Lies, Damn Lies, and …

Rudy Giuliani is running a radio ad that is generating much comment and derision. Paul Krugman explains:

“My chance of surviving prostate cancer — and thank God I was cured of it — in the United States? Eighty-two percent,” says Rudy Giuliani in a new radio ad attacking Democratic plans for universal health care. “My chances of surviving prostate cancer in England? Only 44 percent, under socialized medicine.”


You see, the actual survival rate in Britain is 74.4 percent. That still looks a bit lower than the U.S. rate, but the difference turns out to be mainly a statistical illusion. The details are technical, but the bottom line is that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America.

Defending Rudy, rightie blogger Don Surber spoke up:

The head of the National Health Service, Alan Johnson, took offense when Rudy Giuliani pointed out that the 5-year survival rate of prostate cancer is superior in the United States to places like England that offer “free” health care.

Rudy is a prostate cancer survivor. Rudy said in the U.S. the survival rate is 82%, 44% in socialized medicine countries.

Johnson waded into this and piped up that he has a 74% survival rate.

So what? It is 99.3% here.

Rudy was not misleading anyone. He was only using old data. New data shows that the billions Americans spend on cancer research is paying off.

Lancet Oncology magazine ran the numbers last month, according to Medscape.

I looked at the Medscape article Surber linked. The numbers he provides are from an analysis “headed by Arduino Verdecchia, PhD, from the National Center for Epidemiology, Health Surveillance, and Promotion, in Rome, Italy, was based on the most recent data available. It involved about 6.7 million patients from 21 countries, who were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2002.” So it’s about five years old.

Medscape also says, “The United Kingdom in particular comes out badly in the tables, showing cancer survival rates that are among the worst in Europe.” So comparisons with the UK are not necessarily indicative of “socialized medicine countries.”

But what about the 99.3 percent survival rate? I spent way too much time this morning cruising around for information, and I am way confused. For example, the Center for Disease Control gives a survival rate of 97% and a mortality rate of 26.5, which to number-challenged me makes no sense. I’m sure one of you will attempt to patiently explain it to me, though.

This is from the American Cancer Society:

The 5-year relative survival rate is the percentage of patients who do not die from prostate cancer within 5 years after the cancer is found. (Men with prostate cancer who die of other causes are not counted.) Of course, patients might live more than 5 years after diagnosis. These 5-year survival rates are based on men with prostate cancer first treated more than 5 years ago.

Overall, 99% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer survive at least 5 years. Ninety one percent of all prostate cancers are found while they are still within the prostate or only in nearby areas. The 5-year relative survival rate for these men is nearly 100%. For the men whose cancer has already spread to distant parts of the body when it is found, about 32% will survive at least 5 years.

There are relative survival rates and age-adjusted survival rates and all kinds of other rates, plus mortality rates that make it seem people are surviving and dying at the same time, and the numbers are all over the map. I hypothesize that all these different sources are basing their numbers on diverse criteria, and comparing one set of stats with another is likely comparing apples to oranges. And I have a headache.

Eugene Robinson:

As several truth-squading journalists — notably, The Post’s Michael Dobbs— have pointed out, mortality rates from prostate cancer in Britain and the United States are roughly the same: About 25 men out of 100,000 die of prostate cancer each year in both countries. (That’s the standard way of reporting mortality rates, deaths per 100,000 individuals.)

From there I finally got to Michael Dobbs’s explanation, and it’s very clear and good, and there is a line graph to help those of us who need visuals. The line graph reveals that African American men are way more likely to die from prostate cancer than either white Americans or Brits, which ought to be a concern.

The other point Dobbs explains is that prostate cancer tends to develop very slowly. I gather that nearly everyone survives at least five years from the onset of the disease, with or without treatment. So, because patients in the U.S. are diagnosed much sooner, our diagnosis-to-death stats are much better than Britain’s, even though the actual outcomes aren’t much different from Britain’s.

Back to Krugman:

So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.

The 41 percent is a step up; it was a lot less than that in the 1990s.

The figure shows spending for health care per capita in various nations, in 1998. I added “USA” and “UK.” In 1998, the U.S. was spending $4,178 per capita and the UK was spending $1,461 per capita. (From the University of Maine’s “The U.S. Health Care System: The Best in the World, or Just the Most Expensive?” [PDF]). There’s no question that the British NHS has problems, but my understanding is that most of those problem stem from gross underfunding rather than the nature of the system itself.

Krugman, again:

Anyway, comparisons with Britain have absolutely nothing to do with what the Democrats are proposing. In Britain, doctors are government employees; despite what Mr. Giuliani is suggesting, none of the Democratic candidates have proposed to make American doctors work for the government.

To righties, all universal health care proposals are the same. They’re all “socialized medicine” or “Hillarycare.” Since what Senator Clinton proposes now bears little resemblance to what she proposed as First Lady in 1993, it can be argued that even Hillary isn’t pushing “Hillarycare.” But what this shows us is that righties aren’t even looking at the arguments or proposals. Their reactions are pure knee-jerk groupthink, and their opinions are based more on irrational fears and emotions than on facts.

Ezra Klein writes,

Giuliani’s cancer was treated by way of a therapy called Bradychardia, which involves implanting small, rice-sized radioactive capsules into the prostate gland. The technique was developed [PDF] by a researcher from Copenhagen, Denmark. Denmark, you’ll recall, is both in Europe and has a universal healthcare system. It’s a wonder Giuliani didn’t stalk out of his hospital on principle.

Moreover, Giuliani was unlucky enough to get prostate cancer at a fairly young age. But his experience was not typical. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 70 – which means that the domestic care Giuliani is lauding is being provided under the auspices of Medicare – a federally-run, single-payer insurance system.

