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TagPhantom patterns

upset sick mature woman in kerchief looking at smiling reflection in mirror, cancer concept

Cancer Maps—An Expensive Source of Phantom Patterns?

Is the money the U.S. government spends on tracking cancer patterns a good investment? There’s a way we can tell

The U.S. government puts interactive maps on the internet that show the geographic incidence (all the way down to census blocks) of various types of cancer. Millions of dollars are spent each year maintaining these maps, but for what purpose? The problem with cancer maps is that they tempt the curious and fearful to scrutinize the brightly colored chunks, thinking that any patterns they discover must be meaningful. However, statistical patterns are sometimes meaningless. For example, I flipped a coin ten times and got these results: There is a cluster of 3 heads in a row and a cluster of 4 tails in a row: These clusters are not at all surprising. If a fair coin is flipped ten times,…