Opinion: The (relative) risk in misinterpreting health spending statistics

A closer look at the absolute numbers tells a different story than the headlines about health spending statistics.

Humans are generally lousy when it comes to understanding statistics. We tend to panic over remote risks (shark attacks are on the rise!) but dismiss larger but more mundane dangers like pedestrian deaths (2016 was the deadliest year on record in the U.S.).

That’s especially true when those risks are presented as relative risks, rather than absolute numbers. An 11 percent jump in shark attacks sounds substantial, but it means nine or so additional bites. Last year’s 11 percent jump in pedestrian fatalities meant hundreds more lives lost. Guess which topic received

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