Here’s an interesting problem with data analysis in general, and so, by extension, data journalism: you have to be careful about assuming that the numbers you’ve got access to… really do reflect the underlying phenomena you’re trying to investigate.
Today’s Guardian has a story, “Antidepressant use in England soars“. It’s much more overstated in the Independent. They identify that the number of individual prescriptions written for antidepressant drugs has risen, and then assumes this means that more people are depressed. But while that’s a tempting assumption, it’s not a safe one. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 7 May 2011
Some of the biggest problems in medicine don’t get written about, because they’re not about eyecatching things like one patient’s valiant struggle: they’re protected from public scrutiny by a wall of tediousness.
Here is one problem that affects millions of people. What if we had rubbish evidence on whether hundreds of common treatments really work, simply because nobody asked the right research question? A paper published this week looks at how much evidence there was for every one of the new drugs approved by the FDA between 2000 and 2010, at the time they were approved. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 8th January 2011
“600 pregnancies despite contraceptive implant” said the BBC. “500 fall pregnant after having contraceptive implant” said the Express. “Contraceptive implant alert” said the Daily Mail: “Hundreds of women fall pregnant after birth control fails”. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre. The Guardian, Saturday 27 November 2010
Wrong isn’t enough: we need interestingly wrong, and this week that came in some research from Stonewall, an organisation for whom I generally have great respect, which was reported in the Guardian. Stonewall have conducted a survey, and their press release says it shows “the average coming out age has fallen by over 20 years”.
People may well be coming out earlier than before – intuitively that seems plausible – but Stonewall’s survey is flawed by design, and contains some interesting statistical traps. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 21 August 2010
Pass rates are at 98%. A quarter of grades are higher than an A. This week every newspaper in the country was filled with people asserting that exams are definitely getting easier, and then other people asserting that exams are definitely not getting easier. The question for me is always simple: how do you know?
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Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 7 August 2010
According to the Home Office this week, Sarah’s law – where any parent can find out if any adult in contact with their child has a record of violent or sexual crimes – has “already protected more than 60 children from abuse during its pilot“. This fact was widely reported and was the headline finding. As the Sun said: “More than 60 sickening offences were halted by Sarah’s Law during its trial”. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 10 April 2010
Lucia de Berk is a Dutch nurse who has spent 6 years in jail on a life sentence for murdering 7 people, in a killing spree that never happened. She will hear about her appeal on Wednesday, and there is now little doubt that she will be let off. The statistical errors in the evidence against her were so crass that they can be explained in one newspaper column. So will the people who jailed her apologise? Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 13 March 2010
“2,000 bugs taking a ride in every train compartment” said the Daily Mail. “Cockroaches cluster on trains“, scuttled the Telegraph. “Commuters share trains with 1,000 cockroaches, 200 bedbugs and 200 fleas” said the Evening Standard. The figures were all very specific and very frightening.
“Rentokil say they also discovered that a bus was home to 500 cockroaches, along with dozens of fleas and bedbugs,” explained the Standard. Those disgusting trains are even worse. “Research by pest controllers Rentokil shows that, on average, a single train compartment houses a staggering 1,000 cockroaches, 200 bed bugs, 200 fleas, 500 dust mites and 100 carpet beetles,” said the Mail. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 13 February 2010
Often one data point isn’t enough to spot a pattern, or even to say that an event is interesting and exceptional, because numbers are all about context and constraints. At one end there are the simple examples. “Mum beats odds of 50 million-to-one to have 3 babies on same date” is the headline for the Daily Express on Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Goldacre, Saturday 31 October 2009, The Guardian.
Every now and then it’s fun to dip into the world of politics and find out what our lords and masters are saying about science. First we find Brooks Newmark, Conservative MP for Braintree, introducing a bill to reduce the age for cervical cancer screening to 20. The Sun has been running a campaign to lower the screening age, on the back of Jade Goody’s death at 28 from cervical cancer, and gathered 108,000 signatures on a petition. The Metro newspaper have commissioned a poll showing that 82% of 16 to 24-year olds in England agree with lowering the screening age.
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