Essay Prompts: Correlation is not Causation

Here’s an interesting fact: Humans are stupid. I don’t mean to imply we don’t have intelligence (although some who claim to have a high IQ, well, let’s just say they get elected to public office on other qualities). Rather, we put our trust in things we shouldn’t (and not just politicians). We are horrible at judging risk. We often see things that just are not there. We often believe the most ridiculous nonsense about cooking, such as fresh ground salt is better.  Worst of all, we often confuse correlation with causation.

  • Correlation: a mutual relationship or connection between two or more things
  • Causation: the relationship between cause and effect; causality.

Here are two examples of this confusion I’ve seen in my news feeds and on FB:

One fellow wrote about a friend of his that got a good report from the doctor in a followup visit, stating: “He’s definitely living proof that God answers prayers.” No, he isn’t. It is wonderful that the friend is doing better, but there is no causality here. You can pray to God or a Saint and get better, but that is not proof that God or the Saint was *why* you got better, no matter what the Pope says. There is no proven or provable, testable, repeatable method of showing that one action causes the other.

Another fellow wrote about high tax states, citing a article that he believed said that “high state taxes cause people to leave those states, making it very difficult to actually increase tax revenue, no matter how high their tax rates get.” Again, there’s no causality here. Yes people leave high tax states, but they leave low tax states as well, for many many reasons. Taxes may be a reason, but typically it isn’t the precipitating reason. And in the absence of clear evidence that whereever taxes are higher, people leave, this is just correlation. There are many high tax states where people don’t leave (witness property values in California) and high tax countries where people don’t leave. Further, “people” is far too nebulous a category, for all people are not the same. Are you talking those with wealth? Those on fixed incomes? Retirees? People in particular industries? The issue is just too nebulous to attribute to causality.

Always remember storks and babies. I had a statistics professor explain it this way: You may think there is a causality between storks and babies, because whereever there are more babies, there are more storks. But that’s a spurious correlation: there are more babies where there are more storks because there are more babies in big cities, and big cities often have zoos, which have more storks. No causality there.

Keep this in mind as you read your papers.


At The End of the Line when the Brains were Passed Out

According to the Los Angeles Times, Federal authorities have seized 250 counterfeit $1-billion banknotes from a West Hollywood apartment as part of a currency smuggling investigation. The bogus Federal Reserve notes carry 1934 issue dates and are stained to look old. They are a replication of 1934 Grover Cleveland $1,000 bills — manipulated to look like $1 billion.

Now, read this again.

$1 Billion bank notes.

Can you imagine going in to 7-11 to buy a pack of gum. “Sorry, I only have a billion on me. Can you make change?”


16 Kids. What were we thinking?

[A short item I noted at work yesterday before I left, posted while everyone else is getting dressed for services, which start at 8:30am]

CNN is reporting about an Michelle Duggar (yes, the family does have a website) from Little Rock, AR (“I’m just a little girl, from Little Rock / I was born on the wrong side of the tracks…”). Michelle, it seems, just gave birth to her 16th baby at the age of 39… and that’s not the end of it. Michell and her husband, Jim Bob Duggar, a former state representative, want more children. They are quoted as saying, “We both just love children and we consider each a blessing from the Lord. I have asked Michelle if she wants more and she said yes, if the Lord wants to give us some she will accept them”. Michelle had her first child at age 21, four years after the couple married (for those that can’t do the math, this means they got married at 17).

They have already been profiled on the Discovery Channel, and the Learning Channel is doing another show about the family’s construction project, a 7,000-square foot house that should be finished before Christmas. The home, which the family from the northwest Arkansas town of Rogers has been building for two years, will have nine bathrooms, dormitory-style bedrooms for the girls and boys, a commercial kitchen, four washing machines and four dryers. Their children include two sets of twins, and each child has a name beginning with the letter “J”: Joshua, 17; John David, 15; Janna, 15; Jill, 14; Jessa, 12; Jinger, 11; Joseph, 10; Josiah, 9; Joy-Anna, 8; Jeremiah, 6; Jedidiah, 6; Jason, 5; James, 4; Justin, 2; Jackson Levi, 1; and now Johannah.

For us, however, one is plenty.

Hey, little minivan, we’re goin’ to the grocery store
She’s got an automatic tranny with overdrive,
and the radio’s tuned to Magic 95
She gets 30 miles on a gallon of gas,
And I can schlep all the girls to gymnastics class
She’s got her headlights on both night and day,
She’s the most practical value in the USA
She’s got cruise control, ABS & EFI, I keep her Michelins at 32 psi

Hey, little minivan, we’re goin’ to the children’s museum
On icy mornings when I’m feeling my age,
I’m protected and warm in my steel cage
Her climate control really pumps out the heat,
And her dual air bags just can’t be beat
She’s rated real high by Consumer Reports
And her two front seats have got lumbar support
I’ve got the good driver rate and comprehensive insurance,
And she’s loaded with electronic theft deterrents
(Hey Little Minivan, Austin Lounge Lizards)


Sometimes, You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up

From CNN:

The former mistress of convicted murderer Scott Peterson is back in the spotlight after a DNA test showed that her first child was not fathered by the man who was paying child support.

Anthony Flores, 29, has been paying Frey $175 a month for nearly four years, his attorney, Glenn Wilson, said Wednesday. The father of the 4-year-old girl is actually Fresno restaurant owner Christopher Funch, Wilson said.

No one answered the telephone at Porky’s Rib House on Wednesday, and Funch did not have a listed home number.

Note the name of the restaurant: Porky’s Rib House. Reminds me of a sign that was once posted on the TARDSITE in March 1999:


It’s Not Just the Christian Right Who Are Idotic

Recently, there have been a number of posts where Christians on LJ have indicated they’ve been embarrassed to be Christian because of the statements being made about the reasons for Katrina. A good example of this is klellingson‘s post where he talks about how the position of Repent America that Katrina was the result of Southern Decedance is distinctly non-Christian.

Alas, I regret to say I must join Kevin in his statement.

No, I haven’t become Christian. But a post on weirdjews about a recent article in the Jerusalem Post about the statements of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leading spiritual mentor of Sephardi Jewry make me say: “This isn’t Judaism as I was taught”.

What did Rabbi Yosef say? Here are some quotes:

He [Bush] brought about the expulsion [from Gaza], now he has his own expulsion…

There was a tsunami and there were horrible natural disasters. It’s all a result of too little Torah study. Where there is Torah, the world has sustenance.

Over there [Louisiana] is where black people live. Do blacks learn Torah? ‘All right,’ said God, ‘let’s bring a tsunami and drown them.’ Hundreds of thousands are homeless, tens of thousands are dead. All that because there is no God there.”

I said it before, I’ll said it again: This is not Judaism.

Judaism teaches us that there are many ways to God. Christianity is just as valid a path as is Judaism; in fact, it is an easier path (for there are fewer obligations). The hurricane was a natural disaster.

Me thinks folks trying to rationalize the reason for the hurricane need to read the book When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Rabbi Harold Kusher. We need to speak out against such idocy whenever we see it.

P.S. To Rabbi Yosef: Blacks do indeed learn Torah. I know quite a few who are proud Jews (even some likely reading this article). I was very proud the day I was able to stand and be a witness at the conversion of my best friend, a black lady who died far too young, to Judaism.