The most important lesson of the school year
If I could gift my students with only one single concept that they could take from my class and bring into the real world, it is this one: correlation does not mean causation.
Why does this matter?
So often, the attention-seeking media will infer a causal relationship to make better story. An informed population must be able to recognize this gross negligence.
“Wearing clothing that promotes alcohol use increases a young person’s chance of binge drinking”
“Margarine consumption linked to divorce, recent study reveals”
Image from Spurious Correlations by Tyler Vigen
I use a few ridiculous claims to introduce the concept to students:
Ice cream sales and shark attacks
There was a study that was done that found a strong correlation between the ice cream sales and number of shark attacks for a number of beaches that were sampled.