ASQ - Statistics Division

Statistics and Medicine – Mini Paper Taken from the Fall 2000 Newsletter

Abstract: Statistics deals with the difficulties of getting and interpreting evidence which is often inexact and possibly misleading. This is an important concept in medicine, where evidence is often very indirect. There are many historical examples in which statistical thinking led to important theoretical developments in medicine. However, developing theory and applying theory are two different things: we might consider avoiding a particular treatment if we have reasonable suspicions of serious side effects. Furthermore, for quite some time it was thought that statistical evidence could be used to suggest a theory, but not to prove it. To aid in proving theories, Karl Pearson suggested that tests should be carried out under precisely the same conditions that would be used in practice. This principle is the foundation of modern clinical trials which require testing of treatments in actual use. Clearly, the validity of these tests is dependent on assumptions, both statistical and concerning the usage environment.

Keywords: Statistics - Medicine - Scientific method - Statistical Thinking

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