Always understand statistics first

Published 12:01am Friday, September 6, 2013

Statistics are probably the most misunderstood calculation available. People, for the most part, do not understand statistics.

Case-in-point: There is a “lawyer stampede” going on today about a certain diabetes medication. The ads on TV say, “Miracle Drug may increase your possibility of getting pancreatic cancer by 300 percent.” What’s important here is, what is the incidence of pancreatic cancer, i.e. how many people would be expected to get this disease? Incidence is usually expressed in cases per 100,000 people.

If you look up the incidence of pancreatic cancer, the incidence in the general population is 3 per 100,000 people. If you look up the incidence of pancreatic cancer in patients using Miracle Drug, it is 9 per 100,000 people. This means that 99,991 out of 100,000 of those using Miracle Drug will not get pancreatic cancer. Pretty good odds if you ask me. This is a three-fold increase, as the lawyers insinuate, but really, is it significant? This is just another misleading scare tactic. Who told lawyers that they could interpret medical data in the first place? Is this in fact, practicing medicine without a license?

People are so mislead about so many things and this is only one. Before you run down to your neighborhood barrister adding your name to a class-action lawsuit and hoping to collect a million dollars, be sure you understand the statistics. Who knows, you may end up getting sued yourself.


Ed Field