One of my pet peeves, which I’ve blogged about before, is the lack of understanding of conditional probability and statistics — by people who need to understand it in order to understand an issue or problem they’re engaging.

This article portrays the point.  We heard during the health care debate about how residents in the U.S. suffer shorter life spans than those in some other nations due to our health care system when there is clear evidence that this assertion is false.  But the false sciencey meme spread well among those ideologically interested in changing the health care system even as actuaries tried to correct the record (with no media support).  Even now we get articles in blogs and newspapers by people who accepted the false meme as fact, and incorporate it into their way of thinking.  The author of the article completely misses the distinction between health care and lifestyle, even though the evidence they discuss about taller people in the U.S. during past generations was due to lifestyle differences (abundant food and healthy farm/labor life) — not health care.

One day, we should hope, somebody who understands conditional probability/statistics will vet every article written about statistical subjects.  But that’s not likely, so learning conditional probability and statistics is the only way to ensure that you understand what you’re reading.

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