0892: "Null Hypothesis"

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0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby hthall » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:05 am UTC

Image

Alt: Hell, my eighth grade science class managed to conclusively reject it just based on a classroom experiment. It's pretty sad to hear about million-dollar research teams who can't even manage that.

There he goes again, preaching Null Theory.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Time Kitten » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:11 am UTC

Eight grade science? isn't that the year they revisit the brontosaurs? Though of course, second grade is where all the real serious study of paleontology is done.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Mavrisa » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:19 am UTC

Is it just me or are there a lot of statistics based comics lately? I wonder why...
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby RebeccaRGB » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:19 am UTC

Where are these kids going to school? I didn't learn about Null Hypotheses until college. And then I made a comic about it five years before Randall:

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby IIAOPSW » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:24 am UTC

I once asked out a statistician.

She failed to reject me <3
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby TappingTheLine » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:42 am UTC

I don't get it. Maybe it's because I just came back from my tabletop RPG where my character is bad at think hard and I haven't gotten my brain started back up yet, but I don't get what the punchline is. Is this comic just punchline-less preachy-ness?
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Stellazira » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:43 am UTC

I had never heard of the Null Hypothesis before today. >.< Time to go Wiki-ing! :lol:

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby typhy » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:51 am UTC

I'm assuming the punchline here is that he heard in a study somewhere that the 'Null Hypothesis' (of that study) was disproved. It's a classic comic of ignorance and misunderstanding.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby lly » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:56 am UTC

TappingTheLine wrote:I don't get it. Maybe it's because I just came back from my tabletop RPG where my character is bad at think hard and I haven't gotten my brain started back up yet, but I don't get what the punchline is. Is this comic just punchline-less preachy-ness?


Well, the punchline is debatable in whether it is good, but it is there. This one isn't preachy at all.

In statistical analysis of experiments, you'll see two phrases crop up quite a bit. "Reject the null hypothesis" and "fail to reject the null hypothesis." If you reject the null hypothesis, then you have enough evidence to think that your hypothesis is true (with some margin of error). If you fail to reject it, then you do not have enough evidence from this experiment to think that your hypothesis is true (with some margin of error).

In very early labs for science classes you'll often conduct basic experiments where you "reject the null hypothesis." So here, we see the guy talking about how they "rejected the null hypothesis years ago," treating it as a static hypothesis across all experiments that can simply be refuted.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby phlip » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:01 am UTC

TappingTheLine wrote:I don't get it. Maybe it's because I just came back from my tabletop RPG where my character is bad at think hard and I haven't gotten my brain started back up yet, but I don't get what the punchline is. Is this comic just punchline-less preachy-ness?

The null hypothesis is a statistical method... it comes from the fact that "X is likely" is difficult to prove directly, but "X is unlikely" is easier to formalise. So instead of proving "X is likely", you prove "not-X is unlikely". The terminology is that "not-X is likely" is the Null Hypothesis, and in order to prove what you're actually after, you work to disprove the null hypothesis. If you succeed, you've proven that X is likely... and if you fail, you haven't proven anything... you haven't proven that not-X is likely, you just haven't been able to rule it out. Hence Rebecca's comic above - failing to reject the null hypothesis... failing to prove that "I am wrong" is wrong.

So the joke in the comic is a variation on an old joke... a child is doing maths homework and goes to their parent and says "I need some help with my homework, I need to find the lowest common denominator." And the parent responds "Really? They were looking for that back when I was in school, haven't they found it yet?" Just with the LCD replaced with a more advanced maths concept.
That is, the joke is in a character confusing one instance of a concept for the concept as a whole - confusing "the lowest-common-denominator in this puzzle" with "the lowest-common-denominator in general" or "the null hypothesis of this experiment" with "the null hypothesis in general".

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby nowhereman » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:03 am UTC

This one had quite a few chuckles from me. A part of me wonders if my adviser would think it was funny if I said this... but then I remember that I am supposed to be adept at this by now and he would probably just become terrified.

If only I didn't care what he and my committee thought.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Alltat » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:28 am UTC

I wouldn't have appreciated it much a year ago, but I've studied so much statistics lately that it's hilarious.


