In the words of Bernard Black, this is fantastic.

There’s a great article on talking about science reporting and why most news reports claiming there’s a new cure for X, or that Z causes cancer, are wrong.

And I use Bernard Black specifically here for an important reason – he’s smoking and drinking. We [that’s the scientist we] are pretty clear that we know causes cancer. And drinking wine, which we [again, the scientist we] are less clear about.

The article includes a great visualisation for thinking about cancer risk – studies which show an increased and reduced risk of cancer.

I love this graphic so much. I think it communicates so much – but if I’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that science literacy can’t be taken for granted.

So while I think this is a great example of science communication, I want to know from you guys – what do you think? Is this informative?

Will you remember this next week?

Just how, exactly, do our interventions work?


Kathy · March 25, 2015 at 7:43 pm

Yes, this is helpful. I think it would be much more powerful to put the magnitude of risk in perspective by including smoking (or something else with an enormous body of literature backing its risk). Compared to smoking, what’s the risk of cancer from consuming tea, milk, or butter ? My guess is that smoking would have many, many dots waaay off to the right.

Also, I wonder why the author used such different scales on the left and right. That doesn’t help the non-scientist!

    jilly · March 25, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    Hi Kathy – I thought that too, so I started googling “relative risk smoking” and I actually found it quite difficult to find references for relative risk of lung cancer (ovarian cancer seems to bounce around 5 for example), I guess that’s because the type and duration of cigarette usage is variable. But it surprised me all the same. With more time than I could reasonably spend on the blog this week I could probably find some good data, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be!

    I also hadn’t even realised the scales were different on either side – or rather, I had when I looked at specific numbers, but forgot about it after – my brain automatically assuming they’d be the same. Great points, Kathy!

Becky · March 26, 2015 at 6:59 pm

I thought I liked the graph until I too noticed that the scales were different. That’s just mean.

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