August 17th, 2010
I long ago learned to treat any mainstream media news story which attempted to use statistics extremely gingerly, but this one’s just too sad for words.
The CBC excitedly informs us that 32.6% of hospital beds in Quebec are occupied by current or former smokers. This, it is suggested, means “caring for smokers in hospital costs Quebec’s health-care system $930 million a year” and “smokers are taking up beds and costing the Quebec health-care system millions a year”.
What is sadly lacking from the article is *any* mention at all of the other piece of data without which the number cited means precisely nothing…
yes, chorus along with me – so, how many people in Quebec actually smoke, then?
Well, 23.3%, apparently. So it would appear there’s something to this story, in that smokers seem to be taking a disproportionate amount of hospital space. Still, you’d have absolutely no way of knowing that from the story as presented by CBC. And in fact, that number doesn’t account for the ‘and former smokers’ wrinkle, so it’s entirely possible there’s virtually no substance to this story at all.
(I’m not suggesting smoking has no health effects, here. Of course it does. That’s been well demonstrated by years of medical studies, many of them written by researchers with a post-kindergarten grasp on the use of statistics. I’m just pointing out a particularly egregious example of the journalistic utterly meaningless statistic…)