epidemiology in Le Monde

Quite an interesting weekend Le Monde issue: a fourth (2 pages!) of the science folder is devoted to epidemiology… In the statistical sense. (The subtitle is actually Strengths and limitations of Statistics.) The paper does not delve into technical statistical issues but points out the logical divergence between a case-by-case study and an epidemiological study. The impression that the higher the conditioning (i.e. the more covariates), the better the explanation is a statistical fallacy some of the opponents interviewed in the paper do not grasp. (Which reminded me of Keynes seemingly going the same way.) The short paragraph written on causality and Hill’s criteria is vague enough to concur to the overall remark that causality can never been proved or disproved… The fourth examples illustrating the strengths and limitations are tobacco vs. lung cancer, a clear case except for R.A. Fisher!, mobile phones vs. brain tumors, a not yet conclusive setting, hepatitis B vaccine vs. sclerosis, lacking data (the pre-2006 records were destroyed for legal reasons), and leukemia vs. nuclear plants, with a significant [?!] correlation between the number of cases and the distance to a nuclear plant. (The paper was inspired by a report recently published by the French Académie de Médecine on epidemiology in France.) The science folder also includes a review of a recent Science paper by Wilhite and Fong on the coercive strategies used by some journals/editors to increase their impact factor, e.g., “you cite Leukemia [once in 42 references]. Consequently, we kindly ask you to add references of articles published in Leukemia to your present article”.

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