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Archive of posts filed under the Public Health category.

Coronavirus jailbreak

Emma Pierson writes: My two sisters and I, with my friend Jacob Steinhardt, spent the last several days looking at the statistical methodology in a paper which has achieved a lot of press – Incarceration and Its Disseminations: COVID-19 Pandemic Lessons From Chicago’s Cook County Jail (results in supplement), published in Health Affairs. (Here’s the […]

New England Journal of Medicine engages in typical academic corporate ass-covering behavior

James Watson (not the racist dude who, in 1998, said that a cancer cure was coming in 2 years) writes: About a month ago, when the infamous Lancet hydroxychloroquine/chloroquine paper was still “real science” (i.e. in the official scientific record), we decided to put extra pressure on the authors by writing an open letter to […]

Inference for coronavirus prevalence by inverting hypothesis tests

Panos Toulis writes: The debate on the Santa Clara study actually me to think about the problem from a finite sample inference perspective. In this case, we can fully write down the density f(S | θ) in known analytic form, where S = (vector of) test positives, θ = parameters (i.e., sensitivity, specificity and prevalence). […]

No, I don’t believe that claim based on regression discontinuity analysis that . . .

tl;dr. See point 4 below. Despite the p-less-than-0.05 statistical significance of the discontinuity in the above graph, no, I do not believe that losing a close election causes U.S. governors to die 5-10 years longer, as was claimed in this recently published article. Or, to put it another way: Despite the p-less-than-0.05 statistical significance of […]

The value of thinking about varying treatment effects: coronavirus example

Yesterday we discussed difficulties with the concept of average treatment effect. Part of designing a study is accounting for uncertainty in effect sizes. Unfortunately there is a tradition in clinical trials of making optimistic assumptions in order to claim high power. Here is an example that came up in March, 2020. A doctor was designing […]

No, there is no “tension between getting it fast and getting it right”

When reading Retraction Watch, I came across this quote: “There is always a tension between getting it fast and getting it right,” said Dr. Marcia Angell, another former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine. “I always favored getting it right. But in the current pandemic, that balance may have shifted too […]

“The Intellectuals and the Masses”

I just read “The Intellectuals and the Masses,” a book from 1992 by the literary critic and English professor John Carey. I really liked the book, and after finishing it I decided to get some further perspective by reading some reviews. I found two excellent reviews online, a negative review in the London Independent by […]

“Estimating the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe”

Seth Flaxman writes: Our work on non-pharmaceutical interventions in 11 European countries (originally Imperial report 13) is now published in Nature, Estimating the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe. Of note for your readers: 1) Nature has an open peer review process, so you can see the (pre-publication) peer review here. 2) Between […]

(Some) forecasting for COVID-19 has failed: a discussion of Taleb and Ioannidis et al.

Nassim Taleb points us to this pair of papers: On single point forecasts for fat tailed variables, by Nassim Taleb Forecasting for COVID-19 has failed, by John Ioannidis, Sally Cripps, and Martin Tanner The two articles agree in their mistrust of media-certified experts. Here’s Taleb: Both forecasters and their critics are wrong: At the onset […]

Am I missing something here? This estimate seems off by several orders of magnitude!

A reporter writes: I’m writing about a new preprint by doctors at Stanford University and UCLA on relative COVID-19 risk, in which they assert the risk is much less than most people might think. One author in an interview compared it to the risk of food poisoning. It’s a preprint so it’s obviously not fully […]

Advice for a yoga studio that wants to reopen?

This post is by Phil Price, not Andrew. My 79-year-old mom likes to go to yoga classes, although of course she has not done so in months. Her favorite yoga place is cautiously reopening — they’ve had a few sessions with just eight or ten people in a rather large space (I’m going to guess […]

Challenges to the Reproducibility of Machine Learning Models in Health Care; also a brief discussion about not overrating randomized clinical trials

Mark Tuttle pointed me to this article by Andrew Beam, Arjun Manrai, and Marzyeh Ghassemi, Challenges to the Reproducibility of Machine Learning Models in Health Care, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Beam et al. write: Reproducibility has been an important and intensely debated topic in science and medicine for the […]

Parking lot statistics—a story in three parts

Part 1: Here’s a 1993 article from the American Sociological Review in which church attendance was measured by the number of cars in the parking lot (link from here). Part 2: In 2005 or 2006, an economist who does statistics reportedly tries to run over a sociologist who does statistics in a parking lot (but […]

Vaccine development as a decision problem

This post by Alex Tabarrok hits all the right notes: At current rates, the US economy is losing about $40 billion a week. Thus, if $20 billion could advance a vaccine by just one week that would be a good deal. . . . It might seem expensive to invest in capacity for a vaccine […]

How should those Lancet/Surgisphere/Harvard data have been analyzed?

As you will recall, the original criticism of the recent Lancet/Surgisphere/Harvard paper on hydro-oxy-whatever was not that the data came from a Theranos-like company that employs more adult-content models than statisticians, but rather that the data, being observational, required some adjustment to yield strong causal conclusions—and the causal adjustment reported in that article did not […]

Sequential Bayesian Designs for Rapid Learning in COVID-19 Clinical Trials

This from Frank Harrell looks important: This trial will adopt a Bayesian framework. Continuous learning from data and computation of probabilities that are directly applicable to decision making in the face of uncertainty are hallmarks of the Bayesian approach. Bayesian sequential designs are the simplest of flexible designs, and continuous learning capitalizes on their efficiency, […]

Thank you, James Watson. Thank you, Peter Ellis. (Lancet: You should do the right thing and credit them for your retraction. Actually, do one better and invite them to write a joint editorial in your journal.)

So, Lancet issued a retraction of that controversy hydro-oxy-choloro-supercalifragilisticexpialadocious paper. From three of the four authors of the now-retracted paper: After publication of our Lancet Article, several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analyses conducted by Surgisphere Corporation and its founder and our co-author, Sapan Desai, in our publication. […]

Can someone build a Bayesian tool that takes into account your symptoms and where you live to estimate your probability of having coronavirus?

Carl Mears writes: I’m married to a doctor who does primary care with a mostly disadvantaged patient base. The problem her patients face is if they get tested for COVID, they are supposed to self quarantine until they get their test results, which currently takes something like a week. Also, their *family* is supposed to […]

This one’s important: Bayesian workflow for disease transmission modeling in Stan

Léo Grinsztajn, Elizaveta Semenova, Charles Margossian, and Julien Riou write: This tutorial shows how to build, fit, and criticize disease transmission models in Stan, and should be useful to researchers interested in modeling the COVID-19 outbreak and doing Bayesian inference. Bayesian modeling provides a principled way to quantify uncertainty and incorporate prior knowledge into the […]

This one’s for the Lancet editorial board: A trolley problem for our times (involving a plate of delicious cookies and a steaming pile of poop)

A trolley problem for our times OK, I couldn’t quite frame this one as a trolley problem—maybe those of you who are more philosophically adept than I am can do this—so I set it up as a cookie problem? Here it is: Suppose someone was to knock on your office door and use some mix […]