We are all familiar with the regular flow of sometimes extreme health claims reported in the media, such as ‘Warning: Using a mobile phone while pregnant can seriously damage your baby’, (Independent, 5 April 2012) to ‘Chocolate may help keep people slim’, (BBC News, 27 March 2012); ‘Taller women at greater risk of ovarian cancer as every two inches of height increases threat by 7 per cent’, (Daily Mail, 4 April 2012) or ‘Aspirin: the world’s humble true wonder drug’ [in preventing cancer], (Guardian, 12 December 2010).
The work of medical statisticians is central to the design, analysis and importantly interpretation of the health research which underpins these headlines*.
Their work has several key aims:
- Monitoring and surveillance of health and disease
- Finding causes of disease or factors associated with early death or disease
- Detecting disease
- Preventing early death or disease
- Evaluating treatments.
*All of these claims are, in fact, about real studies, which medical statisticians have worked on and a good understanding of design and statistical analysis puts the claims into a better perspective. What might sometimes appear alarming at first, becomes a lot less concerning once when you consider the supporting ‘evidence’. Medical statisticians are in an ideal position to better interpret research findings for themselves and others.