Posts Tagged ‘ Health ’

Statbusters: standing may or may not stand a chance

December 7, 2015
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In our latest Statbusters column for the Daily Beast, we read the research behind the claim that "standing reduces odds of obesity". Especially at younger companies, it is trendy to work at standing desks because of findings like this. We find a variety of statistical issues calling for better studies. For example, the observational dataset used provides no clue as to whether sitting causes obesity or obesity leads to more…

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The proliferation of useless data

November 29, 2015
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One of the secrets of great data analysis is thoughtful data collection. Great data collection is necessary but not sufficient for great data analysis. I recently had the unfortunate need to select a new doctor. Every time I had to do this, it has been an exercise in frustration and desperation. And after wasting hours and hours perusing the "data" on doctors, inevitably I give up and just throw a…

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Statbusters: please back up an extreme claim with numbers

November 23, 2015
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In this week's Statbusters, my column with Andrew Gelman in the Daily Beast, we take note of Slate's recent rant about "wasteful" anti-smoking advertising, and demonstrate how to think about cost-benefit analysis. The key point is: if you are going to make an extreme claim, you better have some numbers to back it up. These numbers can be approximate, and based on (potentially dubious) Googled data. Not every analysis needs…

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Andrew Gelman delivers a lesson on statistical adjustment, so you can relax about middle-aged men killing themselves

November 11, 2015
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Andrew Gelman delivers a lesson on statistical adjustment, so you can relax about middle-aged men killing themselves

My co-columnist Andrew Gelman has been doing some fantastic work, digging behind that trendy news story that claims that middled-aged, non-Hispanic, white male Americans are dying at an abnormal rate. See, for example, this New York Times article that not only reports the statistical pattern but also in its headline, asserts that those additional deaths were due to suicide and substance abuse. It all bega n with the chart shown…

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Statbusters: Games people play with the placebo effect

November 3, 2015
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In the first two chapters of Numbersense, I discuss how people game statistics, and why gaming is inevitable. I have also written about the placebo effect before. Another article has appeared covering the same topic -- the industry doesn't like the fact that more and more drugs fail to clear the "placebo" hurdle; and the industry thinks the problem is that the placebo effect is mysteriously increasing over time. What…

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RIP GFT

November 3, 2015
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It appears that Google Flu Trends (GFT) has slipped quietly into the night. In a short post to the Google Research blog, the team behind GFT announced that they are "no longer publishing" flu estimates, effectively ending the seven-year-old experiment. The GFT home page now links to some historical datasets. The post was dated August 15, and it appears that mainstream media completely missed it. GFT was one of the…

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Keep eating those sausages

November 2, 2015
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I am outsourcing this post to Aaron Carroll, whose Upshot column eviscerates the recent claim that eating meat will give you cancer, or that eating meat is the same as smoking cigarettes. While the media is partly culpable for spreading misinformation...

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Theranos and ethics

October 26, 2015
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I have to admit I missed the hype about Elizabeth Holmes, and only learned about her from the Wall Street Journal hit job that came out last week (link). It feels like I arrived to the party after the police has shut the fun down! Holmes had been profiled in all the important places--no doubt many of her interviewers are feeling a bit red-faced. She dropped out of Stanford to…

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Statbusters: Simple computations mislead, from selfies to colleges

October 5, 2015
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In this week's Statbusters (link), we discuss two recent widely-shared articles, one on deaths while taking selfies, and the other on the gender gap in income among graduates of top-tier universities. The common element between these two pieces is a reductionist analysis that looks at the correlation between a single variable X and an outcome Y when the outcome Y is affected by a multitude of variables. For example, it…

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No, selfies are not more deadly than sharks

September 24, 2015
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You may have seen the clickbait of the week: "Selfies have killed more people than sharks this year!" There are three problems with this statement: 1. Almost everyone takes selfies but many, many fewer of us are exposed to shark attacks. Thus even if the absolute number of deaths from selfies is higher than that of deaths by sharks, the risk of dying from taking selfies is still much lower.…

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