Category Archives: News

Are statisticians cool?

Steve Lohr, writer for the NY Times, seems to think so. He says that statisticians “are finding themselves increasingly in demand — and even cool”. Read his article based around Carrie Grimes – a statistician for Google.

Carrie Grimes conducts statistical analysis to research ways to improve the search engine. The article focuses on how and why she became a statistician, and why statistics seems to be increasingly popular.

Translating statistical findings into plain English

Need to report the results of a clinical trial?

Unsure what your results are actually telling you?

Read Pocock and Ware’s short comment for guidance.

Translating statistical findings into plain English – published in the Lancet, June 2009 (subscription content).

Pocock and Ware use real trial results to illustrate the “dos and don’ts” of trial reporting. It does not tell you exactly what to write – that depends on your particular trial – but it will point you in the right direction.

Spinning the Risk

Spinning the risk screenshot
Spinning the Risk screenshot

Everyone should have a quick play around with Spinning the Risk as it is an excellent example of how presenting risk in different ways can make things seem completely harmless or entirely life-threatening. 

On the excellent website Understanding Uncertainty, David Spiegelhalter and his team have created a wonderful tool. Spinning the Risk allows anyone to look at the different ways that health risks can be presented. At the moment it is just for the risk from bacon sandwiches and statins, but may be expanded.

Further explanation on the Understanding Uncertainty website… 

Spiegelhalter spoke passionately about Spinning the Risk at the ‘Statistical Methods and Medical Research: New Challenges for an Old Marriage’ conference at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The two-day conference was to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the MSc in Medical Statistics and it was a fantastic success. Amongst the wonderful presentations and intelligent discussions were, thankfully, a multitude of nerdy statistical jokes to lighten the mood. Unsurprisingly though, Spiegelhalter’s talk was one of the highlights and everyone should try to attend any of his future presentations.

Need examples of misuse of statistics?

Trying to teach a class about the misuse and abuse of statistics? Need examples?

There are many researchers who are passionate about exposing poor studies but, unfortunately, the incorrect use of statistics is still common. Many researchers still shy away from the rigorous application of statistical methods or, worse, use them incorrectly.

However, the good news is that there are people who are great at publicising statistical abuses for the general public. One of the best known of these in the UK is Dr. Ben Goldacre, writer of the weekly Bad Science column in the Guardian newspaper and online.

More specifically for medical statistics, cardiologist Dr. Eric Roehm, has a great site called Improving Medical Statistics on which he gives insightful examples of studies that have gone wrong.

Consulting opportunity

The UK-based animal health division of a company is urgently seeking a medical statistician to perform a meta-analysis of 26 published papers on the efficacy of a vaccine. If you are interested in this opportunity, email .

Canada needs you!

Millions of dollars are being invested to attract biomedical researchers into Canada. The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) are investing C$45.5 million to support, and therefore hope to attract, scientists working in key areas such as biomedicine, genomics, genetics, environment, natural resources and health research.

The Canadian Minister of Industry, Honourable Tony Clement, acknowledged that “the Government of Canada understands that advances in science and technology are essential to strengthen the competitiveness of Canada’s economy”. The investment will therefore provide ‘state-of-the-art’ laboratories and equipment to 312 researchers in 44 universities across Canada in order to ‘jump-start’ 251 research projects. The investment is intended to attract more researchers to the country by demonstrating that Canadian research institutions remain world class. Perhaps now is a good time to move to Canada!


Click here to read the CFI news release.

Capabilities of global health statistics

Are ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries really that different nowadays?

Professor Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, explores the differences between countries and gives a fantastic demonstration of the capabilities of global health statistics. A very lively video that should interest everyone.



Definitions of medical statistics and biostatistics.

Water fluoridation: will medical statisticians get their teeth into the issue?

An on-going public health debate has been re-ignited: should fluoride be put into water supplies? NHS South Central, a strategic health authority in the UK, will decide in February 2009 whether fluoride ought to be introduced into the Southampton and south west Hampshire water supplies. Around 195,000 people would be directly affected, but many more would be indirectly affected as other health authorities and primary care trusts watch the final decision closely.1

The water fluoridation debate has been going on a long time. Does fluoride improve dental health? Does fluoride damage other aspects of health? Would it be cost-efficient? Is it ethical for the state to take personal choice away?

Currently around 5 million (11%) people in England receive artificially fluoridated water, mainly in the Birmingham, Tyneside and West Midlands areas.2

NHS South Central is involving as many people as possible in the debate. For example, they have commissioned reports from economists and clinical experts, and asked residents to share their views. As of 12th December 2008, 8,000 residents had responded, suggesting that many people have passionate views about fluoridation.3

Whilst involving so many people is bound to be informative and help the final decision, how many medical statisticians, if any, have been involved? There is a great scope for medical statisticians to inform public debates such as this, especially ones who can communicate research effectively to the many people involved from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Read more about the debate.  


  1. NHS South Central. Accessed on 16/01/09 from NHS South Central website.
  2. British Fluoridation Society. Accessed on 16/01/09 from BFS website.
  3. NHS South Central. Accessed on 16/01/09 from NHS South Central website.

NHS permission

In November 2008 a new system was launched in the UK: The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Coordinated System for gaining NHS Permission (CSP). This aims to standardise and streamline the process for gaining NHS permission to conduct clinical research.

The NIHR claim that it will reduce any duplication in the NHS review process, provide a single point for applications, and clarify the roles and responsibilities of those involved (sponsors, investigators, etc). Many researchers will be welcoming this initiative!


To find out more visit the NIHR website.

New qualification

A new statistics qualification has been created by Quintiles, a “pharmaceutical services company” (a CRO), and SAS. According to Quintiles the “pharma and biotech industries have statistical requirements that our standard certification exams don’t measure”. The new qualification will create specialists in SAS programming for evaluating clinical trial results.

They will be taught the skills necessary to organise, analyse and report clinical trial results. The program is expected to be ready by May 2009.

The introduction of training of any kind is a great thing. Especially in these times where many people have very good general skills but need more specialised ones. However, hopefully the new program will prepare the “specialists” for work in clinical trials outside of CROs or industry, and at least give some mention that there are other statistical packages available, not just SAS. 

Quintiles’ news release for this qualification can be found on their website