Karl Gallagher (selenite) wrote,
Karl Gallagher
selenite

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Teaching Statistics to Doctors

I've complained before about the poor quality of medical research. So kudos to Dr. Peter Austin:
People born under the astrological sign of Leo are 15% more likely to be admitted to hospital with gastric bleeding than those born under the other 11 signs. Sagittarians are 38% more likely than others to land up there because of a broken arm. Those are the conclusions that many medical researchers would be forced to make from a set of data presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Peter Austin of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto. At least, they would be forced to draw them if they applied the lax statistical methods of their own work to the records of hospital admissions in Ontario, Canada, used by Dr Austin.

Dr Austin, of course, does not draw those conclusions. His point was to shock medical researchers into using better statistics, because the ones they routinely employ today run the risk of identifying relationships when, in fact, there are none. He also wanted to explain why so many health claims that look important when they are first made are not substantiated in later studies.
This is focusing on data dredging studies, not controlled experiments. I worry more about researchers doing the latter without a statistically significant sample size. But hopefully if they start worrying about getting the math right they'll work their way up to that one.
Tags: engineering
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