Letters Risk illiteracy rides again

Balancing probabilities

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d3048 (Published 17 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3048
  1. Paul D P Pharoah, reader in cancer epidemiology1
  1. 1University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. paul.pharoah{at}srl.cam.ac.uk

Shuster discusses the problem of the devastating biomedical ignorance of statisticians and goes on to ask, “Why should a doctor need to know how to calculate the chance of breast cancer in a patient with a positive screening mammogram.”1 The answer is simple. A doctor, not a biomedical statistician, offers a woman mammography and therefore the doctor should understand how to interpret the test result.

If we all stuck to the use of tests and interventions with “straight yes or no” results that even doctors can understand modern medicine would not exist. Modern medicine is all about balancing probabilities.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3048


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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