1. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Dominica Republic Deaths.

    A somewhat unexpected property of randomness is that it forms patterns. Many years ago back when I was writing for Game Developer Magazine, I investigated how to automate the creation of virtual landscapes covered with trees. If the positions of the trees were truly random then inevitably there would be a few clusters of trees that were very close together, and empty spaces between the trees. Here's a perfectly random example i generated from random numbers. Notice there are clusters.
    Metabunk 2019-06-21 13-38-41.

    This is known as the Clustering Illusion, defined on Wikipedia as:
    Something that arises from the clustering illusions is the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. This is sometimes deliberate practice of drawing a ring around a random cluster, and then claiming some significance to the fact that there's a lot of points in that cluster. The name comes from a joke about a Texas Cowboy who shoots at the side of a barn. His aim is poor, so there a random scattering.
    Metabunk 2019-06-21 13-35-31.
    He goes over to the barn and picks the biggest clusters of shots, and then paints targets centered on those clusters. So now it looks like he's been aiming for that region, and hence there's a reason for this cluster. But all he did pick one random cluster that looked good for him.
    Metabunk 2019-06-21 13-35-06.

    Recently there have been new stories about a cluster of deaths of US tourists in the Dominican Republic. Nine Americans have died there over the last 12 months. The causes of these deaths are mostly listed as being heart attacks. However, there have been questions raised about possible poisoning of some sort.

    Could this be a clustering illusion? Heart attacks are somewhat randomly scattered through the population, and they also correlate to demographic factors, so there's going to be both real and illusory clusters. Could it be that the Dominican Republic is simple the place that had a random cluster of deaths this year?

    Perhaps there's something else at play here - the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, also called the Frequency illusion. This is a trick your mind plays on you where if you've just recently heard of something, or it's otherwise in your thoughts, then you start to notice it occurring more frequently. The classic example is buying a new car (or just reading about a type of car, like a Tesla), and then you start to see them more often. They are not actually any more common, but you just notice them more.

    So perhaps the media, being primed with the idea that there's a suspicious series of deaths in the Dominican Republic, is suddenly noticing things that would have escaped their notice entirely last year. People have died of heart attacks, and even of alcohol poisoning, in the Dominican Republic before, and they will again. Is it actually any more common this year?

    Now, we know that 2.7 million US citizens visit the Dominican Republic every year. We know that people die somewhat randomly from heart attacks. Each year around 325,000 adults die of sudden Cardiac Death, which is about 1/1000th of the US population of 327,000,000. Simply extrapolating, that means each year 1/1000th of the 2.7 million people who visit the Dominican Republic will die of sudden heart attacks. That's 2,700 people. If the average trip length is seven days then that means, all things being equal, we'd expect about 52 US tourists per year to unexpectedly drop dead of a heart attack in the Dominican Republic!

    It's probably not that high, as people traveling abroad are usually healthier on average than people. But still, a significant number of individually unexpected deaths are to be expected over a year.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2019
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  2. sharpnfuzzy

    sharpnfuzzy Member

    I read that what made some of the deaths suspicious is that liquid was found in the lungs and that at least one pair was a couple who both died of cardiac arrest. Although it's not impossible I guess for two people to both die of cardiac arrest at the same time, it's probably very improbable.

    I know, citations needed, I'll try to find the article again.

    It was stated as respiratory failure with liquid in the lungs.

  3. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    The statistical likelihood of a number of natural causes deaths does not automatically explain every death. But the number of deaths by natural causes is not itself suspicious.

    This type of thing has happened before:
    There were all sorts of speculation about carbon monoxide poisoning or being poisoned by the insecticide used. But eventually, it was revealed to be heart attacks triggered by food poisoning.
  4. Graham2001

    Graham2001 Active Member

    A similar phenomenon happened in the US in 2001, there was an apparent string of shark attacks, which got a lot of media attention, but ironically that was in a year with lower attacks than average.

    Wikipedia has what seems to be a well put together article on the event:

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  5. Agent K

    Agent K Active Member

    Reminiscent of the "sonic attacks" or "health attacks" at the U.S. embassy in Cuba, but here we're talking about deaths and not just vague symptoms.

    At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, a number of athletes had stomach problems.
  6. Tedsson

    Tedsson Member

    The clustering illusion can be a nightmare for epidemiologists and public health workers trying to tease some cause/effect out of a dataset.

    A good example of this is the cluster of childhood cancers around the Windscale/Sellafield nuclear power station in N.W England.

    Big cluster of childhood cancers in one small area a few miles away. Sellafield was the obvious culprit and was blamed immediately. Obvious conclusion really. Or was it?

    Whilst immediately "obvious" there was no repetition of the cluster over time nor was there any similar effect in nearby areas. The level of radiation from the power station was dwarfed by the background radiation (the bedrock in the area is plutonic and emits high levels of radon).

