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Dennis Lendrem
Dennis Lendrem
MSc in Medical Statistics, PhD from Oxford. Background in Pharmaceutical R&D. Contributor to popular magazines and trade magazines including Scrip Magazine, New Scientist and the Economist. Formerly Editor of the journal Pharmaceutical Statistics.
 
Posted in Business / Industries / Pharmaceuticals

Spinning the Risk: Bacon Sandwiches and Bowel Cancer

Apr. 11, 2012 5:49 am
Bacon sandwiches increase your chance of experiencing bowel cancer by 20%.

On the face of it, this is a worrying statistic.

However, elsewhere, I have already discussed the dangers of reporting relative risks.

Relative risks are frequently used to "sex up" or "spin" statistics in order to make news headlines.

So as soon as I see a relative risk, I want to see the underlying absolute risks on which it is based.

And if you've ever wondered why statisticians get so twitchy about relative risks then see David Spiegelhalter's piece 2845 Ways to Spin the Risk at the Understanding Uncertainty website.

Here you will see the different ways in which this simple bacon sandwich statistic can be presented.

And, fortunately, some of these are rather less exciting than the headline above suggests.

5 out of 100 people like you will experience bowel cancer without Bacon sandwiches, which is increased to 6 out of 100 with Bacon sandwiches.
If 100 people like you ate Bacon sandwiches we would have one extra person experiencing bowel cancer.

Sometimes the accompanying graphic can look scary:

image

Thanks to the people at Understanding Uncertainty www.understandinguncertainty.orgPublic Domain

And sometimes less scary:

image

Thanks to the people at Understanding Uncertainty www.understandinguncertainty.orgAttribution

Bacon Sandwiches and Bowel Cancer

Beware relative risks.

 
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