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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Incongruence between test statistics and P values in medical papers

Emili García-Berthou* and Carles Alcaraz

Author Affiliations

Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Girona, E-17071 Girona, Spain

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2004, 4:13  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-4-13

Published: 28 May 2004

Abstract

Background

Given an observed test statistic and its degrees of freedom, one may compute the observed P value with most statistical packages. It is unknown to what extent test statistics and P values are congruent in published medical papers.

Methods

We checked the congruence of statistical results reported in all the papers of volumes 409–412 of Nature (2001) and a random sample of 63 results from volumes 322–323 of BMJ (2001). We also tested whether the frequencies of the last digit of a sample of 610 test statistics deviated from a uniform distribution (i.e., equally probable digits).

Results

11.6% (21 of 181) and 11.1% (7 of 63) of the statistical results published in Nature and BMJ respectively during 2001 were incongruent, probably mostly due to rounding, transcription, or type-setting errors. At least one such error appeared in 38% and 25% of the papers of Nature and BMJ, respectively. In 12% of the cases, the significance level might change one or more orders of magnitude. The frequencies of the last digit of statistics deviated from the uniform distribution and suggested digit preference in rounding and reporting.

Conclusions

This incongruence of test statistics and P values is another example that statistical practice is generally poor, even in the most renowned scientific journals, and that quality of papers should be more controlled and valued.