Statistics Basics

The first thing most people do when they're concerned about a dangerous disease like lymphoma is to begin looking at readily accessible sites like Wikipedia and the Mayo Clinic (and Northoma, if you're reading this). The second thing they do is start looking at academic sites, like journal articles and clinical reports.

Finding a wealth of published material can be comforting, or frightening, depending on what it says. One thing is certain, though: it's perilously easy to get lost in the morass of technical terms and convoluted statistics found in most scholarly work. One solution -- a highly unrealistic one -- is simply to tell people not to read advanced research. Another is to help them understand what it means.

I am not an oncologist, or, for that matter, any other sort of physician or clinician. My background is in the social sciences and the humanities. I do, however, have graduate training in statistics. This does not help me produce quantitative information about medical issues. It does, however, help me understand what they mean -- well, that, plus plenty of other research once I realized how confused I was getting. I hope to accomplish the same task for other confused readers, here.