A third of highly cited clinical studies are subsequently contradicted, and there are statistical reasons for why many published research findings may be false. The subjective impression of many experts in cancer genetics is that much of the tumor mutation literature may also be erroneous or deeply flawed. For example, there exist many reports of false somatic mutations attributable entirely to the choice of analytic method. This pattern of mis-reporting may divert the investment of limiting resources for cancer research into fundamentally flawed directions. We provide here a review of the basic theoretic principles and observed patterns within the literature of solid tumors and inherited tumor-susceptibility syndromes. These patterns provide support for a systematic approach to the critical analysis of the somatic mutation literature offered in the accompanying paper.