This month’s Free For All isn’t an app or website, but like a high school teacher I’m gifting you with knowledge. Not my own knowledge, as that’s a limited commodity, but the knowledge of the folks over at Science Focus. In an effort to help people think critically about the statistics often bandied about in news articles or not-so-news articles, they’ve come up with advice to help people pick apart a statistic and see if it can hold water. They also have a podcast on the subject.
My favorite part is assessing the absolute risk, and I think this can be applied to many situations. In their example, if a stat says eating Jelly Babies decreases your risk of chronic pancreatitis by 20 per cent, the question to ask yourself is: what’s my general risk of developing chronic pancreatitis? If five in 100,000 people develop pancreatitis than that five only goes down to four in 100,000. Which begs the question, why are we talking about Jelly Babies in the first place? Was it a slow news day or was someone just looking for clicks?
While the stat might still be true, it’s impact and relevance is greatly diminished when looking through a more appropriate lens.