21 April 2011
Professor R.A. Bailey will be giving a talk entitled "From Rothamsted to Northwick Park:(link is external) designing experiments to avoid bias and reduce variance" at The Royal Institution at 8pm on Friday 27th May.
The following abstract for the talk can also be found via the above link:
In March 2006 the topic of designed experiments briefly hit the newspaper headlines when a clinical trial went badly wrong. Even when the health of volunteers is not at stake, there are some important factors to consider in the design of any comparative experiment. If you want to find out how much school milk improves children's health, it is no good giving the milk just to the poorest children, no matter how laudable that may be on other grounds. To avoid bias, some children in each income group should be given milk while the others in each group are not.
As well as avoiding bias, we want to reduce variance, because smaller variance indicates that our estimate of treatment differences is more likely to be close to the true value. Statisticians thought that they knew how to combine variance reduction with avoidance of bias, but the explosion of microarray experiments in the early 2000s showed that our received wisdom was wrong.
Experience from designing experiments in one field of science can be applied to other fields, once the necessary vocabulary has been learnt. In particular, the variance in dose-escalation trials can be reduced by a factor of three without reducing safety or using more volunteers.