Correlation and pseudo-intellectualism

1. Correlation is not and cannot be taken to imply causation. Even if there is a very strong association between two variables we cannot assume that one causes the other.

For example suppose we found a positive correlation between watching violence on T.V. and violent behavior in adolescence. It could be that the cause of both these is a third (extraneous) variable – say for example, growing up in a violent home – and that both the watching of T.V. and the violent behavior are the outcome of this.

2. Correlation does not allow us to go beyond the data that is given. For example suppose it was found that there was an association between time spent on homework (1/2 hour to 3 hours) and number of G.C.S.E. passes (1 to 6). It would not be legitimate to infer from this that spending 6 hours on homework would be likely to generate 12 G.C.S.E. passes.

I was reading a book on how “specialisation” is an overrated tool and how “generalists” are taking over the world. It is a book of implied causation and overarching correlation of events that appear to have happened (taken from interviews and “researchers”). There is, of course, no mention of recall bias in the various verbal testimonies and whatever the “fill-in-the-blanks” its all fiction.

These are dangerous stupidities that get expounded in the mainstream press (and non-fiction). I am loathed to follow up with the “self-help” because ultimately, the only way a person moves forward is through questioning and curiosity. No book can make you a millionaire!

Further, success is only incidental and is relative. We look up to success as a validation of peers. A “successful oncologist”, for example, only signals his success through material acquisitions of wealth in generalised terms. My definition of success is through moving the needle in academia by rigorously calling out the bullshit and a genuine patient advance through prevention/palliative care and definitive application of different treatment schedules, backed by experimentation.

Be careful of correlations and hype/marketing around seemingly unrelated causation that produces a “successful end-result”. We all have a decision making tree that determines the outcomes. Sometimes, its chance (or luck) and highly determined by the extraneous factors.

Pseudo intellectualism is a new epidemic.

via Correlation | Simply Psychology