TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, May 30, 2014

Harvard 3L's Website: Correlation Does Not Imply Causation

BBC News, Spurious Correlations: Margarine Linked to Divorce?:

One of the golden rules of statistics is that correlation does not equal causation. Just because the movements of two variables track each other closely over time doesn't mean that one causes the other.

To make this important, but somewhat dry, point more accessible, [Tyler] Vigen, a criminology student at Harvard Law School, wrote a computer programme to mine datasets for statistical correlations. He posts the funniest ones to Spurious Correlations.



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It depends if there is a plausible explanation. For example I once read that there is a negative correlation between espresso consumption and church attendance, that is, people who don't go to church or synagogue instead spend Saturday or Sunday mornings drinking coffee as a substitute form of spirituality. This makes quite a bit of sense to me, with or without Harvard's approval.

Posted by: michael livingston | May 30, 2014 4:53:25 AM

"This makes quite a bit of sense to me, with or without Harvard's approval."

It still doesn't establish causation, which is the point of the piece.

Posted by: Rob T. | May 30, 2014 7:09:11 AM

Agreed. But a further point is that no one in Seattle seems actually to drink the coffee; instead many seem to carry it around with them well past the point at which an espresso drink begins to disintegrate (almost immediately, in most cases). If it is not some kind of sacrament, then what exactly is it?

Posted by: michael livingston | May 31, 2014 3:16:50 AM