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Journal Interrobang's Journal: The Case of the Bus-Driving Genius and the Melanoma Bandages 3

I have a friend who is possibly the world's most intelligent schoolbus driver. He is, literally, one of these mind-blowing geniuses (in fact, he once was asked to go to a research university in the US so they could recalibrate an intelligence test for people with freakishly high IQs); driving a bus is just what he does for a living.

He has a lot of unusual hobbies, however, like foiling abductions, becoming an official Friend of the Court in the Province of Ontario, and now, conducting a barefoot epidemiology.

You see, a while back he noticed that he was seeing a lot of people at work who were wearing those distinctive "melanoma bandages," indicating that they'd either had biopsies or lesions/suspicious spots removed. He started counting. He figured out that in six months, he'd seen 110 people in the office at his workplace, and of that 110 people, he'd observed 11 wearing melanoma bandages.

According to Health Canada, aggregate incidence statistics for the population he would be looking at (generally between age 30 and 65), are 18.28 per 100 000 (mean data), or 0.1828 percent.

Process Note: To derive these figures, I took the incidence data per 100 000 in the tables on that web page, selected for the cohort between 30 and 65, and then took the mean of the data. Afterwards, I divided the incidence rate per 100 000 by 1000 to obtain the incidence rate as a percentage. Please feel free to critique my math or my methodology, since although I'm not completely ignorant of statistics (it's the one branch of math I can do reasonably well), I will not claim to have even average math chops.

No matter which way you want to slice and dice those numbers, statistically speaking, they're adding up. My friend is now working with an epidemiologist with the federal government who specialises in cancer clusters. (He likes that she's a postdoc or another form of newly-minted PhD.).

To fill in a bit more of the background detail, there are environmental factors at work. Most of the people who drive schoolbuses in this area are otherwise rather outdoorsy (as Ed says, "You have to like the outdoors to drive a bus, since you're in it so much.") -- they're often farmers who are supplementing their income; most of them are men (who have a slightly higher melanoma rate to begin with, especially on the upper body), and most are between 30 and 65, as I mentioned.

As Ed remarked, "If any other profession showed this kind of a cancer cluster, they'd regulate the hell out of it." Well, maybe they will, now that they know about it. (I'm not so sure it's directly professionally-related, but we'll see what happens.)

We already know that melanoma rates are going up, likely because of a combination of 60 years of collective tan-fetish and the thinning of the ozone layer. However, I'm writing this to make (yet again) a plea that people be mindful and pay attention to trends that they might notice around them. Who knows what you might find out? As Yogi Berra was once credited with saying, "You can learn a lot just by observing." (People mock him for it, but it's actually quite profound, if you think about it.)

I mentioned the story to Rustin, and he said, "You really should write this up as a journal entry. You really are the IGCU*, because you see this stuff, and you notice it; your blog entries have the potential to make a lot of people aware of stuff long before it hits the news." I do think things like this are quite significant in a number of different ways. I also think it's important to chronicle them and disseminate the information so other people can learn and contribute.

* For "Inter Geek Communications Unit," which, as he says, is because I function as kind of a nexus between a whole bunch of (groups of) geeks, and pass information through. Not only that, but I'm a huge clearinghouse of information myself. I just wish more people would tap into the resources I have available...
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The Case of the Bus-Driving Genius and the Melanoma Bandages

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  • IGCU - interesting thought. Anyway, the Yogi Berra quote is quite correct. Most people seem to miss 90% of what is going on around them.

    Oh, and math critique - I think that you want 0.01828 percent, rather than 0.1828 percent. That makes it even more significant as a cluster, if the overall incidence rate for the population is two in ten thousand, and he is noticing five hundred times that.
    • Yeah, that's actually what I remember it being in the calculator, but I had a raging headache, so I probably typoed. Thanks! :)

      Everyone else reading this, use Johndiii's number instead, please.

      Five hundred times is a big damn number. I'm the world's biggest math idiot, and even I know that...
  • by turg ( 19864 ) *
    My Mom is an epidemiologist.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes