An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal highlights the value data for decision making. With the article title, “Lettuce Try Not to Panic,” Jim Prevor criticizes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) edict that “U.S. consumers not eat any romaine lettuce, and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any”:
There are 43 people known to be infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli 0157:H7. The CDC interviewed 25 of them. Eighty-eight percent of those 25 people, as opposed to 47% of the general population, said they ate romaine lettuce in the week before they got sick.
From population data, the Prevor concludes that you have a 1 in 11 million chance of getting sick from Romain lettuce, and a 1 in 28 million chance of ending up in the hospital. The author makes the odds even more concrete:
If this outbreak were active every day, and you ate one salad a day, on average you would be hospitalized for E. coli once every 77,000 years.
Even these data, Prevor argues, are overstated for most of us. Children, older people, and people with compromised immune systems are far more likely to get sick than the average adult. As a result of the CDC warning, the author estimates “tens of millions of dollars in losses.”
On the CDC website, a “Food Safety Alert” details the investigation results and advice.
What’s your view of the CDC’s recommendation: better safe than sorry or overblown?
How well does Prevor argue his point? What persuasive strategies does he use? Which are his strongest and weakest arguments? What may be missing from his argument?
Help an audience visualize some of the data in Prevor’s article. What charts or graphs would be useful to help consumers make an informed decision?