[ExI] Saving your life

David Lubkin extropy at unreasonable.com
Mon Sep 24 17:43:22 UTC 2007

I've long been interested in critical thinking and routinely read 
each book I come across that deals with it in some way. So when I 
picked up a recent book

Calculated Risks: How to Know When Numbers Deceive You

by Gerd Gigerenzer (who Eliezer has praised for his understanding of 
Bayesian reasoning), I wasn't expecting anything new.

Meanwhile, I've also long been wary of doctors. I've had too much 
personal experience with incompetence, and I'm aware of other 
contributory factors -- fear of lawsuit, pharmaceutical company 
marketing, narrow specialization, skewing of public information 
available to patients, etc.

Still, I was stunned to read how wildly commonplace misinterpretation 
of probability information is. Not just by patients, but by 
physicians. In experiments the author (director of the Center for 
Adaptive Behavior and Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Human 
Development) ran, over 90% of doctors who were provided information 
on the accuracy of medical tests as they are typically described in 
medical journals and textbooks drew incorrect conclusions. The 
typical doctor overstated conditional probabilities *ten-fold*.

I haven't finished the book; what I've read so far was too compelling 
to wait on. In particular, chapter 5 has an eye-opening analysis of 
breast cancer screening that should be read by everyone who is or 
cares about a woman.

He may be wrong, or out-dated in some respects, but this goes on my 
list of books that command attention. Like Thomas Barnett or Alan 
Dershowitz, he brings up issues that must be discussed and 
thoughtfully analyzed, to confirm or rebut.

-- David.

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list