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International Journal of Epidemiology versus Hivemind and the Datagoround

The Hivemind wins (see the comment thread here, which is full of detective work from various commenters).

As I wrote as a postscript to that earlier post, maybe we should call this the “stone soup” or “Bem” phenomenon, when a highly flawed work stimulates interesting, thoughtful discussion.


  1. B. C. says:

    It seems that your RSS feed ( ) is not up to date (it is stuck on September 27th).

  2. B.C. says:

    Everything is fine now… may be it was my RSS reader…

  3. I think “question” has a very plausible mechanism for the researchers having mechanically created their seasonal effect. The “data generating process” he uses (simulating how he thinks the researchers collected, entered and analyzed the data) produces a fit to the seasonal trend that is just TOO good.

    “question” obviously is a pseudonym for someone who has wished to remain anonymous, but in an ideal world, this issue should be addressed, and it should be retracted if his analysis is right. Bringing this to the attention of journal editors seems to be potentially career damaging for anyone not well established. Andrew, how do you feel about leading a push-back on the journal based on the analysis done here on your blog?

    • Keith O'Rourke says:

      > potentially career damaging for anyone not well established.
      Unlikely unless you were/are some how involved with authors or their institution.

      Why not

      A. Write a short letter to the editor (half page) with an appendix going more into the details of “question”‘s suspected mechanism and simulation and send both concurrently to the editor and all authors.

      B. Spin out and develop a paper using this paper as a lead in example of the problem (many epidemiologists might really benefit from such a paper, even if the subject matter seems trivial to statisticians).

      You have acknowledged “question” here and likely only need repeat that in A or B.

      Both A and B can be career positive.
      An example of an A. from my career is

      Now the positive was not the large citation count of 1, but rather one of the authors of the paper actually thanked me for providing them a reason to revisit their paper. Additionally, afterwards Altman and others told me “You should have done B – as a letter to the editor it will have no impact at all”.

      If A and or B fails, then yes it might get messy to do something.

    • question says:

      So I was thinking what else usually has a sigmoid shape? Growth. What is growing that plateaus around 25 years? People, specifically their skin. I found this paper providing some rough estimates of surface size:

      “Age changes in absolute and relative surface areas of the human body”

      Using that data along with this from wikipedia I got some estimates of number of melanocytes by age: “The average square inch (6.5 cm²) of skin holds… 60,000 melanocytes”

      The number of melanocytes by age looks much like the CMM cases *5 years earlier*. So possibly it takes ~ 5 years from initiation of the cancer until it is detectable. If we plot one vs the other it is consistent with a constant rate of conversion from normal to cancer cell of 1.2E-11 per cell per year. Also, the intercept is very close to the maximal rate per person at adulthood, which is probably not a coincidence.

  4. Elin says:

    This 1991 issue is really a pain. If nothing else they need to share their data, especially for the CMM … though I wonder if there is some privacy issue? No idea at all about the mysterious extra babies between Statistics Sweden and the UN,I’m not seeing any obvious explanation.

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