Sampling error, the unspoken issue behind small number changes in the news

August 22nd, 2011 by Ben Goldacre in bbc, media, statistics, uncertainty | 19 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 20 August 2011

What do all these numbers mean? “‘Worrying’ jobless rise needs urgent action – Labour” was the BBC headline. They explained the problem in their own words: “The number of people out of work rose by 38,000 to 2.49 million in the three months to June, official figures show.”

Now, there are dozens of different ways to quantify the jobs market, and I’m not going to summarise them all here. The claimant count and the labour force survey are commonly used, and number of hours worked is informative too: you can fight among yourselves for which is best, and get distracted by party politics to your heart’s content. But in claiming that this figure for the number of people out of work has risen, the BBC is simply wrong.

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Burn the scientists!

June 18th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, predictions, uncertainty | 51 Comments »

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian, Saturday 19 June 2010

On the 6th of April 2009, an earthquake registering 5.8 on the richter scale hit the town of L’Aquila in Abruzzo, Italy. This was a tragedy, and hundreds of people died. It would be great if we could have firm predictions about every risk whose rare but tragic outcome cannot be accurately predicted, whether it is a flu outbreak, a murder, an illness, or an earthquake. Most of us recognise that this is impossible. Read the rest of this entry »

Righteous mischief from Archie Cochrane

April 14th, 2010 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, heroes, heroes of bad science, statistics, uncertainty | 10 Comments »

imageWorking on an editorial about the importance of evidence based social policy, I re-discovered this moment of genius from Archie Cochrane which I thought I’d share. It’s 1971, he’s part way through a randomised trial comparing Coronary Care Units against home care, and the time has come to share some results with the cardiologists.

I am not asking you to appreciate the results: this was a long time ago, and the findings will not be generalisable to modern CCU’s.

I am inviting you to appreciate the mischief.

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April 29th, 2009 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, scare stories, uncertainty | 61 Comments »

This is possibly the most boring thing I’ve ever written in the Guardian, but I have been genuinely weirded out by the number of people inviting me to be a naysayer on the aporkalypse. I’m not, it’s a genuine risk. I ought to add that most of the people who rang, when I explained my position, invited me on anyway, but I’m a bit busy with other stuff, and more importantly (a) I’m not an infectious diseases epidemiologist, and (b) the world doesn’t need another arbitrary pundit to say “it’s a bit of a risk, yes”. [Oh incidentally comments on the site might take a while to appear since alexlomas has activated wp-cache after boingboing very excitingly linked the new Rath chapter.]

Ben Goldacre
Wednesday 29 April 2009 18.30 BST
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