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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 43

Bad Idea:
P-Hacking

What happens when researchers go fishing. Words by Precious Adesina. Photograph by Lamberto Teotino.

“P-hacking” sounds like some sort of dark-web-cryptocurrency-type activity. But, in fact, it’s a shady practice from a different sphere: the pseudoscientific manipulation of a study to produce a desirable result. Coined by psychologists Uri Simonsohn, Joseph Simmons and Leif Nelson almost a decade ago, the “p” comes from “p-value,” a number given to research to show how likely the results could have come about by chance. 

A value lower than 0.05 (5%) allows researchers to declare their findings as “statistically significant, ” thus considerably increasing the likelihood of their work being published. Rather than setting out to prove a hypothesis, p-hacking means looking at the data and working backward to find out what hypothesis it could possibly prove.1 If a researcher is disappointed by the lack of findings from a particular study (on the benefit of eating breakfast for weight loss, for instance), they might

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-Three

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