Wednesday, March 12, 2008

RE: cancer rates in an aboriginal community downstream from oil sands production

Alberta Cancer Board apparently assessed the cancer rates in the community and concluded that cancer rates were on par with the rates of the rest of Alberta. Just because it's on par doesn't mean it's normal and acceptable, especially if the community's cancer rates were below the province's average before the boom in oil production began. The Alberta Cancer Board can't possibly say with 110% confidence that these cancer rates are acceptable when you're comparing apples to oranges. That conclusion has no substance because it's attempting to average an isolated spike in cancer rates with a population size magnitudes greater. It's statistically unsound to make this kind of conclusion. Does that mean if 50% of Albertans were suffering from cancer, then it's OK for a once untouched community to see those rates of cancer in their community? Shouldn't the government be concerned with rising cancer rates in any community in the province? Unless the Alberta Cancer Board has done studies on the community pre-development, then they cannot make any conclusion. The doctor who initially conducted the study even said that she did not have sufficient data to come to a conclusion. So of course the Board took whatever data she did have and pulled out provincial data sets to statistically fudge numbers to make a poorly substantiated claim about the community's cancer rates. I remember, quite clearly, from my first-year statistics class that you can come to very different conclusions based on the same statistics, depending on how you interpret those statistics. The conclusion that the Alberta Cancer Board came to clearly shows how they chose to interpret their data. But my argument to all these statistics is quite simple: cancer is the plague of the 21st century, so it's safe to say that cancer is associated with development in the modern world. Ergo, it should also be safe to conclude that there is a connection between a community that has been more exposed to development today than when they first settled the land and the rates of cancer that they are experiencing today. It's not a question of whether or not the community's cancer rates fall within some province-accepted cancer average, it's a question of whether these rates are unique and abnormal to that isolated community. If these cancer rates were always present in the community, what reason would they have to speak up now? Provincial "average" does not mean "acceptable" but that is what the Alberta Cancer Board is trying to define it as. According to my dictionary, as an adjective, "average" means "having qualities that are seen as typical of a particular person or thing". It also means "mediocre; not very good". So why don't we rephrase our question to the Alberta Cancer board and ask them how they define "average" and why the government acknowledges this average as "acceptable" when "average" implies "not very good" as well.