D. van Ravenzwaaij
- Bayesian reanalysis of null results reported in medicine Strong yet variable evidence for the absence of treatment effects
- PLoS ONE
- Volume | Issue number
- 13 | 4
- Article number
- Number of pages
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Psychology Research Institute (PsyRes)
Efficient medical progress requires that we know when a treatment effect is absent. We considered all 207 Original Articles published in the 2015 volume of the New England Journal of Medicine and found that 45 (21.7%) reported a null result for at least one of the primary outcome measures. Unfortunately, standard statistical analyses are unable to quantify the degree to which these null results actually support the null hypothesis. Such quantification is possible, however, by conducting a Bayesian hypothesis test. Here we reanalyzed a subset of 43 null results from 36 articles using a default Bayesian test for contingency tables. This Bayesian reanalysis revealed that, on average, the reported null results provided strong evidence for the absence of an effect. However, the degree of this evidence is variable and cannot be reliably predicted from the p-value. For null results, sample size is a better (albeit imperfect) predictor for the strength of evidence in favor of the null hypothesis. Together, our findings suggest that (a) the reported null results generally correspond to strong evidence in favor of the null hypothesis; (b) a Bayesian hypothesis test can provide additional information to assist the interpretation of null results.
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