test-qualified. In pooling, the researcher increases the degrees of freedom of the error term with the aim of increasing statistical power to test their hypotheses of interest. Despite this approach being widely adopted and explicitly recommended by some of the most widely-cited statistical textbooks aimed at biologists, here we argue that (except in highly specialised circumstances that we can identify) the hoped-for improvement in statistical power will be small or non-existent, and there is likely to be much reduced reliability of the statistical procedures through deviation of type I error rates from nominal levels. We thus call for greatly reduced use of test-qualified pooling across experimental biology, more careful justification of any use that continues, and a different philosophy for initial selection of statistical models in the light of this change in procedure.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Volume284
Issue number1851
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Mar 2017

Keywords

  • experimental design
  • pseudoreplication
  • model simplification

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