Biostatistics is a field of public health that is just getting started in India. The country has many excellent statisticians, but they’re mostly focused on highly mathematical, theoretical problems. This is something Trivellore Raghunathan hopes to change.
Dr. Raghunathan, professor and chair of the U-M SPH department of biostatistics
Although biostatistics is complex, Raghunathan has a simple way of explaining what it is. It’s all about the design and analysis of data, he says.
“It’s not just about the analysis,” he added. “A lot of people come to you with the data they’ve collected, and they want to analyze it. But if the data is not collected in a good manner, no amount of analysis is going to be useful. So therefore I emphasize the design and the analysis.”
Raghunathan was part of the delegation from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. He left Ann Arbor early so that he could teach a one-day workshop about biostatistics at Indian Institute of Public Health in the southern city of Hyderabad.
The timing of the workshop was unfortunate because it was on a major holiday. But that didn’t affect attendance much, and 25 students showed up for the six-hour workshop. Many were clinicians from medical schools in Hyderabad, while others specialized in health informatics. Several traveled all the way from Kolkata in the east and Bangalore farther south.
Dr. Trivellore Raghunathan (front row-center, blue shirt) and workshop participants
“There were at least four or five people who said they cut short their holiday to come to this workshop,” Raghunathan said. “This is amazing. I was very pleased.”
One of the topics he covered in the workshop was what to do with missing data, a common problem in India. Often people decline to participate in a vaccination program because they fear the vaccine will make them ill or cause other problems. So data collection can be spotty.
“When you create a study, some people don’t show up and that can create a bias in the results,” Raghunathan said. “You are making conclusions about people who gave you the data, not those who should have given you the data. My research is on what kind of additional data can you collect from those people who don’t show up so that you can make an adjustment for your inferences.”
He added, “A great study design is important to find out what is the truth. That’s what I emphasized.”
Trivellore Raghunathan is a professor and chair of the department of biostatistics at U-M School of Public Health. He was part of SPH’s delegation that visited India on Oct. 11-19, 2013.