Pragmatic Warrant for Frequentist Statistical Practice: The Case of High Energy Physics

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Staley, Kent
preprint description
Amidst long-standing debates within the field, High Energy Physics (HEP) has adopted a statistical methodology that employs primarily standard frequentist techniques such as significance testing and confidence interval estimation, but incorporates Bayesian methods for limited purposes. The recent discovery of the Higgs boson has drawn increased attention to the statistical methods employed within HEP, leading to reprisals of numerous well-worn arguments amongst frequentists and Bayesians. Here I argue that the warrant for the practice in HEP of relying primarily on frequentist methods can best be understood within the tradition of philosophical pragmatism. In particular, I argue that understanding the statistical methodology of HEP through the perspective of pragmatism clarifies the role of and rationale for significance testing in the search for new phenomena such as the Higgs boson.