I don’t buy lottery tickets. I’m not saying anything about those that do, but I’ve never seen the ridiculous unlikelihood of a lotto winning as being something worth worrying about. What’s worse, the one time I did buy a lotto ticket I showed myself just how stupid I can be. It was back in college and the lotto jackpot was $10,000,000. I bought a ticket on a whim and didn’t anticipate winning. But on a not-so-logical level, I knew I would win. It’s always that guy who buys a ticket for the big prize on a whim that wins, and that was me. That ridiculous voice in the back of my head would not shut up even though I knew it was folly to listen to it. And as I waited for the drawing to take place, my blood ran cold.
If I won, I thought, I would never qualify for another student loan.
Of course, it didn’t take long for me to slap my own head. With $10,000,000 to work with I could probably afford tuition and housing during my last few semesters. It was just such a stupid thing to even worry about, and yet I was swimming in a sea of irrationality, and it taught me that obviously buying lotto tickets was just not my thing.
We all work with statistics every day. Hopping into the car on the way to work holds a certain statistical possibility of injury. According to WikiAnswers, which is obviously not the most accurate measure of anything, the odds of dying in a car crash in the USA over a 50 year career as a driver are roughly 1%. This number is not enough to dissuade us. Children as they become more self-aware begin to weigh the odds of success in stealing a cookie. If you’re caught, you get in trouble. If you get away with it, you get a cookie. But you don’t attempt to steal one when Mom’s in the room, you play your most likely outcomes. Any time you’re taking your chances like that, you’re a gambler.
So where am I going with this? Well, I just read a really interesting article about the reality of dying of cancerby David Gorski over at Science-Based Medicine. The point of the article is to say essentially that, contrary to what the peddlers of woo will tell you, there is no healthy and peaceful death from cancer. The idea that certain alternative medical solutions can in some way give you a better death is false and quite frankly, sick. And I agree with that.
My additional two cents on the subject is fairly simple. Your best bet to beating cancer is chemotherapy. Until a better solution becomes available, that’s statistically your best bet. There are all kinds of claims made by the alt-med community about the efficacy of their products, but none of them has stood up to any kind of scrutiny. Benefits are usually measured the same or only slightly higher than the placebo effect. This is the reality. They cannot show you legitimate and valid tests that give you any better chances than fluke.
Now, should a treatment come from the alt-med community that can show a significant statistical likelihood of improving your odds of survival, I’m not against that. But the tests that validate the claim and provide these statistics have got to be sound. And sound testing isn’t really the ballpark of the alt-med circuit.
It’s all in the numbers. My best chance to survive cancer is chemotherapy? Then if I get cancer I’ll take the chemotherapy. When flu season hits and a nasty bitch of a flu is floating around, I’ll take the vaccine unless there’s a statistically significant chance of serious adverse reaction, and then I’ll be forced to weigh which is more potentially destructive to me.
I had a conversation with a friend last night, and the subject of vaccines and autism came up. That was really the seed point for this post today. I was thinking about the so-called link between vaccination and autism (which of course has been blown to smithereens in far too many legitimate studies to document here) and the statistics just seemed ludicrous. We know that autism has existed before the vaccinations were available, and we know that the number of autism diagnoses is on the rise. If we discount the massive quantity of data that shows that this is the result primarily of better screening and diagnosis and we simply put the blame squarely on vaccines, how much impact could they possibly have on autism rates?
I wasn’t sure on exact numbers, and Google has been misbehaving for me today, but I found the article at Time Magazine’s website (New Studies See a Higher Rate of Autism: Is the Jump Real?) that states that the rate has increased from 1 in 150 to 1 in 100. If we put all other reason aside and focus only on the MMR vaccine as the threat, that means that the increase is a third of a percent. Hardly an impressive increase, and if that number was actually a valid representation of the risk of autism from vaccination with the MMR vaccine then you’re two thirds of a percent more likely to at some point in the next 50 years die in a car accident. The diseases that the MMR vaccine protects us from are unpleasant and dangerous, and to me it’s not even a question of which is the safer choice.
But of course, there is third of a percent increase from the MMR vaccine, or from any vaccine. Every legitimate scientific study has shown that there is no relationship, and the paper that first created the controversy has been discredited, and the research methods used resulted in Andrew Wakefield’s discipline by the General Medical Council. But the myth continues.
Gamble on, people. Make smart decisions. Do what’s best for you and your children. Fight to live as long and as well as possible. Take risks and enjoy rewards. But when you’re faced with those big decisions in life, take the road with the most likely chance of getting you where you want to be. It’s just common sense.