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August 19, 1974

Statistics Are Still Fragile

Author Affiliations

AMA Department of Health Education (Safety Education)

JAMA. 1974;229(8):1097. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230460047023

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A July 24, 1972, JAMA editorial entitled "Be Careful With Statistics—They're Fragile" urged physicians to be especially alert to myths and half-truths that have greatly delayed life-saving efforts. It pointed out that we cannot logically attack the problems in medicine or anywhere else if we handle or interpret statistics carelessly.

A situation has arisen recently that we believe calls for reemphasizing the ideas expressed in that editorial. Because of the energy shortage, a nationwide 55-mph speed limit was introduced early this year. Almost immediately, the number of fatalities on our highways dropped dramatically. In January of this year, for instance, there were 853 fewer deaths as compared to January 1973. Pennsylvania's reduction was 50% during the same period, while New Jersey dropped 49%, and New York 38%. Overall, in the first three months of this year, the total number of lives lost on our highways dropped almost 25% from what