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Edited by David Coggon. London: BMJ Books, 2003, pp 109. ISBN 0-7279-1609-2
This short book provides a quick introduction to the use of statistics. It is geared toward medical professionals without prior exposure to statistics and who view statistics as a necessary evil. The book is intended to cover basic statistical principles, but does not go into enough detail for a reader to actually perform the calculations. The goal is more to help the reader understand and interpret statistical information. For calculations, the reader is encouraged to obtain advice from a statistician. The book assumes no prior statistical training and is quite readable. The brevity of the book (about 100 small pages) is also a big plus; readers who are not keen on statistics may find it more accessible and appealing than a large tome.
The book arranges topics in a logical order beginning with descriptions of data and ending with statistical modelling. The chapters cover types of data, summarising data, probability, hypothesis testing, confidence intervals, statistical power, modelling, and interpretation. Examples are used promiscuously to both motivate and illustrate statistical principles. An additional strategy is to point out assumptions and weaknesses of various approaches. The net effect is to aid the reader into thinking about statistics critically. I think this is exactly the right goal to aim for in a book of this type and is in sharp contrast with off putting formulatic introductory statitistical “cookbooks”. The style of writing is quite accessible and I had a pleasant couple of hours reading the book.
I did feel that more ink could have been given to discussing the strengths of clinical trials and how they can go awry. I also feel that the use of statistical methods to control or adjust for confounding factors might have been touched upon. But these are minor quibbles. Overall, I quite liked the book and would recommend it to medical professionals who need to be gently introduced to statistics.