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Bayesian versus frequentist statistical inference for investi gating a one-off cancer cluster reported to a health department

By Rachael-Anne Wills, Michael Coory and Adrian G. Barnett

Abstract

Background\ud \ud The problem of silent multiple comparisons is one of the most difficult statistical problems faced by scientists. It is a particular problem for investigating a one-off cancer cluster reported to a health department because any one of hundreds, or possibly thousands, of neighbourhoods, schools, or workplaces could have reported a cluster, which could have been for any one of several types of cancer or any one of several time periods.\ud \ud Methods\ud \ud This paper contrasts the frequentist approach with a Bayesian approach for dealing with silent multiple comparisons in the context of a one-off cluster reported to a health department. Two published cluster investigations were re-analysed using the Dunn-Sidak method to adjust frequentist p-values and confidence intervals for silent multiple comparisons. Bayesian methods were based on the Gamma distribution.\ud \ud Results\ud \ud Bayesian analysis with non-informative priors produced results similar to the frequentist analysis, and suggested that both clusters represented a statistical excess. In the frequentist framework, the statistical significance of both clusters was extremely sensitive to the number of silent multiple comparisons, which can only ever be a subjective "guesstimate". The Bayesian approach is also subjective: whether there is an apparent statistical excess depends on the specified prior.\ud \ud Conclusion\ud \ud In cluster investigations, the frequentist approach is just as subjective as the Bayesian approach, but the Bayesian approach is less ambitious in that it treats the analysis as a synthesis of data and personal judgements (possibly poor ones), rather than objective reality. Bayesian analysis is (arguably) a useful tool to support complicated decision-making, because it makes the uncertainty associated with silent multiple comparisons explicit

Topics: 010401 Applied Statistics, OAVJ
Publisher: Biomed Central Ltd
Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1186/1471-2288-9-30
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.qut.edu.au:26786

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