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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Centralized Analysis of Local Data, With Dollars and Lives on the Line:Lessons From The Home Radon Experience


In this chapter we elucidate four main themes. The first is that modern data analyses, including "Big Data" analyses, often rely on data from different sources, which can present challenges in constructing statistical models that can make effective use of all of the data. The second theme is that although data analysis is usually centralized, frequently the final outcome is to provide information or allow decision-making for individuals. Third, data analyses often have multiple uses by design: the outcomes of the analysis are intended to be used by more than one person or group, for more than one purpose. Finally, issues of privacy and confidentiality can cause problems in more subtle ways than are usually considered; we will illustrate this point by discussing a case in which there is substantial and effective political opposition to simply acknowledging the geographic distribution of a health hazard.A researcher analyzes some data and learns something important. What happens next? Whatdoes it take for the results to make a difference in people's lives? In this chapter we tell a story - a true story - about a statistical analysis that should have changed government policy, but didn't. The project was a research success that did not make its way into policy, and we think it provides some useful insights into the interplay between locally-collected data, statistical analysis, and individual decision making.

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