Sunday, June 17, 2012

Corelation is not causation: danger of magical thinking

I spotted this Dilbert toon the other day:

This is a perfect example to illustrate the danger of equating correlation to causation, or in other words, just because the two events occur near in space or time does NOT mean one caused the other.

In the comic strip above, the event "PHB gets nasty anon email" and the event "PHB leaves Dilbert's cubicle" does NOT imply any sort of causation between them, when we saw Wally sending the nasty anon email at the end.

So why do so many MLMers and other "true believers" believe correlation IS causation?

People who believe in non-standard medicine, took some supplements, and decided it is helping them, so they believed that the supplements helped them, when there are many other possible explanations, such as delayed effect (from the other stuff done beforehand), placebo effect, wishful thinking (I hope it will work well), etc. that could explain the "success". But does this believer care? No. In his or her mind, the latest supplements must be the cause. They see their own personal experience as truthiness. It is anecdotal fallacy at work.

People who believe in anti-vaccine movement are quick to correlate vaccination and onset of autism when there are no proof of linkage between the two. All they see is vaccination, then autism. Thus, they believe it is related, and NOTHING will convince them otherwise. They believe in what they saw as their truthiness.

MLMers are the same way. They see someone else's "success story", and the company's marketing propaganda, and believed those to be the truth. They WANT to believe, and nothing will convince them otherwise, such as the "success" of their upline could be fraud, could be good recruiting (not good sales) and so on and so forth. They see products being used and believe in causation when it is mere correlation. They believe in truthiness, not truth.

This is magical thinking, not scientific or logical thinking, and it is just plain stupid. This is really no different than believing that eating an animal part would inbue that part's attribute to the eater (often have to do with certain male reproductive organ), or believing in that objects once owned or held by a person carries a bit of that person's spirit (explains why genuine memorabilia sold for so much in auctions).

Such magical thinking belongs in religion, not business.

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