Biostatistics Advance Access published online on June 29, 2006. (Biostatistics, doi:10.1093/biostatistics/kxl008).


In this paper we provide critical reviews of methods suggested for the analysis of aggregate count data in the context of disease mapping and spatial regression. We introduce a new method for picking prior distributions, and propose a number of refinements of previously-used models. We also consider ecological bias, mutual standardization, and choice of both spatial model and prior specification. We analyze male lip cancer incidence data collected in Scotland over the period 1975–1980, and outline a number of problems with previous analyses of these data. A number of recommendations are provided. In disease mapping studies, hierarchical models can provide robust estimation of area-level risk parameters, though care is required in the choice of covariate model, and it is important to assess the sensitivity of estimates to the spatial model chosen, and to the prior specifications on the variance parameters. Spatial ecological regression is a far more hazardous enterprise for two reasons. First, there is always the possibility of ecological bias, and this can only be alleviated via the inclusion of individual-level data. For the Scottish data we show that the previously used mean model has limited interpretation from an individual perspective. Second, when residual spatial dependence is modeled, and if the exposure has spatial structure, then estimates of exposure association parameters will change when compared with those obtained from the independence across space model, and the data alone cannot choose the form and extent of spatial correlation that is appropriate.


Disease Modeling | Epidemiology