MEAction blog post by Alex Anderssen, 8 August 2016: Rehmeyer makes statisticians’ ‘jaws drop’ over PACE

Science writer Julie Rehmeyer presented a critique of the PACE trial to North America’s largest gathering of statisticians in Chicago earlier this week.

Julie Rehmeyer

Her talk was titled, “Bad Statistics, Bad Reporting, Bad Impact on Patients: The Story of the PACE trial”. Rehmeyer explained to the 200-strong audience some of the problems with the trial, including the changes to the originally planned analyses of recovery rates. She showed how, with the new analyses, patients’ physical function could worsen and fall below the level required to enter the trial, and yet they would be considered to be recovered.

Rehmeyer said, “When I went through the slides showing the changes to the physical function criterion for recovery, I saw jaws drop.”

PACE was, she told the audience, “one of the most damaging cases of bad statistical practice that I have personally encountered in my years as a journalist.” It was, she said, an “object lesson in how our systems can break down. In this case there were serious breakdowns statistically, scientifically, journalistically, and in public health.” She added that patients were “being hurt by it to this day”.

The Chicago conference was held jointly with the International Statistical Institute and major national statistical associations such as the American Statistical Association (ASA) and the UK’s Royal Statistical Society. Before the talk, the ASA urged delegates to attend Rehmeyer’s talk and hear “how bad statistics harm patients and our profession”.

Rehmeyer said, “I was delighted by the response of the audience…. Quite a few people came and talked to me afterward, including a couple of folks with genuine influence.”

Rehmeyer is a contributing editor with Discover magazine and has written previously on ME/CFS in the New York Times and Slate.

The slides of her talk can be found here; her speaking notes maybe be viewed by clicking the “Notes” icon just above the comments section. The abstract of her talk is here.

Another report of the talk, by Cort Johnson, 7 Aug 2016: PACE Trial blasted at Statistician’s Conference by award winning journalist

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