Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Doctors more dangerous than gun owners

You are 7500 times more likely to be killed if you visit your doctor than if you meet a gun owner, according to Sidney W. Dekker, professor of human factors at Lund School of Aviation in Sweden. His calculation is based upon error counting in various domains. Maybe the low figure of gun deaths in Sweden, compared to the USA, has to be taken into account. All the same, the odds ratio must remain impressive. But is it really true?

Just to put it clearly: I am for strict gun laws. Guns are dangerous and must be controlled by law, in my opinion. But if doctors are so dangerous, who controls them? I appreciate that they do their best to report errors in order to prevent them in the future. But the Swedish professor warns from being naive: Error counting and reporting «uphold an illusion of rationality and control but may offer neither real insight nor productive routes for improving safety», he says.

The professor seems to look through a magnifying glass. But what do we find if we take a broader look? People exposed to doctors, in general, are much less healthy than average people exposed to gunmen. This fact alone makes excess deaths more likely, by orders of magnitude. Gun owners do not always carry their weapon when you meet them, but doctors diagnose or treat you in every visit. And a last point: You have no choice than to trust your doctor or you will probably die from your disease. (Picture by Drome @ Flickr)

Ferret Fancier sees statistics heavily abused in this case, making it clear with this example: «It is also true statistically that one is more likely to be killed by a family member than by a serial killer. By the same logic this would mean that our family members are more dangerous than serial killers. Something does not quite add up here.»

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