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Revision as of 01:59, 30 October 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1478 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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Go to this comic explanation

P-Values
If all else fails, use "signifcant at a p>0.05 level" and hope no one notices.
Title text: If all else fails, use "signifcant at a p>0.05 level" and hope no one notices.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: First draft.

This comic plays on how is the significance of scientific experiments measured and interpreted. The p-value is output of statistical analysis of experiment results compared to the values predicted by hypothesis tested by the experiment. The low p-values occur when the experiment output data fit well with predicted output whereas the high p-values point out no relation between the hypothesis and the real world. The p-value calculated from the experiment data is used to interpret whether the experiment was significant and supports the hypothesis.

The significance threshold (usually 0.05) should be set prior the experiment in order to avoid ex-post changes in order to get a better experiment report. A simple change of this threshold (e.g. from 0.05 to 0.1) can change the experiment result with p-value=0.06 from "barely significant" to "significant".

The highest p-value at which most studies typically draw significance is p<0.05, which is why all p-values in the comic below that number are marked at least significant. 0.050 is labeled "Oh crap. Redo calculations," because the p-value is very close to being considered significant, but isn't. Redoing the calculations may result in a different answer, but it is not guaranteed that it will be lower than 0.050. Values that are higher than 0.050 and lower than .1 are considered to be suggesting significance without actually supporting it, which will likely support additional trials.

Values higher than .1 should be considered not significant at all, however the comic suggests taking a part of the sample (a "subgroup") and analyzing that subgroup without regard to the rest of the sample. For example, in a study trying to prove that people always sneeze when walking by a particular street lamp, someone would record the number of people who pass the lamp and the number of people who sneezes. If the results don't get the desired p<0.1, then pick a subgroup (e.g. OK, not all people sneeze, but look! women sneeze more than men, so let's analyze only women). Of course, this is not accepted scientific procedure as it's very likely to add sampling bias to the result.

The title text suggests that, if the results cannot be normally considered significant, to invert p<0.050, making it p>0.050. This is intended to fool casual readers, as the change is only to the inequality sign, which may go unnoticed. Notice that there is another mistake in the title text, specifically the word "significant" is misspelled as "signifcant". This is quite possibly not an author's error and rather another comical pun that further supports the "hope no one notices" theme featured in the same sentence.

Transcript

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: First draft.

There are two columns in a T-table labelled "p-value" and "interpretation". The interpretation column selects various areas of the P-value column.

P-values
P-value Interpretation
0.001 Highly significant
0.01
0.02
0.03
0.04 Significant
0.049
0.050 Oh crap. Redo calculations.
0.051 On the edge of significance
0.06
0.07 Highly suggestive, relevant at the p<0.10 level
0.08
0.09
0.099
≥0.1 Hey, look at this interesting subgroup analysis



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Lots of people contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here.

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a table of most recent xkcd comics and links to the rest, and the corresponding explanations. There are incomplete explanations listed here. Feel free to help out by expanding them!
  • If you see that a new comic hasn't been explained yet, you can create it: Here's how.
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