Health studies lack good stats
Experts say medical research is threatened by a lack of investment in stats.
A lack of attention to biostatistics as a core scientific discipline threatens the value of the $800 million spent annually on Australian health research investment, in terms of improved health and lives saved, according to Australian researchers.
“The entire Australian medical research enterprise is at considerable risk of ‘drowning in data but starving for knowledge’,” say the authors of a new article in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Biostatistics “provides the theoretical basis for extracting knowledge from data in the presence of variability and uncertainty”, they say.
“It is a critical element of most empirical research in public health and clinical medicine, with the best studies incorporating biostatistical input on aspects from study design to data analysis and reporting. Biostatistical methods underpin key public health research disciplines, such as epidemiology and health services research, a role that reflects the core nature of the discipline of biostatistics.
“Superficial understanding of statistics can easily lead to unscientific practice (recently characterised as ‘cargo-cult statistics’) and may be seen as responsible in large part for the current ‘crisis of reproducibility’ in research.
“The emerging era of big data heightens the need for biostatistical expertise, with more decision makers and researchers aiming to extract value from complex messy data.”
In the US, the UK and continental Europe major universities have established departments of biostatistics, or have national centres in biostatistical methodology, as well as dedicated streams of funding for methodological research, they wrote.
In Australia, however, “there has never been systematic investment in the development of biostatistics … either in universities or via national funding schemes”, the team wrote.
“None of the major universities has a department of biostatistics.”