We're nearly all at increased risk!!
Monday's headline in the Daily Telegraph:
The story is about a recent Nature Genetics paper. They looked at a particular spot on the genome, where one of three gene variants could be present: the two rarer of these, present in 10% of the population, reduced the odds on hypertension (high blood pressure) by 15%. An interesting scientific result, but nowhere in the original paper is there any mention of all these people at increased risk.
However, if we look at the 90% of people that have the common gene variant, then with some stretch of the imagination we can certainly consider them as having a gene that increases the risk of hypertension by 18%! [The 15% decrease takes us from a baseline of 1 to 0.85, but an increase from 0.85 to 1 is an 18% increase]. This is a masterful piece of re-framing of the evidence: not exactly wrong, but definitely changing the story. Just like a change from 98% to 96% survival seems a lot more innocuous than a doubling of mortality from 2% to 4%.
Some of the coverage of the story follows the line of the original paper, so who is responsible for the re-framing? It seems to have originated in the AFP news agency, who perhaps should be congratulated on their numerical skills.
See the Plus blog for more on this story.