P.Mean: Are you qualified to make that comment? (created 2012-10-08).

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Dear Professor Mean, What level of knowledge should a statistician have of the field to be able to safely comment on the use of statistics there?

Surely, an answer to this question depends on how risk averse you are. Can you "safely comment" on something? You need to think about what are the consequences of giving bad advice and how likely it is that you will end up giving bad advice. You also have to evaluate what will happen if you decline to comment.

There's a rather tragic example of giving bad statistical advice (though it was a doctor and not a statistician giving the advice) involving Sir Roy Meadow. I summarized some of this in Chance News #3
but you should also try an Internet search of "Meadow's Law".

When I consult with doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, I try hard not to overstep my bounds. I tell them that I'm still trying to figure out the difference between good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. It's an exaggeration, of course, but it gets my point across. I also tell them that I am in a better position to ask questions than to answer them.

Even with this restraint, though, I probably err on the side of commenting. Better to offer an opinion that your clients can accept or reject than to just shrug your shoulders. Most clients hate a statistician who is always qualifying their advice, who is always saying careful and cautious things, and who is unwilling to stick out his/her neck. Maybe they SHOULD prefer the hedger and the qualifier, but they don't.

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