Outcome Switching – What Golfers Know

Last Friday a rare event occurred at our golf course.  My foursome all sank long putts for birdies on the second hole.  What a great feeling and I could go on and on in detail but I won’t.  Anyway we get back to the clubhouse eager to relate our story and all we hear is  a collective, tepid “That’s interesting.”  What is up with that?

My theory is that golfers understand that rare events happen often.  They can’t predict which ones but they know they happen – a line drive tee shot hits the flagpole and drops in, a drive headed out-of-bounds hits a tree and lands in the middle of the fairway, or a ball hits a sprinkler head and bounds over the green.  They have seen it all.  Rare events happen.  Andrew Gelman points us to an article on Vox that discusses outcome switching in medical research.  The idea is,  you design a study to test if a drug works.  It doesn’t according to the statistical measures you set up, so you look for other outcomes.  Maybe it worked on a sub-population or patients lost weight or something and then you publish results for that outcome instead.  You switched outcomes after the fact.  Of course you are going to find something.  Rare events happen.  Golfers know that and don’t get too excited.  Apparently some medical researchers don’t and do.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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