Policymakers should not act like scientists?

by reestheskin on 20/01/2017

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In June 2016, data released by the UK’s Office for National Statistics revealed that there had been 52,400 more deaths in the year following June 2015 compared with the same period a year before; an annual rise of 9%. These rises in mortality rates are unprecedented in post-war times. In England and Wales, the increase was almost entirely in the population aged over 55 years, predominantly in those aged over 75, and was largely attributed to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with influenza being suggested as a minor contributory factor. It was mostly those with long-term care needs who were dying earlier.

In addition, in late 2016, official data was released for Scotland showing no rise in life expectancy for men and women for the first time in 160 years.

These are two quotes from an article in yet another new journal, Nature Human Behaviour. The title of the piece, ‘Policymakers should not act like scientists’, is worth thinking over. There is always a bias built into ‘tests of departure from..’ and those who control the funding, can control what counts as legitimate evidence. And the null hypothesis of the ‘classical statistical paradigm’ is not appropriate for many types of problems. From somewhere, I remember a comment from Paul Jannsen along the lines of, ‘in those days the idea of obviousness still existed’. As we saw last week,  in the debate about the NHS, in the mouths of politicians a handful can mean upwards of 10,000. As is often misquoted: the plural of anecdote is data.