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1 in 1000 British men recently pregnant


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So reports the Washington Post

The data seemed, at first glance, like it could be indicative of a medical miracle. Between 2009 and 2010, thousands of British men turned up at hospitals to be treated for many pregnancy-related services, things like obstetric exams and midwife services. All told, there were 17,000 of them.

Was “Junior” (the 1994 classic where Arnold Schwarzenegger conceives) happening in real life, and en masse? A team of researchers in London conceded that these statistics did indeed “seem to reveal some interesting service developments.”

Rest assured, a wave of male pregnancy has not swept Britain. Instead, researchers studying the data think they’re the result of something way more boring: medical coding errors. Mistakes in data entry are, admittedly, a much less exciting development than a rash of pregnant men. But it’s one that poses as much of a challenge to modern medicine as a would learning to understand male conception.

This research, published as a letter this week in the British Medical Journal, was meant to draw attention to how much data gets entered incorrectly in the country’s medical system. These guys weren’t turning up at the doctor for pregnancy-related services. Instead, they were at their doctor for procedures that had medical codes similar to those of midwifery and obstetric services. With a misplaced keystroke here or there, an annual physical could become a consultation with a midwife.

“We suspect that the numbers may, at least partly, reflect data errors,” write Laura Brennan, Mando Watson and Robert Klaber. “Some of these may be due to similarities in the main specialty codes.”

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Just proof of how statistics seem odd to the human brain when you scale up to huge numbers. Even if a test is 99.9% accurate you are going to to get the occasional false positive when you are testing hundreds of thousands of individuals.

Some poor soul will probably fail a drugs test at the Olympics this year and be innocent. Again, the 99.9% accuracy will throw up something odd because of the sheer number of tests.

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