Professors live longer than doctors: Immortality bias in survival analysis (Editorial)

N. R. Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Oscar winners live almost 4 yr longer than less successful film stars. Although criticized, this sort of finding still features frequently on the Internet and public media and also in medical literature.

In 2001, an article was published based on 235 Oscar winners, 527 nominees (non-winners), and 887 performers who were never nominated (controls).1 Controls were selected from performers who were in the same film as the nominees and were also the same sex and approximately the same age as the nominees. In the primary analysis, survival was measured from performers’ date of birth. Each performer was classified as a winner or non-winner from the outset. One reported analysis used winner as a time-dependent covariate to reflect the fact that all started out as non-winners but that some changed status over time. A basic analysis showed that the total life span of winners was 3.9 yr longer than controls and this was statistically significant. A slightly more sophisticated analysis that accounted for the dynamics of moving from non-winner to winner status found less dramatic differences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-163
Number of pages3
JournalBritish Journal of Anaesthesia
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

Bibliographical note

Professors live longer than doctors: immortality bias in survival analysis N. R. Webster (Br J Anaesth 2011; 106: 161–3; doi:10.1093/bja/aeq380)

It has been brought to our notice that there are significant similarities in wording in two paragraphs in the Editorial by Webster (British Journal of Anaesthesia 2011; 106: 161–3) and those in an earlier publication (Sylvestre MP, Huszti E, Hanley JA, Ann Intern Med 2006; 145: 361–3). The similarities occur in two paragraphs on the first page of the Editorial (starting ‘The original analysis classified those …’, and ‘This is in fact a well-known source of bias ….’). While this paper was correctly cited in the Editorial, this unintentional level of similarity could have been made clearer by the use of quotation marks.

The author and editor wish to apologize unreservedly for any offence or confusion this may have caused.

© The Author [2012]. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Journal of Anaesthesia. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:


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