Sunday, May 02, 2010

Know Your Chances

A friend highly recommends this book by some folks at Dartmouth Medical School, entitled Know Your Chances. The idea is to provide a simple description of how you can evaluate publicly propagated information about diseases and therapies. Here's more. An excerpt:

From drug companies to disease advocacy groups, everyone "is trying to grab your attention by making their disease sound as common or as dangerous as they can," says Dr. Lisa Schwartz. But in the process, lots of messages get exaggerated. It can be tough for patients to cut through the hype and determine what—if any—accurate information remains.

So Schwartz and two other members of the
DMS faculty—Drs. Steven Woloshin and Gilbert Welch—wrote a book to help people assess messages about health statistics.


Monique Doyle Spencer said...

So glad to hear this. I guess once you have a job working on a problem you keep the drama going to keep your organization getting support!

The typical case is breast cancer, with its scary statistic that 1 in 8 women will get it. Speakers will have one person at each table stand up and then make a dramatic pronouncement that that's how many women will get it. The truth is that your chances are 1 in 9 when you are 85 years old, not when you are 45.

Of course we need more research on breast cancer, especially reaching the poor and researching the aggressive cancers that young women seem to get. But using this statistic is manipulative at best. When it is used for fundraising it is, in my opinion, fraudulent.

So good for these authors and let's bust these myths.

Anonymous said...

I remember asking the fertility specialist years ago "what are my chances of getting pregnant with this treatment, in this cycle?" His response was something like "100% or 0%, as at the end of this cycle you will either be pregnant or not. If it happens to you, it's 100%." That was the end of any discussion on treatment efficacy. Happily the conversations are more thorough these days (I hope!) and this book sounds like a good way for people who are not comfortable with statistics to have a useful guide to translating the numbers that get thrown around.

Anonymous said...

Right on,Monique! Also there is a difference between relative risk and absolute risk. I think this book should be required reading for all reporters who report on health matters! Actually I plan to get it too, because even ordinary docs sometimes get this stuff confused.

As for anon 12:49, been in your shoes....I guess he didn't want to discourage you by giving you the real(low)#,but that's still very patronizing. Hope it worked out for you; did for me kind of in spite of the docs, haha!

nonlocal MD

PhilBaumann said...


This is a great resource for the public. There is a lot of information - some even contradictory.

Added to all that noise is all the extra marketing hype of products and services.