Data dredging (also data fishing, data snooping, and p-hacking) is the use of data mining to uncover patterns in data that can be presented as statistically significant, without first devising a specific hypothesis as to the underlying causality.
The process of data dredging involves automatically testing huge numbers of hypotheses about a single data set by exhaustively searching — perhaps for combinations of variables that might show a correlation, and perhaps for groups of cases or observations that show differences in their mean or in their breakdown by some other variable. Conventional tests of statistical significance are based on the probability that a particular result would arise if chance alone were at work, and necessarily accept some risk of mistaken conclusions of a certain type (mistaken rejections of the null hypothesis). This level of risk is called the significance. When large numbers of tests are performed, some produce false results of this type, hence 5% of randomly chosen hypotheses turn out to be significant at the 5% level, 1% turn out to be significant at the 1% significance level, and so on, by chance alone. When enough hypotheses are tested, it is virtually certain that some will be statistically significant but misleading, since almost every data set with any degree of randomness is likely to contain (for example) some spurious correlations. If they are not cautious, researchers using data mining techniques can be easily misled by these results.