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More on those randomistas

Following up on our recent post, I clicked on some of Ziliak’s links and found lots of good stuff, especially the post by Berk Ozler. I have no knowledge of his work but I like his writing; see here, for example.

Ziliak replied:

Ozler’s post is very good indeed, and well written.

Ozler’s suggestion for improvement of the cowpeas trial does not include investigations of soil/weather/and other exogenous differences which will, in a random design, bias even the simplest difference, MS – TS, on a single farm. But this is to me a lingering trait of post-Fisherian agronomy, which has not looked into Gosset’s aka Student’s work on repeated balanced trials. Nor are current researchers aware as much as they might be of the battles between Student and Fisher, and the fact that Egon Pearson, Neyman, Harold Jeffreys, John Wishart and others sided with Student’s balance, not Fisher’s random.

Here and here are two papers on the topic and history.

Thus in my [Ziliak's] view, it is misleading to lump “Fisher, Yates, Neyman” et al together, and not mention Gosset. Lots of conflict between them. All were learning from and responding to Gosset’s work, and Fisher not in the most scientific manner (as I argue in detail in the Review of Behavioral Economics article).

I seem to recall someone (Rubin?) telling me that Gosset way overrated, but now I’m forgetting all the details.


  1. K? O'Rourke says:

    Gosset did show Fisher how to brew beer in his basement – so not entirely overated.

    More seriously, I do think _mathematical_ statisticians tend to unfairly compare Gosset to Fisher (the card shuffler to the master of n-domsional space), though that does not sound like Don.

    On the other hand, Sir Bradfor Hill and Iain Chalmers, I think, finally sided with Gosset over Fisher.

    There is a fair amount of Gosset-Fisher correspondence online that may be worth-while reading (had a quick look months ago).

    But, personally if I became really interested but not interested enough to do reading of primary sources, I would track down the stuff Stephen Senn wrote on Gosset versus Fisher.

  2. John Hall says:

    I just finished McCloskey and Ziliak’s Cult of Statistical Significance. It covers some of the debate between Fisher and everyone else, though I’m not sure if it has the necessary detail on some of those issues.

  3. Dwayne Woods says:

    Ozler’s observations regarding the Tanzania cowpeas study had an effect. They redid the study taking some of his criticisms into account.

    Erwin Bulte, Behavioral Responses and the Impact of New Agricultural Technologies: Evidence from a Double-blind Field Experiment in Tanzania, published. 2014.

  4. Rahul says:

    What’s that they say about not speaking evil of the dead…..

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