Useful Links for Good and Bad Science...

Why do we care whether you are numerate? Why do we bang on about interpreting data when the work has already been done and the results written up in a textbook? Actually, that is pretty much the right answer. Unless you can interpret data and make sense of reports from journals, newspapers, TV, blogs, wikis, patient websites and so on and on then you will always be limited to the massively simplified and out-of-date contentents of your textbooks. You are going to be qualified and practising for a long time and no matter how new your textbook is now, it will be obsolete in 10 years time. I still have my undergraduate cell biology textbook. I remember how new and exciting it was at the time, I can now open it at random and find something "wrong" on just about any page. I know what is obsolete because, over the years, I have kept up with the cell biology literature. I also have a microbiology book of the same vintage, the fact that it still looks pretty accurate to me both speaks volumes about my ignorance of current microbiology and makes the important point that it is possible to get so far behind that you are unwaware of how ignorant you are.

Ignorant and out-of-date scientists are generally ignored. Ignorant clinicians are dangerous. That is why you must be numerate. Data interpretation is the lower limit of numeracy for clinicians.

These links are relevant to any discusion of numeracy and data interpretation. The good ones explain good practice and the bad ones would be funnier it they weren't for real.

patients under studyDo We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy? by Gary Taubes is a very well written and hugely thought provoking article on the implications of drawing conclusions from observational studies. You may be relieved to know that he makes all of his point without using numbers at all.

tiger cover"The tiger that isn't" by by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot is a very easy to read introduction to numbers and to how deceptive they can be. This book is available in the Sydney Jones Library, find it using the classmark QA141.B64

In a similar vein, but again without the actual numbers, Alicia White has written a useful guide to interpreting newspaper articles on health and healthcare.

David Colquhoun's brilliant blog "DC's improbable science" is simultaneously witty, caustic and informative. "Nutritionists" are one of his favourite targets. Be sure to look out for Fisher's tea test which is both an appalling pun and an entry into discussion of probabilities. I am also fond of his Patients' guide to Magic medicine.

bad science coverOf course, the ultimate resource in this area is the Bad Science blog run by Ben Goldacre, who has also written a great book on Bad Science, (available in the Harold Cohen Library, Q162.G61) one special chapter of which you can read here for free.

bad pharma coverMore recently, Ben has written a book describing the uncomfortable relationship between pharmaceutical companies and data. Well worth a read.

You can also find additional background material in the efforts by the Daily Mail to classify everything depending on whether it causes or cures cancer. This project has been efficiently collated into an alphabetised resouce by Paul Battley

.... and of course some numbers are more immediately relevant than others

I'm hoping that we can add more links to this page...... Please let me know if you see anything useful or interesting.