It's Myth Busting Monday and I'm revisiting some blogs I've written previously about how to wade through mis-information and silly bullshit so that you can critically explore the memes and "headlines" you see on Facebook.
With COVID-19 cases surging exponentially across the county and country the amount of mis-information, silly bullshit, and outright lies are increasing at the same rate. It's important to stop, breathe, and take a step back from the latest meme or headline so you can think critically about what you're reading.
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 alarmist meme.
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. Or, after you washed your car, it rained. Therefore washing your car causes rain. Or, people who have died from COVID-19 used the 5G network, therefore being on 5G increases your risk of dying from COVID-19.
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 people who use 5G and COVID-19 deaths? You might be more inclined to believe that using 5G will increase your risk of dying from COVID-19 because the data "show" that people who die from COVID-19 used 5G. But there is NOT a causal relationship. Believing that 5G will increase your risk of COVID-19 death 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 tell or SELL you something, and they show you a graph that correlates their amazing claim with an amazing outcome, remember, correlative data points on a graph do not show cause and effect AND if you want to believe that this thing is true 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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