Sunday, January 23, 2011

Updates And False Correlation

As an update to yesterday's post, I should amend something.

Although the courts are present to uphold law to deter crime, there are instances when "X should be met with Y". Namely, when you have experienced property damage or some other loss in monetary value. Whoever did that should be sued for the value lost. That falls under deterrence slightly, I suppose - "No crime will go without it's punishment."

Anywho, on to today's post, spurred on by recent experiences. It's a pretty simple fallacy today: false correlation. That is, saying X and Y are linked without sufficient evidence.

It's one thing to say "staying out in the sun for too long will give sunburns"  than to say "popsicles cause sunburns". We can prove the former from scientific research and common knowledge:

- The sun produces sunlight
- Sunlight contains UV rays
- UV rays cause sunburn after prolonged exposure
Therefore over prolonged exposure to the sun, you will get a sunburn.

The latter statement cannot be proven, or at least, has not yet been proven. No evidence, no correlation. In many false correlations such as these, one should also consider a third element  Z which may cause both X and Y, as opposed to X causes Y and Z is merely incidental.


- People eat more popsicles in the summer
- People spend more time in the sun in the summer
- More time in the sun causes more sunburns
False conclusion: Popsicles cause sunburns.
Correct conclusion: The summer causes an increase in sunburns and popsicle consumption.

As in most cases, if you present a statement, you have the burden of proof. If you state something exists, whether it be an invention, a correlation, and object, or even a deity, you have to prove it. "Prove it doesn't exist" may be an answer you might consider. Don't. Why? Teapots.


  1. Actually, people tried to prove that ice cream caused polio because people got polio in the summer and ate ice cream in the summer, so crazier correlations have been thought to be causations. You should read Freakonomics. It's all about this stuff and there is also a movie of it on Netflix instant.

  2. I've read Freakonomics and its sequel. Good stuff.