If nothing else, it should shut up the "remember when xkcd was funny?" crowd. Assuming they're part of the target demographic of this particular one.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby pensive bosom » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:28 am UTC

He's just trying to increase his counternull value.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Iranon » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:30 am UTC

the Null Hypoithesis basically means you assume there's 'nothing interesting here': There's no conclusive evidence that the thing you're testing for does anything / pushes anything in the direction you want it to. You generally reject it when your data suggests results this odd (assuming the null hypothesis) are less than 5% likely (called '95% confidence level', 95% and 99% are common). This does NOT suggest your alternative hypothesis is 95% likely to be correct. It could be a fluke, it could depend on something completely different that is just correlated to (tends to occur at the same time as) the thing you're testing for.

The comic works in several ways: Highlighting common ignorance about terms very important to how technology/science move on; this should arguably be taught to everyone at school. A particular null hypothesis is rejected in any study that has an interesting result.

It could also be criticism of a perceived trend that threatens sound science: Big industries (and some political / religious groups) are accused of throwing money into big studies (statistics works best with big numbers of test cases, preferably you also want to test against expected sources of error... that's a lot of work, so bigger is better) until they have the results they want. The comic takes it one step further: A 'big study' has disproved the concept of the Null hypothesis and killed sound science as we know it.
Last edited by Iranon on Fri Apr 29, 2011 6:14 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby arbivark » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:45 am UTC

It's rare that i dont get an xkcd at all, and this was one of those. it's common that the comics contain nuances i miss, so i still come here anyway to check. statistics was so dull i dropped it two weeks in. it is a handy set of tools that i regret not knowing.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby ellbur » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:52 am UTC

On reading the first sentence I was expecting a serious objection to Null-Hypothesis testing as a method of discovering knowledge, there being some legitimate complaints with it.

But then it turned into a funny comic.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Plasma Mongoose » Fri Apr 29, 2011 6:23 am UTC

So I take it that Null Hypothesis is NOT related to the Double Blind testing then? :?: :?: :?: :?:
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Ardee » Fri Apr 29, 2011 6:44 am UTC

Mavrisa wrote:Is it just me or are there a lot of statistics based comics lately? I wonder why...


I'd say it's just coincidence, but apparently today that argument isn't valid ;-)

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby achan1058 » Fri Apr 29, 2011 7:10 am UTC

Plasma Mongoose wrote:So I take it that Null Hypothesis is NOT related to the Double Blind testing then? :?: :?: :?: :?:
It can be, depending on the experiment. In fact, any sort of testing/experiment should have a null hypothesis, including double blind tests.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby A_of_s_t » Fri Apr 29, 2011 7:50 am UTC

Aw yes, I remember when I rejected my first null hypothesis.

Those were the days.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Lukc » Fri Apr 29, 2011 9:14 am UTC

Ahh, null hypotheses. I always thought statistics and methodology should have been the two most interesting, and almost most important, classes in my social studies. Unfortunately our faculty disagreed and made them boring, dense, uninteresting and incomprehensible. They also dropped basic philosophy from the curriculum, giving us more time for marxism and post-modernism ... :evil:

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Doctor Kumquat » Fri Apr 29, 2011 10:45 am UTC

Heh.. I have another one to bring in to class and show my stats professor. Both this and the "Jelly beans cause acne!" strip were posted immediately before I took a stats test, too. I'd need a larger sample size of stats comics to show if the timing is statistically significant though.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby WolvenSpectre » Fri Apr 29, 2011 11:25 am UTC

WOW... I made it to halfway through my first year of Engineering (had to leave because of money/health issues) and graduated high school with a couple of University Credits and so many High school credits that they had to redesign the size of the transcript forms and I had never heard of this. We usually are proud of our education here in Canada, but talk about a FAIL... The terms we used to use were Default Position, Subject Hypothesis, or just plain proposed stance.

