Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Biostatistics makes the news, and hope for advances

Black hole or black art, biostatistics (and its mother field statistics) is a topic people tend to avoid. I find this unfortunate, because it makes discussions of drug development and surveillance news rather difficult.

Yet these discussions affect millions of lives, from Avandia to echinacaea to zinc. So I get tickled pink when a good discussion of statistics comes out in the popular press. They even quoted two biostatisticians who know what they are talking about, Susan Ellenberg and Frank Harrell, Jr. Thanks, BusinessWeek! Talking about the pros and cons of meta-analysis is a difficult task, and that's if you're aiming for an audience of statisticians. To tackle the topic in a popular news magazine is courageous, and I hope establishes a trend.

On the other hand, I have a few friends who cannot pick up a copy of USA Today without casting a critical eye. Turns out, they had a professor who constantly was mining the paper for examples of bad statistical graphics. (I have nothing against USA Today. In fact, I've appreciated their treatment of transfats.)

In other news, two new books on missing data have been released this year. Little and Rubin have released the second edition of their useful 1987 book. Molenberghs and Kenward have come out with their book that's designed specifically for missing data in clinical studies. I ended up picking up the latter for its focus, and I attended a workshop earlier this year by Geert Molenberghs that was pretty good. I'm very glad these books have been release because they're sorely needed. And at the Joint Statistical Meetings this year, there was a very good session on missing data (including a very good presentation by a colleague). I hope this means in the future we can think more intelligently about how to handle missing data because, well, in clinical trials you can count on patients dropping out.