Statistics According To A Roman Poet: Eating Two Chickens…

Last night I told Stefano about the Science Daily article and the paragraph that I quoted in my blog post yesterday, the one about the three to four year survival statistic, which is such hogwash (my opinion). He quoted a sonnet about statistics written by the Roman satirical poet Trilussa (real name: Carlo Alberto Salustri, 1871-1950). This morning I looked it up and thought it contained some interesting material, so here it is (my curcumin bioavailability post is ready, I will post it tomorrow). Trilussa’s sonnet, by the way, is not written in standard Italian but in the dialect of Rome (for which this dialect poet is famous, in fact). I will provide a rough translation, don’t worry!

Sai ched’è la statistica? E’ ‘na cosa
che serve pe’ fa’ un conto in generale
de la gente che nasce, che sta male,
che more, che va in carcere e che sposa.
Ma pe’ me la statistica curiosa
è dove c’entra la percentuale,
pe’ via che, lì, la media è sempre eguale
puro co’ la persona bisognosa.
Me spiego, da li conti che se fanno
seconno le statistiche d’adesso
risurta che te tocca un pollo all’anno:
e, se nun entra ne le spese tue,
t’entra ne la statistica lo stesso
perché c’è un antro che se ne magna due.

This translates roughly (If I made a mistake, please correct me!) as: You know what statistics is? It’s something you use to make a general count of the people who were born, who get ill, who die, who go to jail, who get married. But for me the peculiar statistic is the one dealing with percentages, because then the mean always remain the same for everyone, even for someone who has nothing. Let me explain, from the way they count in statistics nowadays, it appears that you eat one chicken per year: and, even if you can’t afford to buy a chicken, you are part of the statistic anyway, because there is someone else who eats two chickens.”

I am not a statistician, far from it, but if my interpretation is correct, according to statistics if one person doesn’t eat a chicken but another eats two chickens, as in the example, that doesn’t mean that they have eaten one chicken apiece, which would be absurd. It simply means that ON AVERAGE the two people in question have eaten a chicken. “What’s the difference?, the end result is still the same,” you might argue, “that is, one of the two went hungry.” Okay, we’d have to ask an expert to deal with this issue any further. My point is another, though, and it’s not to demean the importance of statistics, which must take no notice of the individual in order to describe an entire population (etc.).

Trilussa’s assessment, in my opinion, has a lot of relevance for cancer patients. If I am still alive ten years or more (eh!!!) after my diagnosis, that three to four year Science Daily sentence is completely irrelevant…as far as I am concerned, naturalmente. So while I understand why we need statistics blablabla, I also think that survival percentages in particular can really freak out newly diagnosed patients. Unnecessarily so, in some cases. A few years ago, when I was still MGUS, I read heaps of statistics concerning myeloma and wasn’t too thrilled, to put it mildly. Who would be? But now I understand that there are simply too many variables in a population of cancer patients: age, stage of disease, even attitude (and now, as we just found out, HORMONE STRESS LEVELS!), etc. So I focus on the individual. Oh, and in this case, that would be yours truly, I suppose! 😉 My final bit of advice: ignore survival statistics and focus on your own healing!


  1. all cancer therapies are probabilistic….based upon statistics..
    this is called evidence based medicine….
    therapies working only for some patients are called
    “anecdotical”…and are not recommended by oncologist…
    but many long-term cancer survivors use anecdotical therapies!

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