The Median Is Not The Message (Stephen Jay Gould)

In 1982, I learned I was suffering from a rare and serious cancer. After surgery, I asked my doctor what the best technical literature on the cancer was. She told me, with a touch of diplomacy, that there was nothing really worth reading. I soon realized why she had offered that humane advice: my cancer is incurable, with a median mortality of eight months after discovery.

The problem may be briefly stated: What does “median mortality of eight months” signify in our vernacular? I suspect that most people, without training in statistics, would read such a statement as “I will probably be dead in eight months” the very conclusion that must be avoided, since it isn’t so.

via Stephen Jay Gould, The Median Is Not The Message

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