Today Emma and Brittany discuss another logical fallacy called a “False Cause,” and explain how correlation does not always equal causation?
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi Emma.
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: So today I wanna continue a conversation. We have started in previous episodes and we’ve done a few of these, but I wanna talk about another logical fallacy. policies for, you know, just a refresher. Basically false ways of thinking, right? We say a lot of times that we don’t here wanna tell you what to think. We wanna tell you how to think, right? And part of that is combating bad ways of thinking and logical fallacies highlight, you know, these, the really flawed ways of thinking. And we’ve gone through a couple, let’s see, I think you and I did appeal to emotion. Connor and I did a straw man. So we’ve done a couple of them. So I wanna talk about one today called False Cause, which I actually think we’re all guilty of. And I’ve said this on a few of these, I think we’re all guilty of most of them. And the point here is not to be like, oh my goodness, I’m so dumb, for thinking this way. It’s to say, oh, I do this myself. Or, oh, like this person does that. How can I step back and stop this way of thinking? So remember that like, when we’re talking about these, obviously everyone does these, everybody has like silly ways of thinking sometimes. So today I wanna talk about something called false cause. And there is a saying that says Correlation does not always equal causation. And that is essentially how to combat this. And that’s what I wanna talk about today. So I’m gonna use an example if someone says, statistically women make less than men. So obviously this means our system is inherently sexist. You know, we hate women. and we hear this a lot, like, this might sound like some outlandish thing, but we hear this all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I go anywhere. And you hear like, women say like, all right, well you make, you know, we only make 80 cents on the dollar. We only make 80 cents for every Dollar Men make. Now in my professional experience, that has not been the case. and there’s also reasons for this. It’s not that everybody hates women. That’s not the problem. Even though people say this talk show host say this. And like, you see everyone nodding their head in agreement. Even women who win Academy Awards get up and start saying like, we need to make as much as men. It’s like a big thing. All right? So if you look at just the statistics that say, men or women, make less than men, you’d be like, all right, well women get paid less than men. That’s obviously because we’re naturally biased against them, right? Like, that sounds fair, I think. But actually, this is not true at all. And as we talked about in another episode, the gender wage gap is propagated. Or like that’s like, it continues to be believed cuz it’s based on a false premise, which is, you know, a logical fallacy. We assume that the workforce is biased against women just because women get paid less. But that’s not the case. In fact, what a lot of economists have found is that women often prefer to take less pay in exchange for flexibility, so to say, like, to leave work early and pick their kids up from school. Or maybe they wanna work part-time because again, they have kids at home or whatever that may be. There’s other data that actually suggests that women simply don’t ask for more money. So there’s a whole book called Lean In that is actually by somebody that’s not necessarily like a libertarian or anything. She’s just a businesswoman. And she talks about how part of the problem is women just aren’t asking for more pay. There was an actress, Robin Wright Penn, who instead of letting her co-star make more money, who was a man, she went to her producers with all the statistics on how well she was doing. Like all the data. Like, oh, people are actually watching the show for me, not for the guy. And she went into her boss and said, you should pay me more because this, and this. A lot of women don’t do that. And I hope somebody listening isn’t saying like, well, I would do that. Okay, that’s great. Some women do. I know I don’t. I am like a coward when it comes to asking for more money. I hate it. But that’s part of the problem, right? So, these things are not because, so to get back to the original thing, women getting paid less is not a result of like society just disliking women, right? That’s what we call a correlation, not causation. So a correlation, meaning there’s some, it’s almost like a coincidence, right? Like, okay, these things are both true. but that doesn’t mean one of them caused the other thing. So Emma, can you think another of another one of these, you know, flawed ways of thinking these, what is it called? Cause false cause.
Emma: Yeah, totally. I mean, that’s like a huge example that a lot of people talk about and it’s in the news and it’s more political, but it can also be more superstitious or even kind of silly. Like maybe you have a certain shirt that you wear every time you play basketball with your friends, and every time you wear the shirt you win, that’s great for you. But then maybe you might start assuming that you’re winning because you’re wearing the same shirt and then it has nothing to do with your actual basketball skills.
Brittany: Which I do all the time. Yeah. Oh, not like with basketball. I definitely don’t play basketball, but I have little things like that that I do.
Emma: Everyone’s got like their lucky shirt or their favorite pencil or whatever it might be. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that wearing the same shirt means you’re gonna win every time. And that’s, just a coincidence. And this is a sillier example, but like you mentioned in the beginning, Brittany, this is sometimes used in very serious policy areas to convince people that one thing causes another when it doesn’t. And it’s kind of like they’ll create these boogeyman scenarios where the government needs to come in and fix everything out of literally thin air. They’re just making these things up sometimes. And we see this a lot with politicians as well. We have Tuttle twin’s guide to Logical fallacies and it says, here’s a little passage from it. Imagine that you are in a conversation with your Uncle Mike. He claims that every time a Republican becomes president, the economy gets much worse. Therefore, Republican presidents are bad for the economy for one. To some extent, this can be a coincidence. Second, Mike would have to demonstrate that the economy actually always gets much worse when a Republican is in office. But mainly this claim fails to take into consideration a vast amount of other factors that can affect the economy, such as policies enacted by previous presidents, Congress, the public, and the private sector. This example can also be reversed as presidents generally like to take all the credit for when the economy is doing well. When job creation is up and unemployment is down, presidents like to claim that the policies they enacted must have been the cause without providing any real evidence. They essentially claim that because the economy is doing well and they are president, they cause the economy to do well. This is bad reasoning and an extremely oversimplified explanation for the ups and downs of an economy. Remember that demonstrating a relationship between two events requires related facts to back up the claim.
Brittany: It’s funny because you also see presidents do this when the economy isn’t doing well. Like, I don’t know if you remember. Yeah. The tweet the Biden administration did right before the 4th of July. Oh yes. And it was like the cost of like a hot, I can’t even remember what was it? What was like.
Emma: Yeah, they, tweeted, it was basically this slideshow and it was like five different things that you might buy for your barbecue. And it was like a bag of potato chips, a pack of hot dogs, a container of ground beef, and a few other things. And they said that the average cost of these items was down by 16% since Biden had taken office the year before. Which is funny for a bunch of reasons because on one hand it’s kind of like, well, you’re printing trillions of dollars, right? So that 16 cents isn’t really gonna do very much. But then also it’s, like, well, what do you think you had to do with that? Even if it, did the price did go down? Like, what are you talking about, dude, that was ridiculous.
Brittany: Well, what’s even funnier too is like people were saying like, that’s not even true like grocery and like costs are soaring right now,
Emma: So, it’s so much higher. yeah.
Brittany: They’ve been soaring for a while. And so it’s just funny to me what people try to take credit for. I’m trying to think of these more correlations is not equal causation examples because it happens all the time, like all the time. Yes. And I don’t know Emma, do can you think of anything off the top of your head?
Emma: Gosh, I mean, any, basically any government policy where they’ll say like, oh, corporations are causing people to not be able to afford to feed their families. