Mistakes in Causal Direction – GDP and Education
Filip Spagnoli on Politics Arts Philosophy (P.A.P) Blog on Human Rights, illustrates “Mistakes in Direction of Causation” with a couple of cartoons and old bunch of intriguing examples that proves lies, damned lies and statistics idiom somewhat.
When you find a correlation between two phenomena, you’re tempted to conclude there’s a causal relation as well. The problem is that this causal relation – if it exists at all – can go either way. It’s a common mistake – or fraud – to choose one direction of causation and forget that the real causal link can go the other way, or both ways at the same time and space. Or not.
We often think that people who like violent video games are more likely to show violent behavior because they are incited by the games to copy the violence that’s featured in these games. But can it not be that people who are more prone to violence are more fond of violent video games? We choose a direction of causation that fits with our pre-existing beliefs. Another widely shared belief is that uninformed and illiterate voters will destroy democracy, or at least diminish its value. No one seems to ask the question whether it’s not a diminished form of democracy that renders citizens apathetic and uninformed. Maybe a full or deep democracy can encourage citizens to participate and become more knowledgeable through participation. A classic example is the correlation between education levels and GDP. Do countries with higher education levels experience more economic growth because of the education levels of their citizens? Or is it that richer countries can afford to spend more on education and hence have better educated citizens? Maybe both. Or perhaps it is just old boy Pareto Law. Or simply, random twist of fate.
Bakes your noodles, no? These are chicken-egg problems and hence, solvable.