Goodbye to gobbledegook: an introduction to basic statistics in primary care

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Abstract

‘Smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer’. This may now seem like a somewhat uninteresting fact because it is such common knowledge, yet 60 years ago relatively few people were aware of this. It has only been with the aid of research methods and statistical techniques that such a consequence of smoking was introduced to society and is now well accepted. Such trends towards evidence-based medicine can only flourish in a culture of statistical literacy. Moreover, how can we even start to effectively critically analyse a scientific paper if we do not understand the basic statistical techniques the researcher has adopted? Part of the perceived complexity with this process is a (natural) fear of statistics and consequent lack of understanding of statistical processes. To obtain a functional level of statistical literacy, one must understand the vocabulary of statistical terms, statistical methods and the effect of statistics on study design.

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