In an interview yesterday on CNN, former White House physician Connie Mariano stated her fear that, if Chris Christie should run for President, he would likely have a heart attack or a stroke and die in office. Christie responded in his typical fashion, telling the doctor to shut up.
Mariano made her diagnosis from Scottsdale, Arizona, and has never met Christie, let alone given him a physical examination. The New Jersey Governor responded that his young son, upon hearing her remarks, asked him if he were going to die. Christie held an impromptu press conference while in Sea Girt, New Jersey to examine the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy on the little town.
Christie also said that Mariano is ‘…another hack who wants five minutes on TV.’ Mariano felt the need to respond to Christie, ““I’m not a hack If you look up my resume, I’ve been in the White House for nine years. I’m a retired Navy rear admiral. I’m board-certified in internal medicine.”
I often decry here the lack of statistical and mathematical knowledge in America. So, Mariano’s remarks shouldn’t be that surprising since it reveals a common statistical fallacy, assuming that aggregate level data tells us something about individual cases. So, although we know that, in aggregate, obesity or cigarette smoking, or drinking too much or (fill in your own bad thing here) will reduce people’s lifespan, we don’t know anything about individual cases.
We all know people who smoke and live to be 80; we’ve also heard about triathlon athletes who died at 25. The wondrous thing about people is you never can tell.