Helen Salisbury: Careless communication costs livesBMJ 2020; 371 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4383 (Published 24 November 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4383
All rapid responses
Reading Helen Salisbury`s title: “Careless Communication costs lives”  caused me to both vigorously nod in agreement and to recall my own article: “Statistical illiteracy is damaging our health. Doctors and patients need to understand numbers if meaningful dialogues are to occur.”  My own piece was inspired by and based on Gigerenzer et al`s thoroughly researched article: “Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics.”  Helen Salisbury`s piece ends with a plea for `transparency around the data behind these decisions … so that people know what they need to do, and why.`.
Regrettably, as Gigerenzer and colleagues demonstrate, the failure to both understand and consequently be able to clearly communicate `numbers` is evident not just with politicians and journalists, but far more widely than that. If, as they demonstrate, health professionals are also lacking these skills, the spread of misunderstanding is enormous. The chain of reporting  has several weak links: broken chains cost lives.
A few days ago, when discussing the Covid-19 vaccines, I was asked to explain exactly what `95% effective` meant, my enquirer offering possible interpretations. No wonder she was confused! For example, a recent BBC News item stated that `Trials of the Oxford vaccine show it stops 70% of people developing Covid symptoms.` This is better than `Interim data suggests 70% protection, but the researchers say the figure may be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose.` https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-55040635 People generally have problems with percentages. Using frequencies is much more easily understood: `seven out of ten people` can be visualised by most people. In written communication, use of frequencies supported by good graphics is even better.
And it must not be overlooked that in the pandemic, poor understanding and communication of data costs not only lives, but is resulting in huge wastage of resources. https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4487 
 Helen Salisbury: Careless communication costs lives. 24th November 2020. BMJ 2020;371:m4383
 Gigerenzer G, Gaissmaier W, Kurz-Milcke E, Schwarz LM, Woloshin S. Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics. Psychological Sciences in the Public Interest. 2008; 8:2:53-96
 Thornton H. Editorial: Statistical illiteracy is damaging our health. Doctors and patients need to understand numbers if meaningful dialogues are to occur. International Journal of Surgery. 2009; 7:279-284
 Thornton H. Better reporting of better research = better healthcare. EQUATOR NETWORK 3RD Annual Lecture. October 2011. https://www.equator-network.org/2011/10/03/better-reporting-of-better-re...
 Kamran Abbasi. Covid-19: Screening without scrutiny: spending taxpayers billions. 19th November 2020. BMJ 2020;371:m4487.
Competing interests: No competing interests