Friday, May 13, 2016

There's always a witch-hunt...

I recently was made aware of this article in Huffington Post that suggests that Zalav Scrap Yard in Windsor, ON is linked to cancer rates in a group of people.

Here's a few problems with this:

Cancer clusters are limited.  Finding a cancer cluster does not indicate causation.  It's mostly just a statistic.  According to the National Cancer Institute:  "Cancer clusters can help scientists identify cancer-causing substances in the environment.  However, most suspected cancer clusters turn out, on detailed investigation, not to be true cancer clusters. That is, no cause can be identified, and the clustering of cases turns out to be a random occurrence."

So it turns out that a number of people in this area have had a higher rate of lung cancer than the national average.  OK, so that's a good reason to do more research to see if there is a common underlying cause.  And that's exactly is what is being done according to the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.

As of writing this blog WECHU have merely interviewed 50% of the target population (those, or next of kin of those, who where diagnosed with primary lung cancer between 2000 and 2009).  This data they collected is still currently being analyzed.  There have been no conclusions yet, so to indicate Zalav as the culprit is very wrong.

It will be hard to create any common definitive answers as to why the residents had cancer.  This is because of the limitations of this type of initial study.  You are relying a lot on the memories of people and as many people reading this may know, our recall of memories can be fallible.  People could misreport some items and thus skew the results.  I'm sure the WECHU and the epidemiologist looking into the matter understand this.   There are also many other factors to consider as well.   The area in question can have a number of low-income families.  In other such studies , a correlation between income/socioeconomic level and cancer rates has been shown.  This could be due to a lack of funds to maintain a high level of healthcare and also may be much more prone to behaviour and jobs that expose one more to carcinogens.

While I'm sure that the dust from Zalav does not help matters and does cause some problems, without evidence I would be intellectually dishonest in implicating them as a whole.  I do agree with the author's suggestion of moving the business away from the centre.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Problem with Pop Media Science

This a great look at the problem with science as it is often presented in the media.  A soundbite with very little depth and insight.  If only more people would understand this, I would spend less time debunking nonsense.

Check out the great video by John Oliver:

Also this is another great video clearly and simply stating the problem with studies being reproducible.

Sunday, May 8, 2016