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Home » The Danger of Mixing Up Causality and Correlation: Ionica Smeets at TEDxDelft (Transcript)

The Danger of Mixing Up Causality and Correlation: Ionica Smeets at TEDxDelft (Transcript)

Ionica Smeets

Welcome. I came here today to warn you about the dangers of ice-cream.

You may not be aware of this, but these innocent looking cones full of sweetness are one of the major causes of drownings. And I’ve got the numbers to prove it.

So, if you plot a graph of the number of ice-creams that are sold, and you compare it with the number of drownings, you can see there is clearly an upwards trend, and I think it’s very safe to conclude from this that we should ban ice-cream because it’s very dangerous.

Since you’re all smart people, you’ve probably figured out there’s something wrong with my example. What’s really happening here is, of course, that there is an underlying factor, which is nice weather, you might have guessed it. And if the weather is nice, more people will go out swimming, and unfortunately drown, and at the same time, more people will buy ice-cream. And it’s not the ice-cream that’s causing the drownings. And here it’s really easy to see that there is something wrong, but jumping to an incorrect conclusion about causality when you see a correlation is the most often made logical mistake. And today my goal is to make sure that in the future you can recognize this mistake. And I really hope you can avoid making it in the future for yourselves.

And I’ll do this by just giving some famous examples. And the first one is really rather innocent. The fact is that married men live longer than single men. If you look at the statistics, you see that this is really happening. And women’s magazines, they like to conclude from this that marriage is very healthy for men, because it makes them live longer.

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