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Archive of posts filed under the Public Health category.

Fundamental difficulty of inference for a ratio when the denominator could be positive or negative

I happened to come across this post from 2011, which in turn is based on thoughts of mine from about 1993. It’s important and most of you probably haven’t seen it, so here it is again: Ratio estimates are common in statistics. In survey sampling, the ratio estimate is when you use y/x to estimate […]

Fast analysis, soft statistics, and junk data intake is unrelated to research quality for 0% of American scientists

Under the heading, “Yet another bad analysis making the rounds,” John Mount writes: This won’t waste much of your time—because there really isn’t much there. But I thought you would be disturbed by this new paper. Here’s my (Mount’s) commentary on what we can surmise about the methods. Mount is pretty scathing. He starts with […]

Where the fat people at?

Pearly Dhingra points me to this article, “The Geographic Distribution of Obesity in the US and the Potential Regional Differences in Misreporting of Obesity,” by Anh Le, Suzanne Judd, David Allison, Reena Oza-Frank, Olivia Affuso, Monika Safford, Virginia Howard, and George Howard, who write: Data from BRFSS [the behavioral risk factor surveillance system] suggest that […]

Stunning breakthrough: Using Stan to map cancer screening!

Paul Alper points me to this article, Breast Cancer Screening, Incidence, and Mortality Across US Counties, by Charles Harding, Francesco Pompei, Dmitriy Burmistrov, Gilbert Welch, Rediet Abebe, and Richard Wilson. Their substantive conclusion is there’s too much screening going on, but here I want to focus on their statistical methods: Spline methods were used to […]

Placebo effect shocker: After reading this, you won’t know what to believe.

Martha Smith writes: Yesterday’ BBC News Magazine featured an article by William Kremer entitled, “”Why are placebos getting more effective?”, which looks like a possibility for a blog post discussing how people treat surprising effects. The article asserts that the placebo effect has been decreasing, especially in the U.S. The author asks, “Why? What could […]

Is a 60% risk reduction really no big deal?

Paul Alper writes: Here’s something really important. Notice how meaningless the numbers can be. Referring to a 60% risk reduction in flu due to the flu vaccine: As for the magical “60?” Dr. Tom Jefferson didn’t mince words: “Sorry I have no idea where the 60% comes from – it’s either pure propaganda or bandied […]

Middle-aged white death trends update: It’s all about women in the south

Jonathan Auerbach and I wrote up some of the age-adjustment stuff we discussed on this blog a couple months ago. Here’s our article, a shorter version of which will appear as a letter in PPNAS. And here’s the new analysis we did showing age-adjusted death rates for 45-54-year-old non-Hispanic white men and women: Wow!! Remember […]

Pro-PACE, anti-PACE

Pro Simon Wessely, a psychiatrist who has done research on chronic fatigue syndrome, pointed me to an overview of the PACE trial written by its organizers, Peter White, Trudie Chalder, and Michael Sharpe, and also to this post of his from November, coming to the defense of the much-maligned PACE study: Nothing as complex as […]

Cancer statistics: WTF?

This post is by Phil. I know someone who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and is trying to decide whether to get chemo or just let it run its course. What does she have to go on? A bunch of statistics that are barely useful. For example, its easy to find the average survival […]

Paxil: What went wrong?

Dale Lehman points us to this news article by Paul Basken on a study by Joanna Le Noury, John Nardo, David Healy, Jon Jureidin, Melissa Raven, Catalin Tufanaru, and Elia Abi-Jaoude that investigated what went wrong in the notorious study by Martin Keller et al. of the GlaxoSmithKline drug Paxil. Lots of ethical issues here, […]

Givewell wants to put lithium in your drinking water

Actually, they just want to look into the possibility. Alexander Berger of Givewell writes: In the past you’ve written a couple posts about GiveWell’s research, and we’ve recently posted something else that I thought might be of interest to your audience: an expression of interest in research on the impact of trace lithium on suicide […]

The PACE trial and the problems with discrete, yes/no thinking

I don’t often read the Iranian Journal of Cancer Prevention, but I like this quote: I was thinking more about the PACE trial. God is in every leaf of every tree. There’s been a lot of discussion about statistical problems with the PACE papers, and also about the research team’s depressing refusal to share their […]

PACE study and the Lancet: Journal reputation is a two-way street

One thing that struck me about this PACE scandal: if this study was so bad as all that, how did it taken so seriously by policymakers and the press? There’s been a lot of discussion about serious flaws in the published papers, and even more discussion about the unforgivable refusal of the research team to […]

You won’t believe this story: Tamiflu conflict of interest

Paul Alper writes: Maybe it is time to return to really important things such as medical swindles in particular, Tamiflu. Consider Tamifu and its financially-influenced and influential supportors as seen from the fabulous Susan Perry of Minnpost: The group of researchers who conducted the Lancet study [supporting Tamiflu]was described in a commentary that accompanied their […]

Vitamin pill shocker: “A complex web of vested interests promote calcium and vitamin D for osteoporosis, despite lack of evidence”

Paul Alper points us to this scary news article by Susan Perry: Calcium and vitamin D supplements have been shown repeatedly to have no beneficial effect on preventing or treating osteoporosis . . . In fact, the evidence has not only demonstrated that calcium and vitamin D supplements do not reduce the risk of bone […]

Definitely got nothing to do with chess IV

Paul Alper points us to this in-depth article by Steven Brill on the topic of Alex Gorsky, the pharma executive who notoriously marketed a dangerous drug and hid the evidence of its dangers. The headline was a bit of a cheat, though. The story is fascinating from a statistical perspective but it has no chess […]

There are 6 ways to get fired from Johnson & Johnson: (1) theft, (2) sexual harassment, (3) running an experiment without a control group, (4) keeping a gambling addict away from the casino, (5) chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, and (6) not covering up records of side effects of a drug you’re marketing to kids

Paul Alper writes: Gorsky, it seems to me, dwarfs the villains you often write about. Here’s the background, from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof: Risperdal is a billion-dollar antipsychotic medicine with real benefits — and a few unfortunate side effects. It can cause strokes among the elderly. And it can cause boys to grow […]

More on the PACE (chronic fatigue syndrome study) scandal

Last week we reported on the push to get the data released from that controversial PACE study on chronic fatigue syndrome. Julie Rehmeyer points to a news article with background on the story: Patients rapidly discovered serious scientific problems with the 2011 Lancet paper. Despite these errors, the study, known as the PACE trial, went […]

Tug of War: Epic battle over data in controversial paper on chronic fatigue syndrome

James Coyne wrote to me a couple weeks ago: This time I’m critiquing a horrible mediational analysis. The larger context is that the authors have refused all requests to share data that would be needed to make an independent evaluation of their interpretation. I am now in what will be a highly visible confrontation with […]

Bayesian decision analysis for the drug-approval process (NSFW)

Bill Jefferys points me to a paper, “Is the FDA Too Conservative or Too Aggressive?: A Bayesian Decision Analysis of Clinical Trial Design,” by Vahid Montazerhodjat and Andrew Lo. Here’s the abstract: Implicit in the drug-approval process is a trade-off between Type I and Type II error. We propose using Bayesian decision analysis (BDA) to […]