Mind you statistics was not a huge part of the mathematical curriculum and we weren't even offered Calculus in my High School. University level Computer Science and Physical Education, but no Secondary Level Calculus.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby hithere » Fri Apr 29, 2011 11:25 am UTC

Everything is connected at the spiritual level, dude. The null hypothesis is false.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby philip1201 » Fri Apr 29, 2011 11:46 am UTC

achan1058 wrote:
Plasma Mongoose wrote:So I take it that Null Hypothesis is NOT related to the Double Blind testing then? :?: :?: :?: :?:
It can be, depending on the experiment. In fact, any sort of testing/experiment should have a null hypothesis, including double blind tests.

They are correlated, in that both are part of a good experiment involving people, but they are not causally related. Whether or not the determination of "success" in an experiment uses the Null Hypothesis does not tell you if it was double-blind, though it does increase the likelihood of it being double-blind.

Double-blind testing is testing where neither experimenter nor subject knows the nature of the thing being tested (whether it's a placebo or the real medicine, whether the washing powder is brand X or Y, etc.). This is mostly limited to testing of humans, and used to remove the possibility of the experimenter accidentally informing the subject. Only afterwards are the people involved informed. (Commonly, there is also a third party who does nothing but receive information about the experiment, and can stop it if the lack of information causes somebody's life to be unduly at risk).

The Null hypothesis is the standard hypothesis that the result of the experiment is null - that there is nothing out of the ordinary (that the medicine works no better than the placebo, that the currently existing mathematical models describe a phenomenon correctly, etc.). The experimenter needs to prove, with some level of certainty, that the Null hypothesis is wrong: that the experiment can't be explained by what was known before the experiment. Here, for example, the Null hypothesis is placed extraordinarily high - since no model exists where one may fall down the appeal chute, the observation of one falling down the appeal chute is rejected since it can be explained by previous models (weather balloon).

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby masakatsu » Fri Apr 29, 2011 12:19 pm UTC

Reminds me of review graduate students research reports. The abstract of one red as follows:

This research study will explore reasons for truency within the afro-american religious community using the case study research methodology... The study failed to reject the null hypothesis.

WTF? :shock:
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby seedy » Fri Apr 29, 2011 12:35 pm UTC

I rejected the Null hypothesis in favour of the Aleph Null hypothesis.
There just seems to be more to it.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Brace » Fri Apr 29, 2011 1:29 pm UTC

I actually get this one and find it clever.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby SolkaTruesilver » Fri Apr 29, 2011 1:32 pm UTC

On a side note, is it normal that I've always loved and been interested in Probabilities but always hated Statistics?

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Andrusi » Fri Apr 29, 2011 1:35 pm UTC

TappingTheLine wrote:I don't get it. Maybe it's because I just came back from my tabletop RPG where my character is bad at think hard and I haven't gotten my brain started back up yet, but I don't get what the punchline is. Is this comic just punchline-less preachy-ness?

To simplify what others have said, the null hypothesis is something that's different every time.

A similar joke:

An algebra student's homework wrote:Solve for x.

1. x+2=3x+4
x-3x=4-2
-2x=2
x=-1


2. 5x-4=3x-2
5(-1)-4=3(-1)-2
-9=-5? What gives?
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby dcollins » Fri Apr 29, 2011 1:53 pm UTC

SolkaTruesilver wrote:On a side note, is it normal that I've always loved and been interested in Probabilities but always hated Statistics?


No. It's a t-distribution with 46 degrees of freedom.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby mosc » Fri Apr 29, 2011 2:50 pm UTC

phlip wrote:
TappingTheLine wrote:I don't get it. Maybe it's because I just came back from my tabletop RPG where my character is bad at think hard and I haven't gotten my brain started back up yet, but I don't get what the punchline is. Is this comic just punchline-less preachy-ness?

The null hypothesis is a statistical method... it comes from the fact that "X is likely" is difficult to prove directly, but "X is unlikely" is easier to formalise. So instead of proving "X is likely", you prove "not-X is unlikely". The terminology is that "not-X is likely" is the Null Hypothesis, and in order to prove what you're actually after, you work to disprove the null hypothesis. If you succeed, you've proven that X is likely... and if you fail, you haven't proven anything... you haven't proven that not-X is likely, you just haven't been able to rule it out. Hence Rebecca's comic above - failing to reject the null hypothesis... failing to prove that "I am wrong" is wrong.

