5 brilliant graphs that teach correlation vs. causality

Hilarious examples that prove how correlation does not equal causality.

Cage acting, people drowning
No!!!!! (TYLER VIGEN)

Big Think has been talking about the dangers in confusing correlation with causality for some time. You know, how the amount of one thing seems to correspond to something else, and can we therefore conclude that the first caused the second, or vice versa? Nope. Make that a double-nope.

We've written about a university course that uses heavy metal to keep students from falling into this trap. And even ended our relationship with blogger Satoshi Kanazawa over this issue.

Sometimes things just look like each other without actually being at all connected. Here's the Nic Cage/drowning data:

(TYLER VIGEN)

It's not just an academic matter, either, as the confusion between correlation and causality can lead to dangerously wrong conclusions as it has for the people who incorrectly believe vaccines cause autism.

So let's have some fun with this, and enjoy just how idiotic the correspondences between obviously unrelated data sets can be. All of these are from author Tyler Vigen's awesome collection, including the Nicolas Cage/drowning one above. He also has a book, Spurious Connections. These are some of our favorites from Vigen's web page.

Here's a graph that "proves" that the more the U.S. spends on space, the more our suicide rate by hanging and other forms of asphyxiation goes up.

There are lots of reasons to question the value of the Miss America pageant, but this is new. The winner's age seems to cause murders by heat.

In what has to be the best endorsement for arcade game-playing, look at how many computer doctorates it "produces."

And finally, for those of us who have always resented those Scripps spelling smartypantses, venomous spiders feel us. And then bite us.

Got enough proof now for any argument that's based on ridiculous correspondences? There are more over at Vigen's website, and they're all pretty hilarious.

What early US presidents looked like, according to AI-generated images

"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.

Abraham Lincoln, George Washington

Magdalene Visaggio via Twitter
Technology & Innovation
  • A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
  • "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
  • It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
Keep reading Show less

Catacombs of Paris: The city of darkness finds its new raison d'être

Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.

Excerpt from a 19th century map of the Paris Catacombs, showing the labyrinthine layout underground (in color) beneath the straight-lined structures on the surface (in grey).

Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain
Strange Maps
  • People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
  • They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
  • Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Keep reading Show less

Baby's first poop predicts risk of allergies

Meconium contains a wealth of information.

Surprising Science
  • A new study finds that the contents of an infants' first stool, known as meconium, can predict if they'll develop allergies with a high degree of accuracy.
  • A metabolically diverse meconium, which indicates the initial food source for the gut microbiota, is associated with fewer allergies.
  • The research hints at possible early interventions to prevent or treat allergies just after birth.
Keep reading Show less
Mind & Brain

Big think: Will AI ever achieve true understanding?

If you ask your maps app to find "restaurants that aren't McDonald's," you won't like the result.

Quantcast