Spurious Correlations

As I read articles or hear debates in lunchrooms and on buses, I realize that so many people do not appreciate the difference between correlation and causation.  In critical thinking, we learn that we should also consider plausible rival causes as alternative explanations for findings aside from the factor the author believes is involved. Likewise, spurious relationships between two variables can help illustrate how two variables, although seemingly connected, are likely not. “Spurious Correlations” is a website devoted to documenting examples of spurious relationships in which two events have no causal link, but still appear to due to either a coincidence or a third, confounding variable. 

The charts on the website do a much better job illustrating this concept than any explanation I’ve seen in text. Did you know that the per capita consumption of mozzarella cheese correlates almost perfectly with the number of civil engineering doctorates awarded in the country?  Or that the number of films Niclas Cage appeared in is highly correlated with the number of female Editors on Harvard Law Review?

 

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