As nice as it is to be able to assume normality, … there are problems. The most obvious problem is that we could be wrong.

One … very nice thing … is that, in many situations, … [being wrong] won’t send us immediately to jail without passing “Go.” Under a … broad set of conditions … our assumption [could be wrong, yet we] get away with it. By this I mean that our answer may still be correct even if our assumption is false. This is what we mean when we speak of a [statistic] … being robust.

However, this still leaves at least two problems. In the first place, it is not hard to create reasonable data that violate a normality (or homogeneity of variance) assumption and have “true” answers that are quite different from the answer we would get by making a normality assumption. In other words, we can’t always get away with violating assumptions. Second, there are many situations where even with normality, we don’t know enough about the statistic we are using to draw the appropriate inferences.

One way to look at bootstrap procedures is as procedures for handling data when we are not willing to make assumptions about the parameters of the populations from which we sampled. The most that we are willing to assume (and it is an absolutely critical assumption) is that the data we have are a reasonable representation of the population from which they came. We then resample from the pool of data that we have, and draw inferences about the corresponding population and its parameters.

The second way to look at bootstrap procedures is to think of them as what we use when we don’t know enough.

David Howell


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