When lies are universal, they become hard to see them. And one of the biggest tools for lying is statistics. Here is one of the most important statistical lies you should learn. This lie is used by Big Pharma all the time, when they tout the benefits of their drugs. Understanding this lie will save you lots of money and even your health and life. I will make the math as easy as possible.
How to Turn 1% into 50% — Simple Example
Which will help sell a drug better? “This drug has 1% benefit” or “This drug will reduce Disease X by 50%”? Obviously, the latter, right? But this is what Big Pharma does all the time. Let’s take a simple example. Look at this diagram below:
So, what you see here is two scenarios: If 100 people do nothing versus if 100 people take a drug for some disease, say, heart attack.
If people do nothing and just carry on with their lives, there will be 2 heart attacks. That is, 98% of the people will be fine and 2% will have heart attacks.
However, if all the 100 people take a drug every day for three years, only 1 will have a heart attack. That is, 99% will be able to avoid the heart attack.
So, what’s the benefit? 1%, right? Rather than 2% of the people, only 1% get heart attacks.
This analysis is called “absolute risk reduction” (ARR).
However, this will not help Big Pharma sell many, if any, of this drug. Would you take a drug, if your doctor said, “If you take this drug every day for three years, your chance of avoiding a heart attack will go from 98% to 99%.”
It’s a meaningless advantage for a lot of trouble and money. Three years for a 1% benefit?? Plus, how about all the side-effects? For example, statins (for high cholesterol) can cause diabetes in users.
Hence, the magic of Relative Risk Reduction (RRR).
How Relative Risk Reduction Makes 1% to 50%
In the example above, Big Pharma uses a sleight of hand, known as relative risk reduction. They say, “Listen. The original risk was 2%. And we reduced it by HALF to 1%. (Half of 2 is 1). So, our magical drug reduces the risk of heart attack by 50%!
Of course, when people hear this, most people — even doctors and experts — think that half of all people will avoid heart attacks.
RRR is Not Used for Side Effects
You may think that RRR kinda makes sense. But, guess what? Big Pharma don’t use RRR for side effects. When it comes to side-effects, pharmaceutical firms switch to ARR! Then, they will say, “Your chance of getting diabetes from this drug is, for example, 0.1%.”
Real-Life Example: Lipitor from Pfizer. 1.1% turned into 36%
Take Lipitor (or any statin) that is used to treat high cholesterol. Pfizer had ads that touted how Lipitor reduced chance of heart attacks by whopping 36%.
But you know now that it’s a fake claim based on RRR or relative risk reduction. What was the absolute risk reduction (ARR)? It was just 1.1%.
In the published Lipitor trial, 96.9% of the placebo group (no drug) did not have a heart attack. Among those who took Lipitor, 98% did not have a heart attack. So, the ARR was 1.1%. But using the funny math for RRR, the marketing number was 36%. (Here’s the math: The risk went down from 3.1 to 2. Thus, the reduction was (3.1-2)/31 = 1.1/3=36%).
Of course, when it came to diabetes, Pfizer avoided RRR, which would show that Lipitor raises the risk of diabetes by 30%.
Lies Used Widely For all Drugs. Screenings and Vaccines
This statistical trickery is used for every single drug, vaccine, and procedure like screening. Take breast cancer screening. The marketing slogan is “20% Lives Saved!” Sometimes, they hype up the number to ridiculous 60%. But sticking to the 20% study, the ARR was just 0.17%. Looking it another way, whopping 2970 women (age 50-60) must be screened to save one life. Of course, mammogram is a huge industry now and it thrives on scaring women to annual testing. Over-diagnosis and over-treatment — including unnecessary surgeries — are colossal problems due to mammogram mania. And not to mention, side effects from exposure to x-rays.
Finally, let’s look at the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer. The ARR was 0.84%. And it was turned into an RRR of 95% efficacy!!! That’s more than a hundredfold increase in the marketing number.
Of course, if you asked Pfizer about adverse reactions, myocarditis or deaths from their vaccines, they will quickly shift from RRR to ARR — and use tiny numbers like 1 in 20,000. If you look at the RRR for adverse reactions in the trial, it was over 300%. And that was only a short trial of two months.
Here’s a short clip on Pfizer’s clever use of RRR:
Knowledge is power. The next time somebody — doctor, Big Pharma, expert on social media, a non-profit organization, or mainstream media — touts an amazing drug, surgery, or procedure, don’t fall for the marketing number. Confidently ask them about relative risk reduction (RRR) of both risks and side-effects. And ask them for a study. Even if you can’t understand the numbers, just the fact that you asked for it will stop them from selling snake oil.
Big Pharma and the entire medical industry is run like any other business. Hype the benefits and hide the drawbacks. And that’s a problem. Driven by sales and profits, their business model is the opposite of a healthy society. The healthcare system thrives on more sick people getting sicker and taking more pills. As an individual, your goals are the opposite.
As a nation, we can save hundreds of billions of dollars every year by avoiding over-diagnosis, over-medication, over-prescription, and harmful side effects.