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Causal Considerations Can Inform the Interpretation of Surprising Associations in Medical Registries

posted on 25.11.2021, 15:00 by Alberto Carmona-Bayonas, Paula Jiménez-Fonseca, Javier Gallego, Pavlos Msaouel

An exploratory analysis of registry data from 2437 patients with advanced gastric cancer revealed a surprising association between astrological birth signs and overall survival (OS) with p = 0.01. After dichotomizing or changing the reference sign, p-values <0.05 were observed for several birth signs following adjustments for multiple comparisons. Bayesian models with moderately skeptical priors still pointed to these associations. A more plausible causal model, justified by contextual knowledge, revealed that these associations arose from the astrological sign association with seasonality. This case study illustrates how causal considerations can guide analyses through what would otherwise be a hopeless maze of statistical possibilities.


This is an academic study. The study was supported by the authors themselves. Pavlos Msaouel is supported by a Career Development Award by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a Research Award by KCCure, the MD Anderson Khalifa Scholar Award, the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Fellowship, and the MD Anderson Physician-Scientist Award.