    Further information here: https://scienceblog.cancerresearchu...-light-on-cancer-clusters-near-nuclear-sites/

    So all very inconclusive. Sometimes clustering appears, sometimes it doesn't. Possibly the influence of increased monitoring/reporting? Difficult to tell. It is conceptually difficult to overcome the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy but it looks as if it was a random cluster (albeit one with a clearly identifiable villain. Possibly).

    As an aside: as a big fan of get rich quick schemes I noticed there is usually quite a lot of clustering in lottery numbers. It probably won't help you win the jackpot but it might improve your "luck" if you generate a random number and then two or three more within +/-5 for two of your six numbers. Alternatively you can calculate the likelihood of winning and regard a lottery as a regressive tax on the gullible.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
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  7. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    The clustering illusions, or rather the more general human tendency to find patterns, trends, or correlations in random data, is why you see "Winning Number" displays like this next to roulette tables. It looks like the wins are clustering on black. But it's just random, a small sample, and someone taking a photo when the sign just happened to look unusual.
    Metabunk 2019-06-23 06-56-55.
    Source: https://wizardofodds.com/games/roulette/hot-numbers/
  8. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

    Not really the same thing as deaths or cancer, since ASD is a rather subjective diagnosis with tots, but there was a big cluster scare of autism in Brick Township, NJ back in the 90s too. Turned out to be aggressive monitoring and reporting and just not having accurate data of rates from other locales.


    I cant find data on Disneyland (guess they are keeping it hush hush) but hard to imagine there are less than 9 deaths a year, since people aren't used to the heat and on vacation you exert yourself more than you realize.
  9. Tedsson

    Tedsson Member

    As an erstwhile medical geographer it would be remiss of me not to highlight the antithesis to random clustering by mentioning the famous cholera map produced by John Snow in Soho, London in 1854. Effectively the birth place of medical geography.

    There was a cholera epidemic in 1854, one of many in the first part of 19thC London. It caused over 600 deaths (in what was, and still is, a relatively small area). John Snow was a local doctor and plotted the incidences on a streetmap. He got this:
    The cases of cholera (in red) clustered around the water pump in Broad Street (centre, in blue). Snow realised the water was contaminated and had the council remove the handle from the pump. This stopped the cases of cholera so it looked pretty much as if he had hit the nail on the head. He had. The well feeding the pump (the source of all local water) was a few feet away from a contaminated cesspit. There was no clustering around the other local pumps (in blue).

    Almost immediately this did away with the miasma theory of disease and replaced it with germ theory. It also prompted a big change in the attitude of the authorities and the last cholera outbreak in London was in 1866.

    Further detail on the Broad Street outbreak here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1854_Broad_Street_cholera_outbreak

    My takeaway from this which has served me well for 45 years is - there was a brewery in Broad Street. None of the brewers got cholera because they only drank beer (made from boiled water). Beer saves your life - QED.

    So sometimes it pays to look very closely at clustering.
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  10. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Absolutely! That's a pretty clear-cut case, but even when it's less clear it's nor something to automatically ignore - especially if there's nothing else to go by.
  11. Agent K

    Agent K Active Member

    Unless it's toxic, as may turn out to be the case in the Dominican Republic. Well, maybe not beer but booze.
  12. Mick West

    Mick West Administrator Staff Member

    Media scare spoils vacation for alchoholics! I never knew there was such a thing as a hotel room "liquor dispenser"

    Possible a good idea though, regardless of if it's being refilled with hooch.
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2019
  13. deirdre

    deirdre Moderator Staff Member

  14. Tedsson

    Tedsson Member

    Ah come on Mick. That looks almost exactly like the back wall of any bar in England. Even down to the Beefeater, Black Label and Smirnoff.

    I guess that by "liquor dispenser" they mean what Brits would call the "optic" i.e the bit you can see above the three pronged press dispenser.

    Heavens knows why they bother locking the bottles up as there is nothing to stop you drinking the lot of them (unless there is something very clever behind that white bar).

    Well, I suppose there is common sense.
  15. mrfintoil

    mrfintoil Active Member

    Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, good to finally have a name for this. I remember back in the days when discussing "chemtrails", believers often stated that they had not seen persisting contrails in the past, therefore persisting contrails is a new thing that should be met with suspicion.

    While persisting contrails were likely harder to spot in the past due to lesser air traffic, lower bypass engines, ect, it was certainly not impossible to spot them decades ago.

    I remember when I got a new, rather unique haircut many years ago. I really had not seen it on anyone before, until I got the haircut and started noticing that quite a few actually wore it besides me. It was quite tempting to believe I started a fashion trend...
  16. Dawnrazor

    Dawnrazor New Member

    We stayed in Punta Cana last year just down the road from the Hard Rock Hotel. The optics in our room were exactly like in that pic! Strange how my wife and I barely used them when it was free like that.