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The Illusion of Certainty: Health Benefits and Risks Paperback – September 14, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0387751658 ISBN-10: 0387751653 Edition: 2007th

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Publisher: Springer; 2007 edition (September 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0387751653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0387751658
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,002,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

From the reviews:

"The aim is principally to assist the public in comprehending and interpreting health benefit and risk information, and provide them with the basic methods that will allow them to make their own judgements. … A significant feature of the book is the introduction of a new way of assisting the reader to conceptualise the absolute risk or benefit to an individual. … It could be used as a reference book by a member of the public … ." (Roy Mooney, SCOPE, June, 2008)

From the Publisher

This book peels away the "veneer of certainty" which many of us attach to health risk and benefit information given to us in our daily lives. It was written and designed primarily to assist the public in comprehending and interpreting the uncertainty associated with the overwhelming amount of information on medical and environmental health risks. The book uses unique, visual presentations and case studies to explain the benefits of medical screening tests (e.g., mammography, prostate and colorectal cancer screening, cholesterol screening) and drugs (e.g., statins, Vioxx) and the risks associated with exposure to environmental contaminants (e.g., lead, dioxin, radon). This book will help patients and their families get more involved in making medical decisions, and citizens face critical questions about the environment. By putting the complexities of risk analysis in terms the general public can relate to, the authors are empowering people to make well-informed decisions.

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Customer Reviews

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This thought-provoking book is both a "should and must-read" book for anyone who makes decisions or considers the advice and recommendations of others.
Robert W Whittington
The book does an outstanding job of establishing a theoretical basis for their premise and then walking the readers through example after example of its application.
Greg from LifeTwo
One side benefit of this read is that you'll gain a much better understanding of the kinds of questions you should be asking before making such decisions, and why.
HandyGuy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert W Whittington on July 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This thought-provoking book is both a "should and must-read" book for anyone who makes decisions or considers the advice and recommendations of others. The compelling logic regarding the subjects supported by scientific facts is substantial. It will provide an impetus to the reader to consider life-changing decisions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald I. Siegel on November 25, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I teach science at Syracuse University to large groups of undergrads. They and the general population both, haven't a clue about how to assess certainty or uncertainty in their lives (other than a very small percentage of them). Hence, anyone with an agenda that involves numbers, can easily scare or convince people to do most anything. I see this all the time in both the scientific and political and medical arenas.

This book handles the uncertainty of medical decision based on relative risk or absolute risk, by using a clever graphical approach -- theater seating. How many people in sitting in a 1000 seat theater would have an absolute risk of getting sick under given circumstance?

It sounds too easy a way of presentation, right? Maybe hokey to some? Nope-it's great and intuitive, and I will be this approach in my own teaching on environmental risk assessment---by using the Carrier Dome of Syracuse University as my template.

I think it is critical that citizens be able to understand rudimentary--VERY rudimentary-- math and statistics because if they don't, you get the exact idiocy you seen in our government and public discourse today.

Another wonderful book that people should read is the classic, "How to Lie with Statistics." It's dated, funny, and tells people the questions they should ask of people who throw out statistical numbers at them.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Greg from LifeTwo on November 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
"Can a book make you smarter? Perhaps not, but "Illusion of Certainty" can certainly help you make smarter decisions--especially when it comes to health choices." (from our review of this book at LifeTwo.com).

This book should be required reading for policy makers, doctors, and especially journalists covering health and environmental matters. Perhaps the biggest beneficiaries however are people trying to make informed decisions involving their personal health. By exposing the bias that exists in the system against communicating risk as well as the reliance on "relative" risks/benefits over "absolute" risks/benefits, it is easy to see why it seems the answer to every problem is a drug prescription.

The book does an outstanding job of establishing a theoretical basis for their premise and then walking the readers through example after example of its application.

Can't say enough good things about this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Rifkin and Bouwer have a genius for penetrating and explaining how doctors end up recommending much of what they do.

A great companion read to the classic How to Lie with Statistics, Rifkin and Bouwer walk us through how inconclusive data generated in research can be loosely rearranged to provide the illusion of certainty, scientific progress, and medical value. Medical and scientific professionals have their foibles and are only human after all, sometimes shockingly so. But the authors demonstrate how caring and dedicated health practitioners are at risk of becoming believers in unsound, unprovable ideas as a result of poor "scientific method" practiced by colleagues.

Very few have bothered to explain this, largely because it is an unacknowledged sacred cow in the profession. What happened this past week (early October, 2011) is an example: the PSA test for men to screen for prostate cancer has now been announced as being worth possibly zero in saving lives. This conclusion came after decades of the test being universally recommended, triggering countless surgeries that have left patients debilitated in various ways (needlessly? we don't know), and long after its inventor had called for doctors to stop using it, because almost all were applying and interpreting it incorrectly.

No matter how necessary and urgent the reassessment of the PSA test's value might be, or how much re-thinking it might advance rigorous medical knowledge, do not dream for a moment that the result has been received as "good news" everywhere in the medical profession. On the contrary, legions immediately argued for its unabated use, data or no data.
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