Recently, as I am part of the Macmillan online community due to having Leukaemia, the debate about statistics came up. It prompted me to consider statistical significance and the various statistics definitions out there to explore how I feel about them after they have became more than just numbers to me now. They are an indicator to my future now, relevant in a way they’ve never been before, vital statistics in a way, or should I really rely on them?
I started to think about why they are bandied around so much, I mean there are literally statistics for anything and everything but, are they really worth taking much notice of?
Statistics Definition – The science of collecting, analysing, presenting and interpreting data ~ More here ~ Cambridge Dictionary
In my case the statistics for the type of Leukaemia I have are pretty frightening but once I’d come to terms with this they gave me perspective, cleared my mind and enabled me to focus on what was important. I felt better knowing exactly what I was dealing with, I certainly wasn’t going to get anymore nasty shocks as I had with my original diagnosis. I’d been rushed into hospital one night thinking I had some sort of nasty infection, then 24hrs later I was starting chemotherapy and told I wouldn’t be going home for weeks… completely out of the blue.
Why do we furiously seek out statistics?
I can only speak from my own experience and I have given it a lot of thought since my diagnosis two years ago. Mainly I think it’s because we need perspective in order to deal with or process what has happened to us. When you are given the devastating news that you have a severe life limiting disease your mind goes into a spin, whirling with so many thoughts it really is a confusing and unsettling time. It’s only natural to want to start to make sense of it and statistics are one way of getting to grips with what you are dealing with. I can imagine this is the same for those with other life limiting illnesses or who receive serious injuries. I gives you a little clarity on what you are dealing with.
As far as my experience is concerned I’ve come to the conclusion that my hunt for information was my way of looking it directly in the eye and fighting back. I wasn’t going to be naive and let it get the better of me. I had been powerless when it came and overtook my body, powerless as to whether my treatment would be successful and powerless in the decisions my medical team made about my health. So doing this was my way of getting some of this power back and showing it I would not let it hide anything from me. Though statistics aren’t the only information that helped me they were certainly part of it.
Whenever I see AML (my Leukaemia) statistics my mood swings from that awful sinking feeling to telling myself that we are all individual and just because they are poor doesn’t particularly mean my future is. I focus on what is happening with me now, I am in remission and that’s all that matters. I feel empowered now that I know the worst possible scenario, there are no shocks hidden away and ‘it’ doesn’t know more than me.
Of course I totally agree that statistics aren’t the be all and end all and they can be interpreted as good or bad depending on your own perspective.
There is a famous quote about statistics popularised by Mark Twain “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics”
Statistics can be misused like anything, to prove, disprove or back up a weak argument but this doesn’t mean they are irrelevant in every field. Mistakes do happen but that doesn’t mean that the whole concept of them is wrong, in every profession mistakes are made but it doesn’t mean we stop believing in it. For example there are miscarriages in justice yet as a whole we still put our faith in the system.
Official statistics are regulated and their data should be collected from trustworthy sources in order to draw reliable conclusions and the study itself designed in a way that is relevant. Then the data has to be correctly analysed and checked.
Our government and other official bodies use them in debates and important decision making regarding our economy, housing, employment, education, the NHS, etc. For example the NHS use statistics to aid them in decision making regarding treatments and procedures as they give an indication as to whether they are working, viable or achieving reliable results. And they are essential in the development and study of clinical trials and development of treatments for diseases such as cancer. Cancer charities use them to monitor incidents of the disease, trends and improvements in treatments. As a society the help us to understand behaviours and the world we live in and give us perspective on what affects us.
I think the key is making sure they are from a reliable source and to remember they are only part of the picture. As long as they are relevant, valid and justified they can be very helpful. As I said before they helped me form a clear picture in my mind of my Leukaemia and without them I would have felt like I was fighting in the dark…hope that makes sense?! Please click here for more on my Leukaemia Diagnosis research
What do you think of statistics…please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts