Will The Work Never End?

What is this? Tow blog posts in two consecutive days? It’s like the old days, no?

For the second consecutive year, I also attended the opening cocktail party of the Harbourfront Festival of Authors. Remember last year’s photo? Here’s the new one:

Before I forget to bring this up, I stole the following from Graham S.’s Facebook page:

I also found an old letter of recommendation I wrote on behalf of myself, to be signed by my former boss. I was just checking to see if he actually read it:

I’m working like a mad man trying to get stuff done before catching a train to tomorrow in the morning. I was in Toronto this morning, Ottawa the day before, and Toronto the day before that. Yes, I know. I know.

Oh, it gets better. I’ll be up all night doing paperwork, then off to the Canadian Conference on International Health at 8:AM to hear Jeff Sachs speak, then hop on the train, then rush to a Board meeting at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, then rush to the opening ceremonies of the Canadian Conference on Science Policy.

This is the sort of rushed, stressful schedule that can make you sick. Might even allow you to contract the flu! (Nice segue, eh?)

Following up from yesterday’s post, here’s a graphic from InformationIsBeautiful.net:

It’s yet another attempt at providing evidence for the anti-vaccination crowd. See, according to this graphic, the current H1N1 pandemic is no big thang.

Let’s consider this an educational moment. Can you see the problem with using this graphic, assuming it is correct, as an argument against the seriousness of H1N1? It’s the difference between absolute and relative measures.

Here’s an example of what I mean: if you hear that the incidence of cholera in Alberta doubled between 2007 and 2008, that sounds pretty serious, right? “Doubling” is a relative measure. But what if I tell you that the number of new cases went from 1 in 2007 to 2 in 2008? Yes, it doubled, but the actual number of additional cases was one. That’s an absolute measure.

To beat this dead horse, it’s clear that if media and policy makers relied on the relative measure to inform their decisions, a lot of emotional and financial resources would be misspent.

Now, for the graphic above, it’s important to look at the denominators. The case fatality rate is a relative measure. According to it, SARS was a much bigger deal than H1N1 (swine flu), about a 19.2X increase in mortality rate.

However, the number of people who actually contracted SARS in Toronto in the 2003 outbreak was a mere 358. If we believe the graphic’s 9.6% case fatality rate statistic, this translates to 35 deaths in absolute terms.

In absence of the seasonal vaccine, seasonal flu would be contracted by tens of thousands in Toronto. Assuming an infection denominator of a conservative 10,000 unvaccinated people, that translates to 100 deaths in Toronto alone due to seasonal flu.

See the point? The absolute measure provides more meaningful information.

Okay, I’ve got work to do now. As you were.