Many Studies Have 'Elementary Statistical Errors'

Prominent Statistician Calls for Greater Collaboration With Clinicians

Andrew J. Vickers, DPhil


May 23, 2013

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Hello. I am Andrew Vickers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. I am here in San Diego, California, at the AUA (American Urological Association) Annual Scientific Meeting. Meetings like this are all about beta. People are presenting the results of their trials or some retrospective analysis of surgical databases. It is all about the numbers, the P values, the hazard ratios, and so on.

As a statistician, I see a lot of data analysis and a lot of numbers. I hope to see a lot of statisticians but I do not see many at a meeting like this. Everyone here is a urologist. Few others are specialists in analyzing data. In fact, if you go to the research meetings and see these presentations, and you look at the author list, you do not see statisticians on that list. Data analyses are being done by non-statisticians.

I have a bit of a problem with that. I do not go into the operating room and perform urologic surgery, so why are the urologists going into the dry lab and doing the stats? A lot of those stats have really basic elementary flaws in them. Sometimes, as I sit through these meetings, people will come sit next to me. They know I am a statistician and they spend the entire meeting nudging me, saying, "Wait a minute, is that right? Can they do that? Is that a good statistical technique?" And I say, "No, no, no, that is totally wrong." And they ask, "Why didn't you say something?" I say, "Because I would be at the microphone the whole time."

Clearly, things have gone very badly wrong. We are at a major scientific meeting. People are presenting data that could affect the care of thousands or tens of thousands of men and there are elementary statistical errors that may seriously affect whether we believe their conclusions are right or not.


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