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Fear or favour? Statistics in pathology
  1. Angie Wade1
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford St, London WC1N 1EH, UK
  1. Dr Wade

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Statistics have a role to play in most areas of medical research including the field of pathology. We have come a long way since 1954 when the British Medical Journal published excerpts from a debate held by the Study Circle on Medical Statistics as to whether the then growing influence of statistics in medicine was, in fact, welcome.1 One speaker declared that, “medicine was an art, statistics a science; he conceded that the latter had its uses, but when it came to mixing science and art, statistics was as out of place as a skillet in a Crown Derby tea-service.” He concluded that “statistics might be all very well for the elite but were a menace to the mob.” Someone else “referred darkly to the deliberate misuse of statistics, fostered—for what purpose ?—by statisticians themselves. Statistical publications, he said, could be recognised by the prolixity of their tables. In his view no papers should contain any tables at all.” The debate concluded with the motion that the influence of statistics should be welcomed in all branches of medicine and this was carried by a narrow majority on a show of hands.

In the intervening 45 years there has been a mushrooming of statistical literature designed to assist the medical researcher, with numerous articles highlighting misuses of statistics and giving pointers towards improvement. There has been a growing understanding that statisticians are concerned with the whole process of research, from study design through to final conclusions, and are not merely purveyors of p values and analytical methodology. The more recent evidence based medicine movement has served to further publicise this recognition. As H G Wells predicted, “statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.”

The lessons have been numerous and …

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