Big data: Death by mozzarella cheese

The American Journal of Managed Care has published a commentary by me and Steve Pizer on big data.

Some have suggested that big data will rapidly improve healthcare delivery. […] The strongest proponents of such big data applications believe that with enough information, causal relationships reveal themselves without an RCT.

Are they right? For clinical applications, this is a vital question. For instance, for every 5 million packages of x-ray contrast media distributed to healthcare facilities, about 6 individuals die from adverse effects. With big data, we learn that such deaths are highly correlated with electrical engineering doctorates awarded, precipitation in Nebraska, and per capita mozzarella cheese consumption (correlations 0.75, 0.85, and 0.74, respectively).

Those correlations are from the Spurious Correlations website (worth a look). They make the problems of naive use of big data obvious. Of course, there are less naive approaches, which we discuss. It’s ungated and short, so in one click and a few minutes you can read the rest.



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