Sunday, June 18, 2006

Analyze This

Years ago, tobacco companies started claiming a pretty interesting theory on why smoking does not cause lung cancer. They claimed that the desire to smoke is genetic and the same gene is also responsible for lung cancer; thus cigarettes are really innocent and the smokers who get lung cancer are equally susceptible even without smoking. Of course, they were wrong. Nice try.

But this kind of cause and effect pattern actually does occurs. For example, there is a correlation between criminal activity and the mothers of the eventual criminal smoking during pregnancy. Now, it's possible that smoking during pregnancy somehow damages the brain of the child in a way that helps the child grow into a criminal. But it's also plausible that the kids turn into criminals for the same reasons that pushed their mothers to start smoking.

In general, alarms go off in my ahead when I read correlation as the justification for cause and effect. This is why I had a really hard time with social sciences. These sciences simply conduct experiments to find correlation between different variables, and simply assume that one variable causes the other.

3 Comments:

Blogger Robby Disco said...

Its been awhile since I read it, but Malcom Gladwell has a really interesting section in his book, "The Tipping Point" about the smoking epidemic. (Warning: The book is full of corelations.) Anyway, he essentially says that there is a minimum threshold of nicotine needed by most addicts and that this threshold is probably geneticly encoded. The best guess is that this "threshold" amount is contained in about 5 cigarettes/day. Repeated exposure to this amount of nicotine causes addiction, so he proposes that we reduce the amount of nicotine by 1/2. The end result would mean that non-smokers would need to be exposed to 10 cigarettes/day over a period of time (based of course on their genetic predisposition to addiction) to actually become addicted. Thus a lower likely hood that an individual becomes addicted.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous annuncio auto moto said...

its preatty funny

2:55 PM  
Anonymous auto occasioni said...

yes very nice!

8:20 PM  

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