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It's Myth Busting Monday and today I'm exploring how to wade through mis-information and silly bullshit so that you can critically explore the newest magic product, process, or exercise that your Facebook friend is trying to sell you.
There are two very important science concepts, correlation is not causation and confirmation bias, that I want to explore today. Understanding these concepts can help us see through the pseudoscience that often accompanies the latest, greatest thing.
Correlation is not causation means that just because two things have a relationship it does not mean one thing causes the other. An example might be, every time you have a PR your Coach is wearing black pants. Therefore, your coach's black pants are the reason you PR. Sounds crazy right? What about when someone shows you the data?!? Here's one of my favorite examples of correlation is not causation. This graph shows a relationship between the U.S. per capita consumption of cheese and the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their sheets.
Based on the data you could erroneously conclude that eating cheese increases your risk of death by becoming entangled in your sheets. But, you won't conclude that because there is no causal relationship.
What if that graph was eating beets at night and pounds lost? You might be more inclined to believe that there is a causal relationship, and that is an example of your confirmation bias. If you want to believe you will, no matter what the data show. We are more likely to believe a relationship is causative if it reinforces our beliefs.
So the next time someone tries to sell you something, and they show you a graph that correlates their amazing magical product with an amazing magical outcome, remember, correlative data points on a graph do not show cause and effect AND if you want to believe that this product is going to make your life amazing and magical you're more likely to believe it even if there's no science to support it.
Critical thinking skills are fundamental to being able to successfully navigate life and not fall prey to charlatans, quacks and snake-oil salespeople. Want me to explore a myth? Suggest one in the comments.
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