Why Hypothesis Testing Should Take a Cue from Hamlet | by Cassie Kozyrkov | Jun, 2023


To simulate or not to simulate, that is the question

If you’re a scientist or data professional, chances are that your hypothesis testing procedure lacks a crucial step that’s tragically — or tragicomically? — omitted from your typical coursework. Never fear, in this blog post I’ll show you the missing piece and why you’ll find the fix in the thespian’s playbook.

Hamlet in the style of Kehinde Wiley, generated by the author with Midjourney.

(Note: the links in this post take you to explainers by the same author.)

The scene opens with you triumphantly scoring the budget to go collect some actual data. Perhaps it’ll all be digital; you’re off to tell your engineering team which variables to start logging or which online experiments to run. Or maybe you’re stepping out into the physical world to set some sensors, prep some pipettes, or whatever else it takes to get your hands on data. (Curious about the practical side of taking measurements from the real world? Check out my article about sampling trees.)

Not so fast! What if you have no idea what you’re doing? It’s awfully embarrassing, not to mention a tremendous squandering of your team’s precious time, to mess up the real world part of your data collection process. Even if it’s all digital, you’d really rather not have to slink back to your engineering team with your tail between your legs and ask for a redo.

But how can you be sure that you’ve logged the right things in the right way? Is there a trick for this? Thankfully, yes! And the trick is so obvious in hindsight… which is perhaps why your professors forgot to teach it to you.

The trick is to take a page out of the theatre actor’s playbook!

Theatre stage with wine glasses in the style of Kehinde Wiley, generated by the author with Midjourney.

What do thespians do before opening night if they’re nervous about giving a bad performance? (No, not drink.)

They rehearse!

Well, you can rehearse too. Before collecting any data, set up a dress rehearsal with everything but the audience. Er, audience? I mean, everything but the real world data.



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