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Affymax, Inc. Message Board

  • thegreycorner thegreycorner Mar 16, 2013 2:48 PM Flag

    No joking matter: "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics". Ethical considerations of statisticians.

    The old joke is "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics". That is kind of funny but stops being funny once deaths occur.

    I am considering the slippery slope of the truth in the real world of biostatistics today. This discussion is not necessarily about the Affymax statistics department which, according to the Affymax web page, is run by Carol Francisco.

    As a society, we are taught to put aside our natural trust for people and to trust doctors. We are told this as children so that we feel comfortable being examined and we tend to tell this to ourselves as adutls too. We do this in part because the doctors take an oath, even though we know that words and oaths are meaningless to a lot of people. Also, we believe that doctors can be sued for malpractice, their licences can be revoked, etc. Who knows if any of this trust is justified? Probably to some extent.

    As for statisticians, we have the above running joke which we are somewhat comfortable with, partly because we don't really trust statisticans and we don't feel that we are putting our lives in their hands, as we would a doctor. By and large this is true - but in our current world, where drugs are often 'borderline' in status, we may reconsider whether we are putting our lives in the hands of statisticians who attempt to persudae the FDA to approve a drug.

    The statisticians (to my knowledge) have never taken any oath of any sort, certainly not in regards to the health of others. They themselves may not see themselves as the deciders of peoples' fate. Practitclaly speaking, in todays biotech world, I wonder how much pressure there is on a company's statisticians to use every statistical approach (we may think of them more as statistcial 'tricks') to help a drug get approved. Is there an unwritten code of conduct? Is this situation exacerbated by a common situation in which the statisticans are from other countries, so that they may have less of an ability to sympathize with patients who may suffer?

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