I have been greatly interested recently by pronouncements by certain individuals in the press attributing our recent weather disasters to homosexuality, gay marriage, Mitt Romney, Obama, and/or loose morals in New Orleans. The capacity of the human mind to find causal relationships between totally unrelated things or concepts is fascinating.
According to Wikipedia “In statistics, a spurious correlation is a mathematical relationship in which two or more events or variables are not causally related to each other, yet it may be wrongly inferred that they are, due to either coincidence or the presence of a certain third, unseen factor (referred to as a “common response variable”, “confounding factor”, or “lurking variable“).”
There is a web site devoted to such correlations (www.tylervigen.com) where you can choose the variables to see how they may be statistically related. I always knew that there was a strong, positive correlation between the price of Jamaican rum and the average salary of Methodist ministers. Did you know, however, that there is a strong positive correlation between:
The divorce rate in Maine and per capita consumption of margarine
The age of Miss America and number of murders by steam, hot vapours, and hot objects.
Per capita cheese consumption and the number of people who died by being tangled in their bed sheets.
Total revenue generated by arcades and the number of computer science doctorates awarded in the US.
What alarms me is that some people will believe anything and will try to find relationships between things that can’t possibly be related, just to support their beliefs or prejudices. I, personally, try to remain rational and sceptical. I think I will go now and eat some bread crusts. I am trying to make my hair curly.
Come up with your own spurious correlations.