Population Ecology

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 9–29 | Cite as

Evidential statistics as a statistical modern synthesis to support 21st century science

  • Mark L. TaperEmail author
  • José Miguel Ponciano
Special Feature: Original Article Bayesian, Fisherian, error, and evidential statistical approaches for population ecology


During the 20th century, population ecology and science in general relied on two very different statistical paradigms to solve its inferential problems: error statistics (also referred to as classical statistics and frequentist statistics) and Bayesian statistics. A great deal of good science was done using these tools, but both schools suffer from technical and philosophical difficulties. At the turning of the 21st century (Royall in Statistical evidence: a likelihood paradigm. Chapman & Hall, London, 1997; Lele in The nature of scientific evidence: statistical, philosophical and empirical considerations. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 191–216, 2004a), evidential statistics emerged as a seriously contending paradigm. Drawing on and refining elements from error statistics, likelihoodism, Bayesian statistics, information criteria, and robust methods, evidential statistics is a statistical modern synthesis that smoothly incorporates model identification, model uncertainty, model comparison, parameter estimation, parameter uncertainty, pre-data control of error, and post-data strength of evidence into a single coherent framework. We argue that evidential statistics is currently the most effective statistical paradigm to support 21st century science. Despite the power of the evidential paradigm, we think that there is no substitute for learning how to clarify scientific arguments with statistical arguments. In this paper we sketch and relate the conceptual bases of error statistics, Bayesian statistics and evidential statistics. We also discuss a number of misconceptions about the paradigms that have hindered practitioners, as well as some real problems with the error and Bayesian statistical paradigms solved by evidential statistics.


Bayesian statistics Error statistics Evidential statistics Information criteria Likelihoodism Statistical inference 



We thank Dr. Yukihiko Toquenaga for inviting MLT to present in a plenary symposium of the 30th Annual Meeting of the Society of Population Ecology in Tsukuba, Japan. We are also grateful to the Society and to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for providing funding. MLT was partially supported by US National Science Foundation grant # DUE-1432577. JMP was partially supported by US National Institute of Health grant # R01 GM103604. We thank Ian Ausprey, Juan Pablo Gomez, Brian Dennis, and Robert Holt for insightful comments and useful suggestion helping to improve this manuscript. We also would like to thank Jack Sullivan for his questions about information criteria, and Tessa Barton for her questions about the subjectivity of model choice. MLT would like to thank Prasanta Bandyopadhyay and Gordon Brittan for many discussions on the philosophy of statistics during the production of Bandyopadhyay et al. 2016. This paper and that work were produced simultaneously and ideas have filtered between the two. The authors wish to thank also the constructive critiques of Michael J. Lew and another anonymous reviewer. We thank the University of California Press for permission to reprint Subhash R. Lele, Mark L. Taper “Information Criteria in Ecology”, 371–375, Figure 1, by Hastings, Alan and Louis J. Gross in Encyclopedia of Theoretical Ecology (c) 2012 by the Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press. We thank the Journal of the American Statistical Association for permission to reprint Richard M. Royall (2000). On the probability of observing misleading statistical evidence. J Amer Stat Assoc 95:760–780, Figure 2. We are grateful to Mayuko Tanigawa and Yukihiko Toquenaga for editorial patience in helping us get things right despite extreme platform translation problems.


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Copyright information

© The Society of Population Ecology and Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecology DepartmentMontana State UniversityBozemanUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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