Correlation and Causation

On September 16, 2013, Lone gunman Aaron Alexis fatally shot twelve people and injured three others in a mass shooting at the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) inside the Washington Navy . Barely after the incident took place  it was discovered that the shooter was obsessed with video games.

And as was expected, the top headline for the near future was an accusation that video games cause violence.

Rep. Louie Gohmert even stated that  “It obviously has an effect, and it’s interesting that these people seem to have a common tie with extremely violent video games”

Now, such accusations always get me disgusted. And it was because of this that I wanted to write a little about one dear line of logic that I feel everyone should start utilizing:

Correlation does not imply Causation

The concept is really simple.

If A is related to B, you can’t conclude that A causes B or B causes A just because they are related.

Simple enough right?

Yet, to this day, even adults almost religiously do the opposite. Even highly cultured and educated individuals make the mistake once in a while. Which is why, I’m going to give you some examples of seemingly obvious situations where one would assume this and also explain what’s really going on. Hopefully, it will help you look at such situations differently in the future:

1)  Let’s consider the relationship between reading ability and shoe size across the whole population of the United States. If someone performed such a survey, they would find that the larger shoe sizes correlate with better reading ability, but this does not mean large feet cause good reading skills. Instead it’s caused by the fact that young children have small feet and have not yet (or only recently) been taught to read. In this case, the two variables are more accurately correlated with a third: age.

2.) We often hear it bandied about that men, especially young men, are more likely to commit suicide than are women.

Now consider the fact that women make three times as many suicide attempts as men. How then can a higher correlation exist between the opposite sex and suicide? The answer lies in success rate, influenced by differences in methodology: Women resort to pills, while men tend to favor guns.

Now, for a little humour:

3) In the world of parody and pop culture, to battle the unfair assumptions,  a key “belief” that global warming  is caused by a lack of pirates sailing the oceans was made popular!

This is shown by a graph correlating increasing surface temperatures of the earth with a decline in the number of pirates. While it is certainly true that piracy has decreased and temperatures have gone up, there is nothing directly connecting the two trends!

Correlations seem to tap into a deep part of human psychology. People will often take two completely unrelated events and decide that they must cause each other because they seem to correlate. Someone may decide that when they wear a given shirt they have good luck; this is often combined with a powerful confirmation bias to create that magical thinking.

Now that you’ve read these you may find yourself thinking twice before making assumptions! And that is a really important if you want to develop a powerful mindset. You may start to see the world in a different way. Take the first step, and the rest will fall in place.


See the world in a different light.

Signing Off,

Shawn Kenneth Fernandes

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