Ah-HAH! Take THAT, Don Surber.

Since Mr. Surber cited the Lancet Oncology journal as a source, I poked around on the Lancet site looking for more information. Most of their articles are behind a pricey subscription firewall. But I did come across one that’s available for public view, from the October 2007 issue: “Increasing inequalities in US healthcare need taming.”

Although clinics in the USA offer some of the best anticancer services in the world, the proportion of Americans who cannot access these services is shocking. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2005 46·6 million Americans (including 8·3 million children) were without health insurance, with certain subgroups of the population faring especially poorly. For example, a quarter of people whose household income was less than $25 000 were uninsured—this is not surprising, however, given that the average cost of a single adult insurance policy is $2268. Texas had the highest percentage of uninsured people with 30% of adults aged under 65 years without insurance. From an oncology perspective, uninsured people are less likely to have access to screening or early-detection facilities; are more likely to be diagnosed late with more advanced tumours; are less likely to receive appropriate treatment; and are more likely to die from their cancer. Clearly, to make progress in the war on cancer, access to healthcare is a fundamental requirement that precedes any concerns about specific treatments.

Even for those with insurance, coverage is often less than optimum. A 2006 survey by USA Today, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard School of Public Health, of 930 adults who had cancer or who had a family member in their household with cancer, showed that insurance plans for nearly a quarter of patients paid less than actually needed; one in ten patients reached the limit of what their insurance would pay for cancer treatment; one in 12 were unable to get a specific type of treatment because of insurance limitations; and one in 14 were unable to pay for basic necessities such as food, heating, or housing because of financial burdens encountered in paying for their treatments. Furthermore, 6% of patients lost their health insurance as a result of having cancer. More than 17 million US adults are underinsured, yet current legislation to ensure appropriate provision is inadequate. For example, although many US states recently mandated that insurers cover screening for cancers of the breast, cervix, prostate, and colon, several states have since passed exceptions to these mandates, thereby allowing health insurance companies a licence to underinsure. …

… Currently, about 2·5 million people are diagnosed with cancer in the USA each year, of which about one in six have no health insurance and will receive inadequate care. Given the wealth of the USA, these figures are frankly unacceptable. In the run up to the 2008 US presidential elections, the time is right to highlight these issues to make them a high political priority, and to finally eliminate this appalling inequality of care.

See also Joe Conason [Update] and The Carpetbagger.

Bob Altemeyer Interview

Check out a Bob Altemeyer interview, podcasted here. If you don’t know who Altemeyer is, learn about him here. The interview takes a few minutes to get past the introductory material, but for connoisseurs of right wing psychology, it’s well worth the wait, to hear one of the world’s experts. Altemeyer covers a fair amount of ground in this 102 minute interview, but of interest to me were his thoughts on authoritarian followers (as opposed to leaders). Some takeaways:

Authoritarian followers:

  1. Lack critical thinking skills. If they like an argument’s conclusion, it doesn’t matter how stupid or flawed the reasoning was to arrive at it. This is also why logic doesn’t work with them.
  2. Have highly compartimentalized thinking. This means they often hold opposite or inconsistent views. For example, they may support democracy and freedom of speech, but also believe that rabble rousing leftists should be locked up. They will pull out whatever argument is needed given the current circumstance, seemingly unaware that they expressed the opposite position only minutes ago. They are easily prone to hypocrisy because of this. This comes through as a marked lack of fairness.

Altemeyer claims that his surveys of authoritarianism among college students show that it varies according to the times. Students scored low in the early 1970s, and high in the mid 1980s. The average score has been at a midpoint between these extremes for the last five or ten years. In students, the level of authoritarianism diminishes a bit as the student is exposed to the broader world. By contrast, parenting can increase a person’s level of authoritarianism.

It’s interesting to me, that most right wingers I know, have little interest in traveling outside the United States, desiring the least amount of exposure to people who are different than them. The converse is true for the most liberal people I know – they love foreign travel. And this is precisely what helps an authoritarian become less so.

Shaming Ann Coulter

I didn’t think it was possible, but Rick Jacobs at the Huffington Post did the impossible. He spotted AC at a gay-owned restaurant, in LA’s pre-eminent gay district, West Hollywood. Not only that, he tried to talk with her:

…Clearly, Ann Coulter was caught in a lie. There she was, burbling like a fountain about her interview on Donny Deutsch’s show in which she says Jews should be Christians, completely at ease in the heart of the gayest city on the planet. She was a natural with the gay men who surrounded her. She enjoyed the fawning attention by her two not so masculine male escorts, clearly in her milieu.

I was therefore shocked that when we tried to engage her in conversation, she became embarrassed, turned away, nestling her head inside her long, blond hair, much as would an embarrassed school girl caught stealing the answers to an exam.

We wondered if she was comfortable in West Hollywood, in a restaurant where a large number of the patrons are gay, and where the gay owners make money off of her dining bill. Her response (physically, because she would not speak): “I am too embarrassed to talk to you.” Had we been able to see her high cheek bones, then averted and clutched in her hands to hide her shame, we’d have seen a red-faced hypocrite, caught living a lie…

Ann Coulter loves the camera, so we snapped a few with a cell phone. Her sturdy female minder said we were “molesting” her. Ann Coulter molested by having her picture taken? I guess she’s molested every day, then. She might want to check into rehab to deal with her addiction to such molestation.

When the manager came by with our check, he said, “Look, I’m sorry she’s here, but I have to serve her.” The staff were clearly appalled when they realized who was in their midst. Did Hitler eat kosher food even as he worked out the final solution?