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Aunt Sally (Editorial)

Evidential Aunt Sally
Readers' Aunt Sallys

Bandolier has a wide readership. On the same day we get emails from Stanford University in California, and the Kathmandu leper hospital. Sometimes, though, we feel the need to be parochial, especially as the football season ends and Summer begins. In Oxfordshire, summer means cricket, but it also marks the start of the Aunt Sally season.

Aunt Sally

This game seems to be virtually unique to Oxfordshire. It consists of throwing sticks of wood about 45 cm long and 5 cm in diameter at a small white doll placed on an iron peg about 10 metres away (actually it is all inches and feet, but we are being international here).

Players have six sticks, and have to dislodge the doll without hitting the rod. This is not as easy as it sounds. Bandolier, purely for reasons of research, recently spent a sunny evening in a pub checking the statistics. Evidence suggests that good pub team players can hit the target up to four times out of six, with an average of two. Beginners find it hard to hit the doll once or twice in an evening.

The origins are obscure. Some suggest that it is a very old game, while others consider a nineteenth century origin. In any event, it has passed into the language as 'a bit of an Aunt Sally' being something that metaphorical sticks get thrown at.

Evidential Aunt Sally

There are many Aunt Sallys in healthcare, treatments and management. Most of us feel able to criticise, but evidence can help. For instance, discharge planning with post-discharge support of patients with congestive heart failure might seem unlikely to be beneficial, except in a soft and cuddly sort of way. But the evidence is that it produces better care at lower cost. Diagnostic and assessment centres for cancer are obviously a good thing, except that the evidence, such as there is, is largely silent on any benefits.

Readers' Aunt Sallys

Bandolier likes to respond to reader queries, because they point out those topics that are your Aunt Sallys. This month you have stimulated a brief review of ankyloglossia, which would not have occurred to us otherwise. More prosaic, but interesting nonetheless, was asking about whether (or why) urine smells bad after eating asparagus, or urine is red (or not) after eating beetroot.

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