Letters to the Editor
I liked Bill Frayer’s article in the February issue on statistical reasoning and decision making. That process should be given more attention in everyday life.
I am always awed by the courage and work of Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis who risked his job and reputation by exposing the dangerous behaviors of then practicing physicians in 1840s Vienna. Now recognized as the “savior of mothers,” he knew statistically that physician behavior caused the deaths of women in childbirth. At that same hospital, the mid-wives treating charity cases had many fewer complications and deaths. Physicians went directly to tend patients immediately after working on cadavers without washing their hands; mid-wives did not work on cadavers.
Semmelweis was ostracized and fired for his allegations. Much later, Pasteur discovered why these women died from infections. This was much the same problem faced by the United States Surgeon General when he issued his 1957 warning about smoking. He knew statistically that smoking caused premature deaths, but he couldn’t show exactly why.
That came later.
Statistical reasoning is difficult for many people to accept. It addresses probabilities, not absolutes.