Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Review

Statistics doesn’t need to be sexy

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 02 February 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d651
  1. Charlotte L Price, lecturer in biostatistics, Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit, University of Birmingham

Hans Rosling has the passion to make statistics accessible, says Charlotte L Price, who saw his recent television programme, but there’s more to the subject than pretty plots

Statistics is nothing to be frightened of. That’s the message of Hans Rosling, professor of international health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and the remarkably enthusiastic presenter of the recent BBC Four documentary The Joy of Stats. In a world where statistical thinking is an essential skill for healthcare professionals, this is a reassuring statement.

But is it true? In some respects it depends on your definition of the word “statistics.” Do we mean the simple numbers that are used to summarise data or the immense subject area that allows us to extract such meaning from data? There is nothing inherently difficult in understanding the statistic that Sweden has the highest number of computers per person in Europe, an insight gained from the programme. But explaining the risks associated with treatment and the subsequent chance of recovery to a patient who has just been given a diagnosis of cancer might cause at least a little apprehension.

Faced with …

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