Monday, October 24, 2016

Hancock's "Skip The Math: Researchers Paint A Picture Of Health Benefits And Risks"

Two scientists, Lazris and Rifkin, want to better illustrate the risks and benefits associated with preventative medicine. They do so by asking people to imagine theaters filled with 1,000 people, and describing the costs and benefits for different preventative procedures by discussing how many people in the theater will be saved or perish based on current efficacy data.

One such video can be viewed here and illustrates the absolute and relative risks associated with mammography. They are attempting to demystify statistics and better explain the risks and benefits by showing an animated theater filled with 1,000 women, and showing how many women actually have their lives saved by mammograms (see screen shot below)...



...as well as the number of women who received false positives over the course of a life time...

A screen shot of the video, which is trying a new way to illustrate risk.
...the video also illustrates how a "20% reduction in breast cancer deaths" can actually be equal to 1 life saved out of 1,000.



This video touches on the confusion about relative versus absolute risk as well as the actual effectiveness of preventative medicine (and why it is so important to conduct efficacy research for medical interventions). I have a few discussion days with my Honor students and a discussion board with my online students that involve this piece from fivethirtyeight.com that questions whether methods of early cancer detection save lives or just uncover non-cancerous variation within the human body. This topic leads to lively discussions.

How to use in class:
-Relative risk
-Absolute risk
-False positives
-Medical examples (and I have plenty of pre-medical professional students)
-An example of why we teach our students to make graphs and charts. Sometimes, data is better shared via illustration
-Using statistics to inform important real-life decisions

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