Screening for disease: why it's controversial

Screening for disease was in the news again in the UK last week. According to the BBC, a 20-year Swedish study of screening for prostate cancer showed that screening brought no benefit. (The actual study report didn't put it quite so baldly, but effectively did conclude there was no benefit.) This came just a couple of days after the Alzheimer's Disease Society asked that the NHS should offer checks for dementia to everyone (in the UK) when they reach the age of 75. Both these news items reported contrasting views on whether these screening checks are in fact advisable.

Spanish school books: can we believe what they say about health?

Most school textbooks contain messages about health. But there's no known evidence for about a quarter of the messages. At least, that's the position in Granada, Spain, according to a report in BMC Public Health.

Uncertainty in the media: a mixed picture on swine flu

BMC Public Health is one of those online, open access journals that are becoming more and more prominent in academic publishing. A couple of recent articles throw rather different lights on the communication of health messages to the public. One is pretty positive about how Australian television reported the 2009 swine flu epidemic. The other reports an analysis of school books in Spain, and I'll return to that in another blog entry.

Thomas Goetz TED Talk: It is Time to Redesign Medical Data

article iconYour medical chart: it's hard to access, impossible to read -- and full of information that could make you healthier if you just knew how to use it. At TEDMED, Thomas Goetz looks at medical data, making a bold call to redesign it and get more insight from it.

Thinking, but not about uncertainty

Google seems to be doing pretty well everything these days. Their UK operation has just published the first issue of a new magazine, Think Quarterly, and it's all about data. It looks very pleasant, particularly if you read the version that emulates a print magazine. And there's some interesting content, including interviews with Hans Rosling and with Hal Varian, Google's Chief Economist who famously said in 2009 that "the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians." But, strangely, the whole magazine says nothing explicit about uncertainty.

Poor forecasting: one approach to doing something about it

Philip Tetlock, an academic psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, is famous in forecasting circles for his 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? He reported on a 20-year research project on expert forecasts in many different fields, and, to summarize crudely, found that most of the experts were pretty hopeless at forecasting. Now he's involved in another project to try to do something about this.

"Official": it does matter how risk statistics are presented

The respected and influential Cochrane Collaboration has just published a systematic review of research on different ways of presenting risks and reductions in risk in a health context. It won't come as a surprise to regular readers of this website that they concluded that some aspects of the presentation really do make a difference. But maybe there are a few surprises in their detailed findings.

We're all going to die (sometime)

lecturePast experience and probability theory can be used to check the odds of your football team winning or judge the risks of activities such as riding motorcycles, taking illegal drugs, going into hospital or just living. Things get more difficult when we don't fully understand what is going on, like early on in the swine flu epidemic, or when we are dealing with huge complexity, as in climate change. Then it can be helpful to admit what we don't know.

Car insurance? How big are your feet?

Did an article in the Times [paywall] today on the forthcoming EU Court of Justice ruling on whether gender can be taken into account when setting insurance premiums. I think this is an important and interesting topic, but articles in the financial pages have been very dull and so tried to make this a bit lighter in tone. Text of article is here.


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