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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Autism and HIV: when maths can be misleading

A paper in the Journal of Neuroscience received widespread publicity because it reported a method for diagnosing autism in adults using brain scans, with 90 per cent accuracy. It used pattern recognition methods, training a computer to distinguish between scans of people with and without autism. The resulting test is far cheaper than the usual ones, so it all sounds promising. But ‘90 per cent accuracy’ focuses on the question ‘how often is this test right?’ The vital question is: ‘how often is this test wrong?’ Why? Let’s do the sums.
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