2014 Books: Medical Illuminations and another Trout in the Milk

The first cab off the rank for 2014 is Howard Wainer’s ‘Medical Illuminations: Using Evidence, Visualization & Statistical Thinking to Improve Healthcare’, Oxford University Press,  2014. It costs around $40 Australian.

Dr Wainer has written several great graphics books, including 2005’s ‘Graphic Discovery: a Trout in the Milk and Other Visual Adventures’, Princeton University Press.

The new book has more of a medical theme, including extremely useful chapters on medical prediction, the importance of showing diabetes patients real-time  and understandable information on their blood sugar levels, and the over-use of pie charts.

Although not mentioned in the above books, Florence Nightingale, Nursing pioneer and first female Fellow of what was to become the Royal Statistical Society, developed and used graphs and charts (admittedly an early form of pie chart). Ms Nightingale used such graphs to clearly show Queen Victoria, who wasn’t a statistician and wouldn’t have appreciated heaps and heaps of tables, the very real problems that soldiers were facing in the Crimean War due to poor sanitation.

Since then, much medical data is routinely collected and statistically analysed, but there is still a long way to go in terms of portraying and illuminating that information to medical staff and the patients and carers themselves.  Books like Medical Illuminations, supplemented by general info on the ‘how’ of graphic presentation using readily available software (Wainer’s texts focus mainly on the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘why’), will help to achieve such an important goal.

Recommended, for non-statisticians and statisticians alike!

Oxford University Press website: http://www.oup.com.au/titles/academic/medicine/9780199668793

Electric Stats: PSPP and SPSS

Most people use computer stats packages if they want to perform statistical or data analysis. One of the most popular packages, particularly in psychology and physiotherapy, is SPSS, now known as IBM SPSS. Although there is room for growth in some areas such as ‘robust regression’ (regression for handling data that may not follow the usual assumptions), IBM SPSS has many jazzy features / options such as decision trees and neural nets and Monte Carlo simulation, as well as all the old faves like ANOVA, t-tests and chi-square.

I love SPSS and have been using it since 1981, back when SPSS analyses had to be submitted to run after 11 pm (23:00) so as not to hog the ‘mainframe’ computer resources. Alas, as with Minitab, SAS and Stata and others, SPSS can be expensive if you’re not a student or academic. An open source alternative that is free as in sarsparilla and free as in speech, is GNU PSPP, which has nothing whatsoever to do with IBM or the former SPSS Inc.

PSPP has a syntax or command line / program interface for old school users such as myself, *and* a snazzy GUI or Graphic User Interface. Currently, it doesn’t have all the features that 1981 SPSS had (e.g. ‘two-way ANOVA’), let alone the more recent features, although it does have logistic regression for binary outcomes such as depressed / non depressed. PSPP is easy to use (easier than open source R and perhaps even R Commander, although nowhere near as powerful).

PSPP can handle most basic analyses, and is great for starters and those using a computer at a worksite etc where SPSS is not installed, but need to run basic analyses or test syntax. The PSPP team is to be congratulated!

http://www.gnu.org/software/pspp/   free, open-source PSPP

http://www-01.ibm.com/software/analytics/spss/  IBM SPSS

(students and academics can obtain less expensive versions of IBM SPSS from http://onthehub.com)