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The Settlers of Catan

In Science, We Can’t Just “Settle” for Data Clusters

The board game, Settlers of Catan, offers a clear illustration of what can go wrong when we are duped by data clusters

Settlers of Catan is an incredible board game created by Klaus Teuber, a German game designer. It has been translated into dozens of languages and tens of millions of sets have been sold. The basic four-player board consists of 19 hexagons (hexes) representing resources: 3 brick, 4 lumber, 4 wool, 4 grain, 3 ore, and 1 desert. Players acquire and use resources based on dice rolls, card draws, trading, and the location of their settlements and cities. Part of the game’s seductive appeal is that there are many, many ways to arrange the 19 hexagons and successful strategies depend on how the hexagons are arranged. The rules are simple but winning strategies are complex and elusive. The official rules of…

Vitamin D gelcaps.

Vitamin D and COVID-19: Is It Data or Noise?

Because random clusters occur naturally in large numbers, only randomized, controlled trials can tell us

Random data shows geographic clusters. Thus some locations will inevitably have higher COVID-19 rates than others. As my example shows, associating these clusters with personal characteristics after the fact is not convincing scientific evidence. That’s where randomized, controlled trials are needed.

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