What Is Correlation and Causation?

Podcast of the Day

What causes what? The human brain is programmed to answer this question constantly. This how we survive. What made that noise? Bear made that noise. What caused my hand to hurt? Fire caused my hand to hurt.

We are so eager to figure what causes what — that we often get it wrong. I wore my lucky hat to the game. My team won. Therefore, my lucky hat caused my team to win.

On today's show we dive deep into the world of correlation and causation with Charles Wheelan, author of the new book, Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data.

Listen to the Planet Money episode: What Causes What?

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Here’s an historical tidbit you may not be aware of. Between the years 1860 and 1940, as the number of Methodist ministers living in New England increased, so too did the amount of Cuban rum imported into Boston – and they both increased in an extremely similar way. Thus, Methodist ministers must have bought up lots of rum in that time period!

Actually no, that’s a silly conclusion to draw. What’s really going on is that both quantities – Methodist ministers and Cuban rum – were driven upwards by other factors, such as population growth.

In reaching that incorrect conclusion, we’ve made the far-too-common mistake of confusing correlation with causation...

Continue reading Borwein & Rose's article: Clearing up confusion between correlation and causation

Further Reading

In statistics, many statistical tests calculate correlations between variables and when two variables are found to be correlated, it is tempting to assume that this shows that one variable causes the other.[1][2] That "correlation proves causation," is considered a questionable cause logical fallacy when two events occurring together are taken to have established a cause-and-effect relationship. This fallacy is also known as cum hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "with this, therefore because of this," and "false cause." A similar fallacy, that an event that followed another was necessarily a consequence of the first event, is the post hoc ergo propter hoc (Latin for "after this, therefore because of this.") fallacy...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article: Correlation does not imply causation

Bonus Webcomic

Related Topics

 Logic | Mathematics | Randomness

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