Furthest Right

Correlation and causation

Internet “debaters” are quick to mention that correlation is not causation — when it favors their case.

But when it doesn’t, they’re quick to make a claim they cannot: that out of all the possibilities, the one they pick is the sole cause.

Usually, they’ve confused cause and effect, because a cause sets in motion a chain of effects, ultimately ending up at a final state. But it’s easy to confuse those effects in the middle with the end result.

Here’s a good case in point:

According to a new federal study, women with a college education are much more likely to be married than are women who have never graduated from high school. And men and women who married after the age of 25 have lower divorce rates than couples who were married at younger ages.

We could have predicted these results. The US family system, which once differed little by class or region, has become a marker of race, culture, and religion. A new “blue” family paradigm has handsomely rewarded those who invest in women’s as well as men’s education and defer childbearing until the couple is better established. These families, concentrated in urban areas and the coasts, have seen their divorce rates fall back to the level of the 1960s, incomes rise, and nonmarital births remain rare. With later marriage has also come greater stability and less divorce. – Christian Science Monitor

So many factors remain unanalyzed here that it’s comical to draw the conclusions this writer did.

The family paradigm isn’t “blue” at all — it has to do with social class. The upper middle classes concentrate in these areas, and they tend to get educated and defer marriage in favor of career, then throw it away and be stay-at-home moms. They’ve done this for over a hundred years. In the old days, education wasn’t so much college as high school and apprenticeship. But it happened.

In the red states, there’s less of the city wealth, and more lost people. But it doesn’t mean the upper middle classes there don’t do the same thing.

Of course, it was convenient for the authors of these studies to ignore such ideas. They don’t get any points for writing about class; that’s potentially offensive. But claim that the city lifestyle is, contrary to all indicators, brilliantly healthy — and then you’ve got lots of eager blank faces hoping you’re right. And they buy your books and vote you into office and so on.

Here’s another:

As the media focuses on Senate votes and market debacles, though, there is a larger issue that threatens to rip the country apart. That issue is race.

The findings of a recent report by my organization, the Applied Research Center, and our partners in eight states indicate the importance of racial equity across the board.

The findings illustrate how a racially conscious approach to lawmaking is essential to rooting out institutional racism. Taking equity into account means addressing the causes of inequality and racially disparate outcomes.

We found that when elected officials consciously considered the effects of policy proposals and budget measures mindful of racial issues, they increased the state’s ability to address racial disparities and prevent unintended consequences that harm whole communities. – Christian Science Monitor

We’re measuring effects here, not causes. We’re hoping to ascertain a cause from an effect, without considering all the factors that guided this cause-effect cycle.

While I agree with the author of the article, her logic is sloppy — and that lays the seeds that drive us further from hope of sanity, not closer to it.

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