Statistical Malpractice Is Basis for Bad U.S. Policies, according to Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons

Jun 12, 2014, 11:42 ET from Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)

TUCSON, Ariz., June 12, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Public policy is often based on studies that are statistically flawed at the start, or are misrepresented in the press. William M. Briggs, Ph.D., explains six common fallacies in layman's terms in the summer issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

For example, the radon scare illustrates the "Everyone Else Said It Was True" Fallacy. A Danish study that showed no association between indoor radon levels and lung cancer was interpreted as being "compatible with" an increased risk. Authors speculated that possible risk factors for lung cancer such as "low fruit intake" might have been less prevalent in residents of homes with higher radon levels, thus explaining their negative results.

The fallacy is, Briggs explains, "Even though your results are the exact opposite of your belief, explain them away, then state your belief."

California rules on airborne particulate matter (dust) rest on the "Friend of a Friend" Fallacy. Researchers never actually measured exposure to dust but rather developed very complicated methods to guess at it.

Predictions of doom from "global warming" are based on the "Bandwagon" Fallacy. "What makes it worse," Briggs writes, "is that the predictions of doom, which assume the validity of global warming, are usually taken as proof of global warming—an argument that is exactly backward."

Contradictory pronouncements about the benefit, lack of benefit, or danger of chocolate, caffeine, antioxidant supplements, and pomegranate seeds are examples of the "Statistics Aren't What You Think They Are" Fallacy. The oft-cited P-value, Briggs explains, is not evidence that a theory is true, no matter how small it is.

"Scientists are no more immune to fads than civilians," he concludes.

The Journal is the official, peer-reviewed publication of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine and the patient-physician relationship.

SOURCE Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)