I recently discovered an awesome website called Spurious Correlations. It uses hilarious graphs to illustrate the long-understood but frequently ignored truth that correlation is not causation.
|“Number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets”
and “Total revenue generated by skiing facilities (US).”
Clearly the ski resort industry has blood on its hands.
Sometimes these correlations are purely accidental, as in the above case. Other times, there might be a confounding factor at play. For instance, I would imagine that “Total revenue generated by arcades” and “Computer science doctorates awarded” are both tied to the tech boom in general, which improves video game quality and increases the demand for skilled computer scientists. (But I’d need more data to prove it.)
I really hope this site takes off, because the public’s failure to understand that correlation is not causation can have catastrophic effects.
One of the pillars of the abortion movement is the idea that legalized abortion prevents maternal deaths. They can point to improved maternal mortality rates after the legalization of abortion in the United States and elsewhere. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
But there are two major problems with that theory. The first is that the numbers themselves are often either wrong or manipulated. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the co-founder of NARAL, admitted to using inflated figures and noted that “repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public,” which is unfortunately true.
The second problem is the spurious correlation problem. The movement for the legalization of abortion happened to coincide with medical breakthroughs that dramatically improved Americans’ health in general, and in particular, allowed doctors to manage infection, hemorrhage, and other issues that may appear as complications of abortion. It also coincided, in the developing world, with independent foreign aid focused on maternal health issues, such as the provision of midwives.
Untangling all these influences requires serious effort, and when the spurious correlation happens to support your current ideology, there is no incentive to undertake that research. But in 2012—sadly, several decades too late to combat the big lie effectively—researchers published the results of an in-depth study of maternal mortality in Chile, which restored the right to life in 1989. It found that the anti-abortion law did not lead to an increase in women’s deaths; in fact, just the opposite happened. The authors concluded that if a country wants to reduce maternal mortality, it should invest in education, not abortion.
The misapprehension of maternal mortality has grave consequences. Not only are unborn lives lost, but the diversion of money to the ideological goals of the abortion industry reduces the funds available for the desperate, real needs of impoverished people.