P-Values: You Can’t Always Get What You Want

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Is there a statistical support group or a special place where evaluators unwind after navigating the complex territory of non-significant results? I’m emotionally drained after experiencing the thrill of research and the excitement of discovery, followed by the highly awkward encounter with a dreaded p-value that refuses to dance to the statistical tune. If you only knew me… passionate, wide-eyed, and hopeful, staring at the results, only to find no statistical significance. The gasps, the sighs, the dramatic facepalms! How can this be? I feel like I’ve been cheated on because even after wining, dining, and ‘massaging’ the data, I’m still left alone at the end of the night, coveting a p-value of less than 0.05.  A p-value, or probability value, describes how likely the relationship observed could have occurred by random chance. Having statistical significance means having a p-value <0.05 or, in other terms, less than 5% chance.

Laughter is my go-to coping mechanism when dealing with a non-significant woe at work. However, after the pain of refusal subsides, and reflection occurs, evaluation projects that initially seemed to yield disappointing results often reveal patterns, correlations, or anomalies that spark new hypotheses. The absence of statistical significance does not diminish the research’s rigor, effort, or importance. With the help of some amazing co-workers, I’m ready to get back in the saddle, remembering that analyzing non-significant results can be just as illuminating as finding significant ones. In addition, descriptive and qualitative analyses can lead to unexpected intellectual revelations. 

In both love and statistics, valuable lessons emerge through the trials and tribulations of chasing elusive objects, i.e., p-values. Non-significant results teach us about acknowledging uncertainty and encouraging a culture of continuous learning. We learn the importance of resilience and the art of adaptability. Much like love, research is a journey, and sometimes, the most meaningful discoveries come from unexpected detours. Similarly, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you’ll find, you get what you need.” – The Rolling Stones