A New York Times journalist with a health care stat is like a toddler with a loaded pistol. The combination of intellectual underdevelopment and sophisticated weaponry is a recipe for mayhem. Anyone doubting this should read Nicholas Kristof’s most recent column. Among its many ignorant assertions is the following:

The U.S. now spends far more on medical care than other nations, yet our infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate and longevity are among the worst in the industrialized world. If we had as good a child mortality rate as France, Germany and Italy, we would save 12,000 children a year.

This passage is a cornucopia of misinformation, but the most egregious statistical distortion involves infant mortality. Kristof is, of course, merely parroting a cliché he has picked up on the cocktail circuit, but the matter nonetheless deserves more serious consideration. A good place to find that is in this analysis by David Hogberg:

Infant mortality is measured far too inconsistently to make cross-national comparisons useful. Thus, just like life expectancy, infant mortality is not a reliable measure of the relative merits of health care systems.

This isn’t news to people who have actually bothered to do the reading. Because there are no uniform international standards for the collection and reporting of infant mortality data, no one has any real idea how we compare to other nations. I guess Kristof and his editors are just too busy to deal with such mundane and tedious realities.

I suppose it would be a violation of the First Amendment to require NYT journalists to get a license before allowing them to use statistical data. A pity.

Comments 1

  1. Robert Maddox wrote:

    Great point. And great link to Hogberg. He confirms the point that health care has little affect on longevity. Is this perhaps not the principal underlying cause of so much healthcarebs? That is the hubris that brings about medical nemesis.

    Posted 25 May 2007 at 3:32 am

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