Statistical Insanity

Congrats to Peter Austin for making a great point about medical research, particularly the advocacy-driven risk research we see in the media every day:

PEOPLE born under the astrological sign of Leo are 15% more likely
to be admitted to hospital with gastric bleeding than those born under
the other 11 signs. Sagittarians are 38% more likely than others to
land up there because of a broken arm. Those are the conclusions that
many medical researchers would be forced to make from a set of data
presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by
Peter Austin of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in
Toronto. At least, they would be forced to draw them if they applied
the lax statistical methods of their own work to the records of
hospital admissions in Ontario, Canada, used by Dr Austin.

Dr Austin, of course, does not draw those conclusions. His point was
to shock medical researchers into using better statistics, because the
ones they routinely employ today run the risk of identifying
relationships when, in fact, there are none. He also wanted to explain
why so many health claims that look important when they are first made
are not substantiated in later studies.

Thanks again to TJIC for the link