29 August 2011

"Dammit, I'm a Doctor not a Mathematician!"...Well I'm a Librarian, But I'm Still Not a Mathematician

 I recall my parents telling me over and over how math is important and I must learn to love it: well guess what, it is, but I don't. My go-to reply was always:  "There's a calculator for that!"  I can blame the teaching system, my gender (I always proposed that guys were inherently better at math than girls), or how I'm righ-brain-heavy.  Aside from my clearly misogynistic take on numbers and the physical evidence that I don’t walk disproportionately tilted to the right I'm still at the end of the day not a fan nor a star of math.  I thought being a Librarian, even a Medical Librarian, would keep me in the clear.  Enter the day I found out about NNT/NNH, Likelihood Ratios, Absolute Risk, and Confidence Intervals.  Even as I write I shiver.

Although I'm a self-confessed 'smart-cookie' (despite my calculation ineptitude) these concepts were difficult. Nevertheless I learned what they were for, and even how to properly calculate them. Hooray!  That's the end of my story right?  Wrong.  Just a few weeks later when I proudly slipped in ‘Numbers Needed to Treat (NNT)’ into a conversation with a physician (who seemed surprised I knew) it was swiftly followed by my blank stare and a "Boy it's warm in here" comment as I tried to recount its proper use.  Now, after many more moons have passed I can at least take solace in the fact that I know they exist, even if I can't recall much more.

Let's pretend then that there are more people like me including those people who simply don't have the time to draw out the calculations (see even when I write about math my right brain wants to 'draw'). Enter Alan Schwartz from the University of Illinois, Chicago who so wonderfully offers a Risk Reduction Calculator as well as the Stats Calculator offered by the University of Toronto's Centre for Evidence Based Medicine. Now it's as easy as plugging in your numbers and the calculator does the legwork for you!

Though I'm not saying that you shouldn't be able to do the calculations on your own, I would like to end on the old argument to my parents, the argument that I like to think was a precursor to the 'There's an app for that" argument of today's youths: that there really is "a calculator for that" (and yes there are even apps for that as well). :)


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