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Archive of posts filed under the Public Health category.

Noisy, heterogeneous data scoured from diverse sources make his metanalyses stronger.

Kyle MacDonald writes: I wondered if you’d heard of Purvesh Khatri’s work in computational immunology, profiled in this Q&A with Esther Landhuis at Quanta yesterday. Elevator pitch is that he believes noisy, heterogeneous data scoured from diverse sources make his metanalyses stronger. The thing that gave me the woollies was this line: “We start with […]

Using Mister P to get population estimates from respondent driven sampling

From one of our exams: A researcher at Columbia University’s School of Social Work wanted to estimate the prevalence of drug abuse problems among American Indians (Native Americans) living in New York City. From the Census, it was estimated that about 30,000 Indians live in the city, and the researcher had a budget to interview […]

An alternative to the superplot

Kevin Brown writes: I came across the lexicon link to your ‘super plots’ posting today. In it, you plot the association between individual income (X) and republican voting (Y) for 3 states: one assumed to be poor, one middle income, and one wealthy. An alternative way of plotting this, what I call a ‘herd effects […]

My 2 talks in Seattle this Wed and Thurs: “The Statistical Crisis in Science” and “Bayesian Workflow”

For the Data Science Seminar, Wed 25 Oct, 3:30pm in Physics and Astronomy Auditorium – A102: The Statistical Crisis in Science Top journals routinely publish ridiculous, scientifically implausible claims, justified based on “p < 0.05.” And this in turn calls into question all sorts of more plausible, but not necessarily true, claims, that are supported […]

Freelance orphans: “33 comparisons, 4 are statistically significant: much more than the 1.65 that would be expected by chance alone, so what’s the problem??”

From someone who would prefer to remain anonymous: As you may know, the relatively recent “orphan drug” laws allow (basically) companies that can prove an off-patent drug treats an otherwise untreatable illness, to obtain intellectual property protection for otherwise generic or dead drugs. This has led to a new business of trying large numbers of […]

Does racquetball save lives?

Asher Meir points to this news report and writes: 8e5 people in study, about half reported exercising, about half not. About 10% died overall. So overall death rate difference of 28% is pretty remarkable. It means about 3500 deaths instead of 4500 for a similar sample size. But when you compare the rate of heart […]

Apply for the Earth Institute Postdoc at Columbia and work with us!

The Earth Institute at Columbia brings in several postdocs each year—it’s a two-year gig—and some of them have been statisticians (recently, Kenny Shirley, Leontine Alkema, Shira Mitchell, and Milad Kharratzadeh). We’re particularly interested in statisticians who have research interests in development and public health. It’s fine—not just fine, but ideal—if you are interested in statistical […]

For mortality rate junkies

Paul Ginsparg and I were discussing that mortality rate adjustment example. I pointed him to this old tutorial that laid out the age adjustment step by step, and he sent along this: For mortality rate junkies, here’s another example [by Steven Martin and Laudan Aron] of bundled stats lending to misinterpretation, in this case not […]

Type M errors studied in the wild

Brendan Nyhan points to this article, “Very large treatment effects in randomised trials as an empirical marker to indicate whether subsequent trials are necessary: meta-epidemiological assessment,” by Myura Nagendran, Tiago Pereira, Grace Kiew, Douglas Altman, Mahiben Maruthappu, John Ioannidis, and Peter McCulloch. From the abstract: Objective To examine whether a very large effect (VLE; defined […]

Causal inference using data from a non-representative sample

Dan Gibbons writes: I have been looking at using synthetic control estimates for estimating the effects of healthcare policies, particularly because for say county-level data the nontreated comparison units one would use in say a difference-in-differences estimator or quantile DID estimator (if one didn’t want to use the mean) are not especially clear. However, given […]

We were unfair to traditional pollsters

A couple days ago, Slate ran an article by David Rothschild and myself, “We Need to Move Beyond Election-Focused Polling,” in which we wrote about various aspects of the future of opinion surveys. One aspect of this article was misleading. We wrote: And instead of zeroing in on elections, we should think of polling and […]

Rosenbaum (1999): Choice as an Alternative to Control in Observational Studies

Winston Lin wrote in a blog comment earlier this year: Paul Rosenbaum’s 1999 paper “Choice as an Alternative to Control in Observational Studies” is really thoughtful and well-written. The comments and rejoinder include an interesting exchange between Manski and Rosenbaum on external validity and the role of theories. And here it is. Rosenbaum begins: In […]

All cause and breast cancer specific mortality, by assignment to mammography or control

Paul Alper writes: You might be interested in the robocall my wife received today from our Medicare Advantage organization (UCARE Minnesota). The robocall informed us that mammograms saved lives and was available free of charge as part of her health insurance. No mention of recent studies criticizing mammography regarding false positives, harms of biopsies, etc. […]

What are best practices for observational studies?

Mark Samuel Tuttle writes: Just returned from the annual meeting of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA); in attendance were many from Columbia. One subtext of conversations I had with the powers that be in the field is the LACK of Best Practices for Observational Studies. They all agree that however difficult they are that […]

“Mainstream medicine has its own share of unnecessary and unhelpful treatments”

I have a story and then a question. The story Susan Perry (link sent by Paul Alper) writes: Earlier this week, I [Perry] highlighted two articles that exposed the dubious history, medical ineffectiveness and potential health dangers of popular alternative “therapies.” Well, the same can be said of many mainstream conventional medical practices, as investigative […]

Publish your raw data and your speculations, then let other people do the analysis: track and field edition

There seems to be an expectation in science that the people who gather a dataset should also be the ones who analyze it. But often that doesn’t make sense: what it takes to gather relevant data has little to do with what it takes to perform a reasonable analysis. Indeed, the imperatives of analysis can […]

The Pandora Principle in statistics — and its malign converse, the ostrich

The Pandora Principle is that once you’ve considered a possible interaction or bias or confounder, you can’t un-think it. The malign converse is when people realize this and then design their studies to avoid putting themselves in a position where they have to consider some potentially important factor. For example, suppose you’re considering some policy […]

“This finding did not reach statistical sig­nificance, but it indicates a 94.6% prob­ability that statins were responsible for the symptoms.”

Charles Jackson writes: The attached item from JAMA, which I came across in my doctor’s waiting room, contains the statements: Nineteen of 203 patients treated with statins and 10 of 217 patients treated with placebo met the study definition of myalgia (9.4% vs 4.6%. P = .054). This finding did not reach statistical sig­nificance, but […]

It’s hard to know what to say about an observational comparison that doesn’t control for key differences between treatment and control groups, chili pepper edition

Jonathan Falk points to this article and writes: Thoughts? I would have liked to have seen the data matched on age, rather than simply using age in a Cox regression, since I suspect that’s what really going on here. The non-chili eaters were much older, and I suspect that the failure to interact age, or […]

“Explaining recent mortality trends among younger and middle-aged White Americans”

Kevin Lewis sends along this paper by Ryan Masters, Andrea Tilstra, and Daniel Simon, who write: Recent research has suggested that increases in mortality among middle-aged US Whites are being driven by suicides and poisonings from alcohol and drug use. Increases in these ‘despair’ deaths have been argued to reflect a cohort-based epidemic of pain […]