The Median is NOT the Message

In Recovery by Emerson Jane Browne1 Comment

1744406_sTo paraphrase Mark Twain “There are three types of deceit: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.” 1

The Median is Not the Message is a brilliant essay by Stephen Jay Gould. If you are facing any kind of illness or injury you will find this piece informative, hopeful, and phenomenally helpful in affirming your ability to heal and recover. This is something you will want your friends and family to read as well.

When you are confronted with a brain injury or a disease such as cancer you will almost immediately be confronted by statistics … from the mouths of well meaning friends, family, and doctor’s, in medical literature, and on the web.  This article will set you straight.  DO NOT let statistics scare you. They do not apply to you! No matter what the diagnosis there is almost always a “long tail” and you can fall into that category.

The article is only a few pages, and there are a few ways to read it.  On the web it is reprinted by permission here but I personally found it hard to read at that site.  I find it is much easier for most brain injury survivors to read content in columns.  (It makes it so our “eye return” has less distance to travel back from the end of a line to the beginning of the next line.)  Therefore I put the article into columns in a MS Word document and as a pdf.  You can download them here:

MedianNotMessageCancer.doc and MedianNotMessageCancer.pdf.

Gould was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a serious cancer usually associated with exposure to asbestos. He wrote this article soon after reading in the literature that “mesothelioma is incurable, with a median mortality of only eight months after discovery“.  Dr. Gould lived for 20 more very productive years after his diagnosis, thus exceeding his 8-month median survival by a factor of
thirty!  Here are some small excerpts of the article.

This is a personal story of statistics, properly interpreted, as profoundly nurturing and life giving. It declares holy war on the downgrading of intellect by telling a small story about the utility of dry, academic knowledge about science. Heart and head are focal points of one body, one personality.

… in general, those with positive attitudes, with a strong will and purpose for living, with commitment to struggle, with an active response to aiding their own treatment and not just a passive acceptance of anything doctors say, tend to live longer.


  1. For an interesting review of who actually was the original course of “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” see the Wikipedia link:,_damned_lies,_and_statistics.
Emerson Jane Browne
I am Emerson Jane Browne. I write about Brains, Apps, & Productivity, and many other aspects of Life. I speak to TBI support groups, speak and teach workshops at tech, music, and writer conferences. I consult with organizations on strategic planning and building a strong community.