Correlation versus Causation

I just saw this t-shirt and I absolutely love it...


I cannot count the number of times that I have had to explain this simple concept to people who think that something coincidental was the driving force behind a problem which has developed with the technology that they use in their daily lives. For example, imagine the following statement: "I just closed the door and my television no longer works." Those two events obviously sound like completely unrelated events, and yet I have had to answer questions from dozens of people who honestly believe that one inapplicable event like this caused the other unconnected failure.

Oh sure, there are concepts like the Butterfly Effect to consider, but by and large those do not apply in your average, day-to-day situation. More often than not, the cause for most of the technology problems which I help people troubleshoot have nothing to do with what they believe to be the cause. (And believe me - I have heard some amazing theories from various people about the sources of their technological maladies.) My favorite story along these lines is the apocryphal My Car Does Not Like Vanilla Ice Cream story, which I honestly wish was true.

Nevertheless, as a piece of unsolicited advice - when something has gone wrong, it is often best to analyze the failure for what it is instead of trying to analyze what you believe is the origin of your problems.


For more on this subject, see Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Comments are closed