correlationThat's the title of a book I recently came across by the late Robert P. Abelson. The thesis of the book is that statistics is a tool for organizing an argument. Abelson's focus is his own discipline of psychology but many of his points apply to social science more broadly.

Throughout the book Abelson accumulates a list of his "laws":

  1. Chance is lumpy.
  2. Overconfidence abhors uncertainty.
  3. Never flout a convention just once.
  4. Don't talk Greek if you don't know the English translation.
  5. If you have nothing to say, don't say anything.
  6. There is no free hunch.
  7. You can't see the dust if you don't move the couch.
  8. Criticism is the mother of methodology.

My main gripe with the book is how much of it hinders on frequentist hypothesis testing. For example, I don't consider the difference between a p-value of .05 and one of .07 to be a "principled argument." Abelson does give some attention to Bayesian methods, but a book developing the idea of statistics as rhetoric from a Bayesian point of view would be more coherent.  Perhaps we will see something along these lines from Andrew Gelman's work on ethical statistics.