There’s an old chestnut about the elephant on the couch where a news reporter is assigned to bring back a story about how an incumbent plans to get re-elected to public office. The reporter turns in the story and the editor says it reads OK and moves it along.
The deadline having been made, the reporter later mentions to the boss, “By the way, there was an elephant sitting next to the candidate on the couch.”
“An elephant!” the editor says. “Why didn’t you mention that in the story?”
“Mention it in the story?” the reporter replied. “I was assigned to write about campaign strategy.”
You could make a good argument that the school board in Carlsbad chose to see just what it wanted to at its meeting July 28 when it rejected putting money and/or effort into exploring further whether there’s anything, anything at all, to parents’ concerns that the Kelly Elementary School might — might — be a possible hot spot for cancer.
A North County resident and research scientist with the University of California at Santa Barbara named Stephen Schroeter, who holds a Ph.D. in ecology, told the board he works a lot with numbers and he set out to see how the data from Kelly compares with that of the state as a whole.
He explained: The National Cancer Institute expresses annual rates by counting cancer per 100,000 population. Schroeter took the best numbers he had — at least 15 diagnoses at Kelly among some 1,956 attendees there since the year 2000; the 15 having been there at least four years — and divided the diagnoses by the enrollees, the 1,956, to get .00767.
He multiplied that by 100,000, to get 767, and then divided by 10, the number of years studied, to derive an annual rate.
The result is 76.7 or, as the National Cancer Institute might express it, the annual rate of cancer diagnoses at the school would be nearly 77 per 100,000 pupils per year.
Trouble is, when you look at Caucasians and Hispanics 14 years old or younger in California, the rate is 16 per 100,000, making the number at Kelly almost five times that of the state as whole.
Red flag, anyone? Someone said it looked as if Schroeter was talking to a wall.
Me, I hope he’s completely wrong and the numbers say nothing.
But my hopes are not the issue.
The board continues to rely on census tract data that it says concludes there are no cancer “clusters” in Carlsbad.
Good, but so what; what about that school, one built before the law required thorough environmental vetting of potential school sites? (No less an expert than Donald Lyman, the chief of the division of chronic disease and injury control at the state Department of Public Health, told a June forum on this issue that a “cancer excess” at a school is determined by looking at if “observed” cases exceed “what is expected for a similar group.”)
Shall we chalk up the board’s donning blinders to fiscal anxiety syndrome? After all, if something did turn out to be wrong, how much might it cost to fix it — the figure for ridding the high school football field of arsenic has been reported at $700,000 — and where would the money come from?
Is it not reckless to ignore such a stark warning sign as a cancer rate among Kelly children perhaps five times that of the norm? And what does the board’s action say to the students of Carlsbad about the value of education and unfettered inquiry when, despite all its declarations about how it decisions are “data driven,” it refuses to see a signal flashed before its very eyes? Or an elephant sitting on the couch?
Filed Under: Not That You Asked