Monday, May 04, 2009

Fear and Statistics

I read a tweet today that said something like, "if 300 cases of flu cause a run on face masks, how come a million cases of AIDS hasn't caused a run on condoms?"

Except that there are 33 MILLION people living with HIV/AIDS in this world, and more than that number of people have died.

It got me thinking about my biostatistics class more than 30 years ago. The professor said things like, "Statistics don't lie. People lie with statistics." And, "the risk to the individual is always 0 and 1."

And the fact is that, depending on which news report you hear, between 35,000 and 50,000 people die of the flu each year in the U.S. -- and that's not a headline.

And half a million women in the world die each year because of pregnancy-related complications, and that's not a headline.

And nine in ten sexually active people who don't use a contraceptive method will get pregnant in a year, and that's not a headline.

And using a condom is 10,000 times safer than having sex without one, and that's not a headline.

And I'm asking myself tonight, why are there people who are cancelling trips, not going in planes or subways, buying face masks and stocking up on tamiflu but 1.5 million unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. each year?

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