Archive for the ‘Quantitative Reasoning’ Category

Medical Error: Third Leading Cause of Death in the US

Sunday, July 10th, 2016

According to a Johns Hopkins study by Martin A. Makary and Michael Daniel, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US, with approximately 251,000 deaths annually due to this cause. Here’s the reference:

Makary, M. A. and M. Daniel (2016). “Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 353: i2139.

Deaths by medical error thus far exceed death by gun (34,000), by motor vehicles (34,000) – and therefore to a great extent by alcohol, by suicide (41,000), and by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD (149,000), and are second only to death by heart disease (611,000) and to cancer (585,000). It is also likely that medical error disproportionately harms the poor.

We should therefore have a walk / run for the cure, ribbons, etc. to reduce medical error!

If our government were aligned to truly better the human condition, we would systematically address medical error, and diseases like sickle cell, which itself confers a likely death sentence on 100,000 US citizens and on 5 million Nigerians! Yet activists by and large ignore sickle cell disease, perhaps because gun violence draws more media and political attention. Anti-gun activism reinforces media viewing and drives political action. But it potentially saves far fewer lives than an effective campaign against medical error, or against smoking.

US Hispanics, who face similar poverty among their ranks, tend to outlive African Americans by six years – probably due to lower smoking rates among Hispanics, according to a 2013 report from the Population Reference Bureau. Anti-smoking activists are still waiting for President Obama, a former(?) smoker, to speak out loudly on this critical public health issue.

Politics, not public health concerns, therefore drives our public health priorities. If our priority was human life, the medical error and other larger public health challenges would be addressed.

Addressing societal ineffectiveness and inefficiency is therefore indeed a social justice issue. This is one point almost universally missed by political and by religious leaders especially. Every time Pope Francis speaks out against modern society’s drive for efficiency, I cringe, thinking of the annual 251,000 US deaths due to medical error, and of the untold number of such unnecessary deaths worldwide.

Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, 2012, Bloombury Press, by Marty Makary MD, ISBN 978-1-60819-838-2, has some good suggestions on reducing medical error.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

The views posted at are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.


An Important Review of Misleading Statistics on Homosexuality

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

There are few more contentious topics than statistics on same-sex behavior.

When popular truisms are questioned by professional scientists, as were Alfred C. Kinsey‘s statistics by the American Statistical Association in 1954, the response from the popular media is often dead silence. The general public is still not aware of the devastating debunking of Kinsey’s numbers by some of the world’s best statisticians:

“Critics are justified in their objections that many of the most interesting and provocative statements in the [Kinsey 1948] book are not based on the data presented therein, and it is not made clear to the reader on what evidence the statements are based. Further, the conclusions drawn from data presented in the book are often stated by KPM [Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin] in much too bold and confident a manner. Taken cumulatively, these objections amount to saying that much of the writing in the book falls below the level of good scientific writing.”

Cochran, William Gemmell, W. O. Jenkins, Frederick Mosteller, and John Wilder Tukey. 1954. Statistical problems of the Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. American Statistical Association, National Research Council (U.S.). Committee for Research in Problems of Sex – Psychology

Now Wheaton College provost Stanton L. Jones has published a comprehensive review and correction of misleading same-sex statistics. An abbreviated version of this article appeared in the February 2012 First Things. But here is the extended version, with references, from the Center for Applied Christian Ethics (CACE).

In his CACE article, Prof. Jones addresses what he calls “false beliefs about homosexuality”:

    “Being gay is just as healthy, both in terms of mental health and physical health, as being straight;
    sexual orientation, just like race, is a biologically determined given to which environmental variables such as family and culture contribute nothing and to which individuals make no voluntary contribution;
    sexual orientation cannot be changed, and thus the attempt to change is intrinsically harmful;
    homosexual relationships are equivalent to heterosexual marriage in all important characteristics; and
    identity is properly and legitimately constituted around sexual orientation.”

“Sexual Orientation and Reason: On the Implications of False Beliefs about Homosexuality,” by Stanton L. Jones, Center for Applied Christian Ethics, accessed 1/21/12

I thank Prof. Stanton L. Jones for his important and reasoned contribution to a topic too often ruled by mythology and propaganda.

Please see my earlier critique of Kinsey for further background on this question.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


James J. Heckman, Nobel prize winner, on early childhood health and education

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Prof. James J. Heckman, a Nobel prize-winning professor of economics and a foundational statistician,


has recently served as a US Presidential advisor on early childhood health and education. His scientific practice is generally a model of non-partisan, even-handed scholarship. He has assembled a summary of scientific research on early childhood health and education entitled, “Capability Formation, Early Intervention, and Long-Term Health” —

Two striking studies cited on the 38th slide within Prof. Heckman’s compendium above pertain to the strong relationship between breastfeeding and childhood intelligence.

The contribution of breastfeeding as an advancement in public health over the past six decades has been due in great part to the work of the La Leche League International–

In my article posted on this blog page, Reynold Hillenbrand: A Reassessment, I chronicle the connection between the La Leche League and Catholic Action.

Why breastfeeding is not a central public health, community development, and educational strategy, despite the scientific evidence in its favor, has much to do with bad science and bad politics. Our society is not prepared to accommodate mothers who breastfeed their babies, whether in the workplace, the home, or society in general, by allocating time and space to mothers who do so. Those educators and change agents who do not, in the face of scientific evidence, support accommodations for the breastfeeding of children, make a fundamental strategic mistake.

For a critical exchange on Prof. Heckman’s work on early childhood, please see–

For a recent article on Prof. Heckman’s approach to IQ, and “grit”–

An NPR interview with Prof. Heckman–

© Copyright 2009, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved


Mini book review — Policy & Evidence in a Partisan Age: The Great Disconnect

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

I’ve been reading Policy & Evidence in a Partisan Age: The Great Disconnect, by Paul Gary Wyckoff, which makes an explicit attempt to inject scientific evidence and discipline (as opposed to ideological concerns) into policy making. 


Prof. Wyckoff seeks a “third view of government policy, based upon the empirical literature–one that acknowledges the limitations of government policy for good and for ill.” Economy and society, according to Prof. Wyckoff, “are shaped by powerful forces that are largely independent of government policy.” Prof. Wyckoff’s “third view” approach seeks to not over-promise what government can do, but to help people in realistic and limited ways to cope and adapt to pain and suffering caused by larger social problems.

Prof. Wyckoff suggests changes to the curricula of the fields of economics and law so that evidence-based, statistical approaches to public policy can become more widespread.    Prof. Wyckoff debunks what he calls the “patent medicine” or “elixirs” of both the Right and the Left in his presentation, pertaining to a) the lack of economic development from sports stadiums;  the limited impact of b) presidents, c) tax cuts, or public spending upon economies; the limited impact of d) educational spending upon the poor; the constraints on e) state and local government to change their own economies without hurting some of their constituents; and the lack of improvement that f) welfare reform has brought to the lives of welfare recipients.   

I’ll update this post once I’ve finished his book, but I do recommend it based upon what I’ve read so far.

The quickest way for a person to acquaint themselves with basic statistical reasoning is to watch the twenty-six episodes of the PBS series, Against All Odds, now available on video-on-demand (VOD) in the US and Canada.

© Copyright 2009, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved