Abstract: In October of 2011, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a draft report in which they recommended against using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to screen for prostate cancer. We attempt to show that four factors documented by psychological research can help explain the furor that followed the release of the task force’s report. These factors are the persuasive power of anecdotal (as opposed to statistical) evidence, the influence of personal experience, the improper evaluation of data, and the influence of low base rates on the efficacy of screening tests. We suggest that augmenting statistics with facts boxes or pictographs might help such committees communicate more effectively with the public and with the U.S. Congress.
Keywords: decision making, health, judgment, policy making, scientific communication