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Winning the Accuracy Game

Three statistical strategies—replicating, blocking and modeling—can help scientists improve accuracy and accelerate progress

Hugh G. Gauch, Jr.

Figure 8. Quantitative trait loci...Click to Enlarge Image

In a scientist's life, data that closely fit a hypothesis are exceedingly rare. In fact, it can be almost impossible to distinguish whether a new treatment is actually more effective than an old one. Most experiments or observations produce noisy and imperfect data that must be subjected to statistical analysis in order to tease out results. Three strategies are most effective in improving the accuracy of this process: replication, blocking and modeling. Unfortunately, these strategies are underused: Many scientists fail to design their experiments or model the results in ways that yield the greatest accuracy. Replication has a diminishing payoff, but special blocking techniques (such as the "randomized complete block" design) and modeling can give scientists impressive gains in accuracy at low cost.

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