Sub-editing in the Times

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was produced by the Winton programme for the public understanding of risk based in the Statistical Laboratory in the University of Cambridge. The aim was to help improve the way that uncertainty and risk are discussed in society, and show how probability and statistics can be both useful and entertaining.

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A story in monday's Times had the following dramatic headline:
errors-screening-headline.jpg

I started the article with interest, wondering what flaws in the breast screening programme had been exposed. But the article turned out to be a good description by Chris Smyth of a study of how Ashkenazi women, who are at high risk of carrying the BRCA gene, which in turn increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, were not being adequately screened for the gene. Systematically testing all this sub-population would be cost-effective.

All very good, but little to do with the failure in breast cancer screening apparently proclaimed by the headline. Even worse, the front-page trail for the story said "Women should be offered tests for gene mutations that raise their risk of breast cancer", which also managed to suggest that the issue applied to everyone instead of higher-risk Ashkenazi women.

I hope I'm not being pedantic, and I know it's the job of sub-editors to get people to read the story - it worked in my case - but this all seems a bit shabby.