Based on my reading of a New York Times story in my local Star Tribune today, I was ready to blast the Times.
I was reading the story out of the American College of Cardiology meeting on the new data suggesting that statins can reduce the risk of venous thromboembolism.
By how much can statins reduce the risk? Depends on which version of the NYT story you read.
The Times reports:
“With the relatively healthy people in the study, the number of clots was small — 94 total — but the placebo group developed 60 of them, compared with 34 for those taking the statin.”
But the Star Tribune version of the Times story doesn’t include that absolute risk reduction figure and, instead, only lists the more impressive sounding relative risk reduction figure:
“relatively healthy people who took a potent statin were 43 percent less likely than those who took a placebo to get a blood clot known as venous thromboembolism.”
The Wall Street Journal’s simple language was the most helpful for readers:
“34 participants who were taking Crestor developed VTE compared to 60 who were taking a placebo – a small absolute benefit but a relative risk reduction of 43 percent.”
To editors who trim wire stories – or who don’t know to look for absolute data – I can’t state strongly enough how incomplete your stories are if you don’t include absolute risk data.
Borrowing an analogy from Woloshin and Schwartz of Dartmouth, citing relative risk only is like having a coupon for 43 percent off. But you don’t know whether it’s 43 percent off the cost of a Lexus or off the cost of a lollipop.
GIVE US THE ABSOLUTE DATA OR DON’T GIVE US THE STORY AT ALL!!!