Monday, April 27, 2015

Number of lawyers predicts number of suicides by hanging

Therefore, one might reason, reducing the number of lawyers would reduce the number of suicides - just as Shakespeare wrote (quote from

All: God save your majesty!

Cade: I thank you, good people—there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score, and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

Dick: The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Cade: Nay, that I mean to do.

Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78

I spent 35 years in the academic trenches trying to teach college sophomores that correlation does not imply causation. The relation between number of lawyers and number of suicides is a correlation. On the scale of 0.00 to 1.00, the actual correlation is extremely high and statistically reliable: r = 0.99.

But hold on: before you set out to implement Dick's suggestion, consider that all kinds of things are correlated with all kinds of other things. Here is a great article in reporting on research from Tyler Vigen showing many instances of near perfect correlations between things that are not causally connected.

Proving causality must meet a higher standard than demonstrating correlation. For A to cause B: (1) A and B are correlated, (2) A precedes B, and (3) all other causes of B are eliminated. Vigen's examples all meet (1), and maybe (2), but never (3). Nevertheless, it's a fun read with cool graphs.

How well did I succeed with my students? Well, that's another story for another day.

I do wish I had had Vigen's graphs to make the point.

Now, if you've gotten this far, you might ask what all this has to do with politics. AZBlueMeanie at B4AZ accuses the media of confusing correlation with causation when it comes to reporting on the Clintons. Earning money from speaking engagements might be correlated with, but not as cause of, for example, Russians controlling US uranium. Here is a snippet from BlueMeanie.

UPDATE: During an interview on Fox News Sunday about his book, "Clinton Cash," Schweizer suggested that Hillary Clinton approved a deal that eventually allowed the Russian government to control some U.S. uranium mines. Chris Wallace Grills Author Of ‘Clinton Cash’: ‘You Don’t Have A Single Piece Of Evidence’:

But host Chris Wallace noted that the deal was approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a panel of nine different federal agencies.

"It’s not just the State Department," Wallace explained. "It’s nine separate agencies… There is no hard evidence — and you don’t cite any in the book — that Hillary Clinton took direct action, was involved in any way in approving, as one nine agencies, the sale of the company."

* * *

"You don’t have a single piece of evidence that she was involved in this deal, that she sent a memo to the State Department person that was on this committee and said, ‘Hey, we want to approve the uranium sale,’" Wallace pressed.

But that doesn't stop the media machine from echoing Clinton correlations.

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