Monday, October 26, 2009

Al Franken Explains Selection Effects

Al Franken is quickly becoming my hero. Below is a clip (h/t Effect Measure) where he not only makes a very prescient case for health care reform and the impact on "medical bankruptcies," but also shows that he is unwilling to be bullied, knows what selection effects are, and is able to explain them so that they can be understood in such a way that he uses them to make the case for health care reform.

I can admit that I was a little bit weary of Al Franken running for the Senate. I used to listen to his radio show on Air America and thought that he was a little arrogant and showed a lack of nuance in some of the opinions that he expressed on that show. I was also worried that he didn't have the discipline to stay on message and not make needlessly disparaging comments that would come back and haunt him later. But, he handled himself with incredible grace during the recount and subsequent court battles in Minnesota and has shown an incredible acuity for both politics and policies in the Senate.

Medical bankruptcies are bankruptcies that are related to medical or health-related issues. A 2005 study showed that medical bankruptcies affect between 1.9–2.2 million Americans in 2001 alone. As if filing for bankruptcy wasn't bad enough, the authors found that many of those who filed for bankruptcy had problems finding a future apartment, job, or cars because of their credit unworthiness. Sen. Franken points out that there are zero of these bankruptcies in France, Germany, and Switzerland.

Then, when the right-wing shill asks Sen. Franken if he knows the international disparities in cancer outcomes, he already has an answer that every intro stats class should watch for an explanation of selection effects. If, because we only treat people socioeconomically advantaged enough to not have serious complications for cancer, of course we would expect that our cancer outcomes would be much better than those who treat difficult cases as well. In other words, the design of the study selected on the dependent variable — likelihood to survive cancer treatment — to receive treatment; it is therefore, unsurprising when cancer patients here survive more.

As is becoming frequent of late around here, I congratulate Senator Franken for his outstanding representation of this country.


E. said...

I don't think he's really explaining selection effects so much as saying "yes, if you look really hard for one criterion on which to make the conclusion you want to make about an entire system, you can find one. But you're off-topic."

I don't like his head-wagging. It seems like a manifestation of some kind of innate insecurity and discomfort. But maybe it's the gender-power thing and if it was a female legislator and a male testifying, I would be like "hell yeah."

At any rate, if he's going to be a head-wagging, finger-shaking bulldog, I'm glad his heart seems to be in the right place.

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