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Introducing an accessible series on statistics for clinicians

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For many clinicians, statistics is the equivalent of a foreign language: they may know a few words here and there from their travels, but they have never had the time to learn the language properly. As health care providers, we are increasingly being asked to engage in critical appraisal and sort through the large volume of research to help guide decision making. For many, this means reading mainly the abstract and the discussion, and glossing over the jargon in the methods and results. This is unfortunate, as the methods can obviously make or break the validity of the results and determine whether we decide that a study is valid and practice changing, or fatally flawed and pointless.

This is not a novel endeavour. The whole evidence-based medicine movement began with the Users’ guide to the medical literature series originally published in JAMA in the early 1990s and now compiled in a book.1 These articles focused mainly on study design and introduced a whole generation of practitioners to clinical epidemiology. However, with the rise of desktop statistical packages, such as SPSS, STATA and SAS, complex statistical methods have been put within the reach of many investigators. The results have generally been positive in that complex analyses can be performed by many more people, but the room for error has also increased tremendously. Therefore, the need for caution and critical appraisal is…