nos-trum. pronunciation: \nos'-trum\. noun. Etymology: Latin, neuter of noster our, ours.
1. a medicine of secret composition recommended by its preparer but usually without scientific proof of its effectiveness.
2. a usually questionable remedy or scheme.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Shiny Happy People Holding Hands...And Committing Suicide

Research study says if you live in  a place where people are more happy, there are higher suicide rates.

I struggle to make sense of superficial associations in the research this.  As usual the authors suggest some "the downtrodden need our help" reasoning, when there's nothing in the data to suggest that as a cause.

[The REM song referenced in the title was purportedly an ironic comment on Chinese propaganda at the time of the Tiananmen Square debacle.  But there's nothing in the lyrics to give you a clue.]

The association theresearchers  found between happiness (actually "well-being") and suicide is criticizable on so many grounds, it's not worth trying to explain them all.

Some examples:

--Hawaii ranks number 6 in happiness but 43 in suicide.

and conversely,

--New Mexico is 32 in happiness but 4 in happiness.

However, if you look down the list (you can find it printed here (, AP News, Apr 25), you'll find that a lot of states are in the middle of the pack on both happiness and suicide.  And there are exceptions where the "rule" is violated.  For instance, Colorado is 3 in happiness and 6 in suicide.

I have not doubt that when you apply statistical methods to the results there is a trend toward an inverse relationship.  But it seems to me that this is not about well-being and suicide, but rather a good lesson in how statistics can create an impression that's not useful, unless you look at the primary data yourself  (something I've encouraged readers to do from the beginning of this blog).

Good for a headline, but a tempest in a teapot.

Doc D

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