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9:47am on Monday, 29th July, 2013:



This morning's Daybreak programme featured a piece on heart disease in women. Apparently, women are less likely to visit their GP with heart problems despite the fact that the same proportion of women die of heart disease as do men — a third.

I'd like to take issue with that "despite the fact".

If the same proportion of women die of heart disease as do men, but fewer women get treated for heart disease, that means that women actually have a slightly lower risk of heart disease. If they did go to their GP about their chest pains in the same proportion that men do, they would be treated for the condition and so fewer would die of it. That would then mean that less than a third of women would die of heart disease, but a third of men still would. This means that "despite the fact" should be "leading to the fact".

I looked the story up to find its source. It's a journal article published in Global Heart, a journal of the World Heart Federation of which the British Heart Foundation is a member. However, according to the BHF's report, the research only covers the USA. Also, it doesn't use the word "despite" — or even mention relative death rates — but other reports do. It looks, therefore, as if journalists have been once again showing us how a background in the humanities doesn't equip anyone for reporting on scientific matters.

Besides, everybody dies of something. If you lower the rates of death in one area, you necessarily raise them elsewhere. If more women do get proper treatment for heart disease, then that means proportionally more will die of cancer and strokes. That doesn't mean you shouldn't give women the same amount of treatment for heart disease as you give ment, but it does mean that when the inevitable happens and the death rates rise for other illnesses, it's not necessarily going to be a crisis.

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).