Dug Campbell

Spurious Correlations

A fun one tonight. In an age where the sheer quantity of data being produced continues to accelerate daily, we’ll increasingly get more powerful insight into the world around us and our behaviours in it. But we also have to be careful not to jump to conclusions.

As many a good quote points out, statistics can be notoriously unreliable. For example: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital”. Or how about: “Then there is the man who drowned crossing a stream with an average depth of six inches.” Etcetera.

There’s an amusing website that points out the spurious correlations between various datasets. For example, did you know that the number of people who drowned by falling into a swimming pool correlates with the number of films Nicolas Cage has appeared in? No? Well, how about the fact that the age of Miss America correlates with the number of murders by steam, hot vapours and hot objects?

The last word must go to Thomas Sowell: “One of the first things taught in introductory statistics textbooks is that correlation is not causation. It is also one of the first things forgotten.”