When Statistics Are Not Helpful

Here on FanGraphs, we talk a lot about probability and likely outcomes. When making a decision, we think it’s generally wise to understand historical precedent, and to learn from history rather than repeat it.

But, there are times in life that you’re not making a decision, and knowledge of the probability of outcomes just doesn’t help at all. You are just rooting for one specific result, even if you don’t have any control over whether it occurs or not.

I’m now in one of those situations. Last week, I was informed that I have Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a particularly nasty member of the cancer family. History has given my doctors all kinds of data about cure rates and life expectancy, and statistical analysis is helping them decide just what kind of chemotherapy I’ll be taking in a few hours, which I’m really thankful for.

But really, those numbers do nothing for me. I’m not going to be making very many decisions over the next few months. I’m just going to be rooting like crazy for the drugs to work. I need reasons for hope, and I won’t find much of that in the harshness of raw data.

Data isn’t always what is needed. If you’re a Pirates fan right now, does it help you at all to know that your team probably won’t keep this up? You’re not going to be making any decisions that will change the outcome anyway, so why not root for the outcome you want, even if it isn’t statistically probable?

Thats what I’m going to spend the next few months (and years, in reality) doing. Save the odds for the doctors; I’m planning on living a long time. I’m planning on beating this thing. I’m planning on watching the Mariners win a game, and at this rate, that might take years. I want to be around to see it, though, and I just don’t care what the odds say is likely.

For the rest of 2011, I’m unsure of what my involvement here will be. The hospital has wi-fi, so if I feel good, I might write ten posts a day. If the chemo sucks, you might not hear from me for a few weeks. At this point, I just don’t know what is going to happen, but I know the outcome I want, and the fact that the data suggests it may not happen is irrelevant to me.

Statistics can be powerful, useful tools, and at times, they can be critical to understanding what to do. Other times, though, they’re useless, and so, for this situation, I say screw the data; I choose hope instead.

I know many of you are going to want to know how you can help. For now, I’ll just ask that you strongly consider donating both blood and platelets to the Red Cross – they have a critically low supply of both at the moment. Thankfully, my wife is an oncology PA; we have great health insurance and are in the trusted care of her friends and coworkers, so financial assistance isn’t needed at this time. If that changes, I’ll let everyone know, but for now, send prayers in lieu of cash.

See you all when I can. Don’t get too used to not having me around.

We hoped you liked reading When Statistics Are Not Helpful by Dave Cameron!

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Dan in Philly
Guest
Dan in Philly

I’ll pray for you.

Hmmmm
Guest
Hmmmm

“I will do nothing for you, but act like I am.”

Anon
Guest
Anon

What is the purpose of this comment other than to to incite?

John
Guest
John

The knowledge that people care enough to pray for you- or meditate on you, if you prefer that perspective- can do a lot to lift your spirits, which is a little more than doing nothing. Knowing people care about you feels good. Suppose he received 1000 get-well cards? That’d make him smile for sure. Find a way to say you care- it doesn’t have to be religious.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I will somewhat ironically point out that various studies (with their stat and raw data) have shown prayer to have a discernable positive affect in situations of illness.
So prayer seems to work. And even if it doesn’t…praying is a lot better than being an ass.

Hmmmm
Guest
Hmmmm

Kevin,

I would be interested in seeing these studies you speak of and checking out their methodology and conclusions.

call me skeptical

R
Guest
R

Who cares what you think? The one and only reason you responded was to be an ass and try to get attention. You are a pathetic scum.

Myk
Guest
Myk

One really has to wonder what goes on in the mind of someone who makes a comment like this.

Hmmmm
Guest
Hmmmm

I’m scum for pointing out that prayer has no demostrable effect?

R
Guest
R

That’s not why, you idiot. You responded to incite anger and to get attention. Either wish the man luck or shut up, you disrespectful pos.

Hmmmm
Guest
Hmmmm

No, I was trying to point out that instead of praying go give blood or platelets, do something that has a tangible effect!

Prayer is a platitude people offer up in lieu of actual action.

doogolas
Member
doogolas

Except Dave clearly asked for prayers. “I’ll let everyone know, but for now, send prayers in lieu of cash.”

So while you say it’s nothing, clearly it means something to him. No need to be an asshole.

Desert Rat
Guest
Desert Rat

Lately atheists seem to be the worst, most aggressive of the proselytizing zealots, who use any and all occasions to try to convert you to their faith. And yes, “atheism” is a faith—it is a firm belief in that which cannot be proven, i.e., “God does not exist.” You cannot prove God does not exist anymore than I can prove that He does—so we are both acting on faith, and there is room for both of us in a diverse and free society. But only one of us attempts to use a person’s suffering as an opportunity to preach his faith, and in doing so crosses all boundaries of decency, compassion and simple good taste.

So, congratulations, “Hmmmm.” Your beliefs are your business, but your actions have made you the Fangraphs equivalent of Westboro Baptist Church.

williams .482
Member
Member
williams .482

I may be an atheist, but I am certainly still really, really hoping, if not explicitly asking a higher being, for Dave Cameron to beat Cancer and live a long life. this has nothing to do with religion. Hmmmm, please stop being a troll.

baty
Guest
baty

Avoid religious debate and just move on. It’s not the time and place.

Ari Collins
Guest

All atheists are not provocative pricks like the above poster. And atheism is a faith like bald is a hair color.

Ryan
Guest
Ryan

I couldn’t agree more with you about the praying, but do you really need to get into a religious argument here? Not the time, situation, or place.

And with that…you’re in my THOUGHTS, Dave.

Jon L.
Guest
Jon L.

I’ve conducted a review of the studies that report that prayer has a positive effect on medical outcomes – no joke, I’ve actually read these papers – and it turns out that there’s no evidence that private thoughts have any effect on the health of remote others.

More importantly, knowing that people care about you (including knowing that they are praying for you) and participating in a caring community have significant, positive effects on both health outcomes and quality of life.

* with best wishes for a full recovery *

williams .482
Member
Member
williams .482

I am sorry If I am coming cross as a prick. And not, it is not a time for religious debate.