What Mammograms Teach Us About Wildfires, Floods, and Tornadoes

colorado-floodIn the wake of the horrific floods that struck Colorado recently, many people have debated whether global warming is to blame. The same goes for wildfires that hit that state this summer and for the massive tornado that struck in Oklahoma this spring. In the wake of that tornado, for instance, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island claimed that Republican opposition to climate change legislation was at fault, for trying to “protect the market share of polluters.”  Senator Barbara Boxer was confident about the cause of the terrible twister too: “This is climate change” she said.

The same finger pointing occurred after super storm Sandy, with some people even claiming that global warming could make storms like Sandy into the new normal, occurring as often as every other year, and Governor Chris Christie just as adamantly denying that global warming played any role in this storm.

The problem with these debates is familiar to those of us in the medical community who have followed controversies about breast cancer screening—people mistakenly and all too understandably seek out explanations for individual events when science can only tell us about aggregate truths.  For the same reason we cannot tell whether an individual mammogram saved a woman’s life, we cannot determine whether any specific storm is the result of climate change.  Instead, we are left with what we can learn from statistics.

Wondering why we don’t know whether a specific mammography test saved a woman’s life? …(Read more and view comments at Forbes)

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