So the joke in the comic is a variation on an old joke... a child is doing maths homework and goes to their parent and says "I need some help with my homework, I need to find the lowest common denominator." And the parent responds "Really? They were looking for that back when I was in school, haven't they found it yet?" Just with the LCD replaced with a more advanced maths concept.
That is, the joke is in a character confusing one instance of a concept for the concept as a whole - confusing "the lowest-common-denominator in this puzzle" with "the lowest-common-denominator in general" or "the null hypothesis of this experiment" with "the null hypothesis in general".


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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Baron Sloth » Fri Apr 29, 2011 2:58 pm UTC

I think people are missing the logical paradox portion of the punch line. That is, you have a big study trying to disprove the null hypothesis, so they have a null hypothesis along the lines that that rejecting the null hypothesis is meaningful and, according to the strip, that null hypothesis was rejected which means that rejecting the null hypothesis is not meaningful, which means that the method they used to disprove the null hypothesis was not meaningful, which makes the whole study meaningless.

I also agree with the other analysis that there's also the conflation of various null hypotheses, but I think that one is a bit more obvious because of the clarifying alt text.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby leus » Fri Apr 29, 2011 3:05 pm UTC

lly wrote:So here, we see the guy talking about how they "rejected the null hypothesis years ago," treating it as a static hypothesis across all experiments that can simply be refuted.

Ah, that was it. Thank you! Yes, it is mildly funny. The alt-text is basically the same.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby SpringLoaded12 » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:19 pm UTC

The girl at the desk has interesting hair.

I didn't get this one until after looking up the Null Hypothesis.

Somewhat unrelatedly, does anyone else often find that if they don't get one of the jokes in the strips at first because they don't know the concepts that make the joke, that within a few weeks they are taught those concepts and thus can get the joke?
For example, a long time ago there was a chart showing the paths of various fictional hurricanes, each of which was named based on its path. One of them was called Hurricane cos(x), and its path was a cosine wave, but I did not understand the joke until a week or two later when I was taught how to graph trigonometric functions.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby RogueCynic » Fri Apr 29, 2011 4:57 pm UTC

Stellazira wrote:I had never heard of the Null Hypothesis before today. >.< Time to go Wiki-ing! :lol:

Seconded. Were you a victim of Catholic schools as well? As to why it took so long and cost so much to disprove it, Government Money.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri Apr 29, 2011 5:45 pm UTC

Baron Sloth wrote:I think people are missing the logical paradox portion of the punch line. That is, you have a big study trying to disprove the null hypothesis, so they have a null hypothesis along the lines that that rejecting the null hypothesis is meaningful and, according to the strip, that null hypothesis was rejected which means that rejecting the null hypothesis is not meaningful, which means that the method they used to disprove the null hypothesis was not meaningful, which makes the whole study meaningless.

I don't think that's an intended reading. Even if he had read a big study which set out to disprove the validity of null-hypothesis testing methodology, nothing says that study itself used null-hypothesis testing methodology, and it wouldn't make any sense to assume it did unless something in the comic said so.

But I don't think the point is that he read a big study which set out to disprove the validity of null-hypothesis testing methodology at all; I think the point is that he read a big study which disproved it's null hypothesis, and misinterprets that to mean that there is one specific hypothesis called The Null Hypothesis which has been disproven and yet is still discussed in schools, rather than different null hypotheses being tested in each experiment.
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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby A_of_s_t » Fri Apr 29, 2011 6:56 pm UTC

dcollins wrote:
SolkaTruesilver wrote:On a side note, is it normal that I've always loved and been interested in Probabilities but always hated Statistics?


No. It's a t-distribution with 46 degrees of freedom.


>46 degrees of freedom

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby ferrouswheel » Fri Apr 29, 2011 7:09 pm UTC

IIAOPSW wrote:I once asked out a statistician.

She failed to reject me <3


That is so clever and cute!

Sometimes the comments here are better than the comic itself, in my opinion.

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Re: 0892: "Null Hypothesis"

Postby bmonk » Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:36 pm UTC

Once in philosophy class we disproved the Null Hypothesis. So now I know the world means something.

The question now is what does it mean?

I'm just afraid that the Universal Correlation is an inverse correlation.
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