Professor Hans Rosling, a statistician and public educator who was committed to sharing the joy - and importance - of statistics, died yesterday. In a statement posted on the Gapminder website, his son and daughter-in-law, Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, explained that Prof. Rosling had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago and that he had passed away early Tuesday morning, surrounded by his family in Uppsala, Sweden.
It remains one of history’s best-known naval tragedies – and mysteries. The loss of all 129 men of the 1845 Royal Navy expedition led by Captain Sir John Franklin to navigate a north-west passage through the Arctic remains an enigma. The only informative document to be recovered from the expedition was a single page that reported initial good progress through 1845 to 1847, but then the desertion of the ships in 1848 by which point nine officers – including Sir John Franklin – and 15 other ranks were reported to have died.
Last year, the vaccination debate was all the rage again. “Pro-vaxxers” were loudly proclaiming that everyone should get vaccinated and discussing the science behind it, and “anti-vaxxers” were casting their doubts and still refusing to get vaccinated for personal reasons. Around that time, The Wall Street Journal released a brilliant series of heat maps showing infection rates for various diseases over time, broken down by state. These heat maps easily demonstrated one of the most important facts in the vaccination debate: Time and time again, vaccines work.
It is well known that human health changes with the seasons. Hippocrates, writing 2,500 years ago, observed that ‘In autumn, diseases are most acute, and most mortal, on the whole. The spring is most healthy, and least mortal.’ The ancient tradition of astrology also sometimes attributes health conditions to the season of one’s birth.
In the June 2015 issue of their magazine, Consumer Reports tries to convince me to wear a bicycle helmet. They do not succeed, nor should they. While it may be true that we should all be wearing helmets, nobody should be persuaded by Consumer Reports' statistical arguments, which are so silly as to be laughable.
At the start of a disease outbreak, there is one statistic epidemiologists must quickly try to calculate: r-nought, or R0 – the basic reproduction number of a disease. R0 tells us the average number of people who will be infected by one infected person before that person dies or gets better. If R0 is less than 1, epidemiologists can breath a little easier. If R0 is greater than 1, we might have an epidemic on our hands.
Sometimes Facebook’s suggestions of things to read lead to some seriously funny material. After clicking on a link about vaccines, Facebook recommended I read an article about health outcomes in unvaccinated children. Reading this rubbish made me as annoyed as a certain box of blinking lights, but it again affords me the opportunity to describe how people can confuse, bamboozle, and twist logic using bad statistics.