On Instagram @AndreaHardyRD, I talk all about how important it is to understand what correlative statements are and how they can be used to create inaccurate assumptions.

  • Image of @andreahardyrd Instagram post about correlation and causation

Correlation vs. Causation 🧐- know the difference? #scicommunity Thursday⁠⠀
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Correlation is glaringly obvious at times, and absolutely impossible to see at others. ⁠⠀
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🍦Ice cream consumption and sun burn are correlated. Does ice cream consumption CAUSE sun burn? No! We know sun exposure, the time of the year, lack of sun screen, lack of proper sun-protective clothing cause sunburn. 🌞⁠⠀
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But when we’re positioned with a correlative statement without being an expert in a topic, it’s HARD to know!⁠⠀
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One I hear in my office a lot is:⁠⠀
If I cut out gluten, it will CAUSE me to lose weight. I’ve OBSERVED this effect with my friend Sally.⁠⠀
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Did the removal of gluten actually CAUSE the weight loss? No! Rather, it’s more likely a combination of limited food choices, being forced to cook more at home, being more self-aware of what you’re eating, and limited intake of refined carbs and often processed food if you’re not confident in label reading…. ⁠⠀
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But how could you possibly know this if you’re not an expert in the area? ⁠⠀
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Critical thinking and questioning. ⁠⠀
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Misinformation THRIVES off correlation vs. causation (vaccines & autism, pesticides and inflammatory bowel disease, deodorant and breast cancer… and the list goes ON.) ⁠⠀
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This is often positioned as two statements, next to one another that force your brain to draw conclusions. Ask yourself:⁠⠀
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1) What might be missing from this equation?⁠⠀
2) What is left unsaid that isn’t being considered?⁠⠀
3) Is there expert regulatory body that is in charge of looking at this? ⁠⠀
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Sometimes, correlations do turn out to be causative. Correlations help us make hypotheses to drive research. But the research NEEDS to be looked at as a whole. Mechanisms need to be explored. The entire body of evidence needs to be assessed.⁠⠀
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You cannot identify a correlation and state it as fact. It is at best, an observation to drive inquiry.