Saturday, February 5, 2011

Statistics and diseases

Back in college, I had to fulfill distribution requirements, meaning I had to take classes in different areas - the only one I remember, possibly because it horrified me the most was to take four classes in math and sciences and two had to be lab sciences!!!! I took Physics for Poets (yes really, it was a liberal arts college - Beloit College) and I blank out on the other but for math, for some reason I took calculus but then I took Statistics. Which I actually enjoyed. I remember one assignment to find a newspaper or magazine article which showed a skewing of statistics.

After I graduated I went to that little college down the street for their extension school where I took another statistics class. Then I started working in marketing where I learned how to put spin on anything. Including how numbers are bent and spun in circles a thousand times to put the desired slant on them. The numbers are real but its their interpretation that is dizzy and crying to get out to have the truth revealed.

Scientists report the life time risk of getting a disease is one in 30 or whatever. But if most people get the disease over the age of 80 with 80% of the cases occurring in the population over 70 you shouldn't think I'm going to die but that if I live to be over 70, I have a good chance of getting it. That's a made up example for an imaginary ailment but let's take the real example of breast cancer.

The peptobismol pink chant for breast cancer is one in 8. As in did you know that one in 8 American women will get breast cancer? OMG!!! This is supposed to inspire people to run to their wallets and send money for pink things. Well, a little more information behind those 'shocking' numbers is from the National Cancer Institute. Yes there is a life time risk of getting breast cancer of 1 in 8 but the probability of getting the disease is:
"A woman’s chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is:

* from age 30 through age 39 . . . . . . 0.43 percent (often expressed as "1 in 233")
* from age 40 through age 49 . . . . . . 1.45 percent (often expressed as "1 in 69")
* from age 50 through age 59 . . . . . . 2.38 percent (often expressed as "1 in 42")
* from age 60 through age 69 . . . . . . 3.45 percent (often expressed as "1 in 29")"

And it increases over the age of 70. So if you add up all these numbers, spin them around a few times, blah, blah, blah, you get 1 in 8.

In other words, don't believe everything you read and take them with a huge grain of salt (accompanied by a margarita or six) when offered by a marketing guru. If you really want cancer statistics look elsewhere and read the fine print.


Rebecca Bany said...

Thanks for that info!

andrea said...

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