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Archive of posts filed under the Public Health category.

Statistical behavior at the end of the world: the effect of the publication crisis on U.S. research productivity

Under the heading, “I’m suspicious,” Kevin Lewis points us to this article with abstract: We exploit the timing of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the geographical variation in mortality risks individuals faced across states to analyse reproduction decisions during the crisis. The results of a difference-in-differences approach show evidence that fertility decreased in states that […]

Alzheimer’s Mouse research on the Orient Express

Paul Alper sends along an article from Joy Victory at Health News Review, shooting down a bunch of newspaper headlines (“Extra virgin olive oil staves off Alzheimer’s, preserves memory, new study shows” from USA Today, the only marginally better “Can extra-virgin olive oil preserve memory and prevent Alzheimer’s?” from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the better […]

“However noble the goal, research findings should be reported accurately. Distortion of results often occurs not in the data presented but . . . in the abstract, discussion, secondary literature and press releases. Such distortion can lead to unsupported beliefs about what works for obesity treatment and prevention. Such unsupported beliefs may in turn adversely affect future research efforts and the decisions of lawmakers, clinicians and public health leaders.”

David Allison points us to this article by Bryan McComb, Alexis Frazier-Wood, John Dawson, and himself, “Drawing conclusions from within-group comparisons and selected subsets of data leads to unsubstantiated conclusions.” It’s a letter to the editor for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, and it begins: [In the paper, “School-based systems change […]

How is science like the military? They are politically extreme yet vital to the nation

I was thinking recently about two subcultures in the United States, public or quasi-public institutions that are central to our country’s power, and which politically and socially are distant both from each other and from much of the mainstream of American society. The two institutions I’m thinking of are science and the military, both of […]

Your (Canadian) tax dollars at work

Retraction Watch links to this amazing (in a bad way) article by “The International Consortium of Investigators for Fairness in Trial Data Sharing” who propose that “study investigators be allowed exclusive use of the data for a minimum of 2 years after publication of the primary trial results and an additional 6 months for every […]

Learning from and responding to statistical criticism

In 1960, Irwin Bross, “a public-health advocate and biostatistician . . . known for challenging scientific dogmas” published an article called “Statistical Criticism.” Here it is. A few months ago, Dylan Small, editor of the journal Observational Studies, invited various people including me to write a comment on Bross’s article. Here’s what I wrote: Irwin […]

A reporter sent me a Jama paper and asked me what I thought . . .

My reply: Thanks for sending. I can’t be sure about everything they’re doing but the paper looks reasonable to me. I expect there are various ways that the analysis could be improved, but on a quick look I don’t see anything obviously wrong with it, and the authors seem to know what they are doing. […]

“How to Assess Internet Cures Without Falling for Dangerous Pseudoscience”

Science writer Julie Rehmeyer discusses her own story: Five years ago, against practically anyone’s better judgment, I knowingly abandoned any semblance of medical evidence to follow the bizarre-sounding health advice of strangers on the internet. The treatment was extreme, expensive, and potentially dangerous. If that sounds like a terrible idea to you, imagine how it […]

Orphan drugs and forking paths: I’d prefer a multilevel model but to be honest I’ve never fit such a model for this sort of problem

Amos Elberg writes: I’m writing to let you know about a drug trial you may find interesting from a statistical perspective. 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 […]

“A Bias in the Evaluation of Bias Comparing Randomized Trials with Nonexperimental Studies”

Jessica Franklin writes: Given your interest in post-publication peer review, I thought you might be interested in our recent experience criticizing a paper published in BMJ last year by Hemkens et al.. I realized that the method used for the primary analysis was biased, so we published a criticism with mathematical proof of the bias […]

Spatial models for demographic trends?

Jon Minton writes: You may be interested in a commentary piece I wrote early this year, which was published recently in the International Journal of Epidemiology, where I discuss your work on identifying an aggregation bias in one of the key figures in Case & Deaton’s (in)famous 2015 paper on rising morbidity and mortality in […]

No no no no no on “The oldest human lived to 122. Why no person will likely break her record.”

I came across this news article by Brian Resnick entitled: The oldest human lived to 122. Why no person will likely break her record. Even with better medicine, living past 120 years will be extremely unlikely. I was skeptical, and I really didn’t buy it after reading the research article, “Evidence for a limit to […]

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 […]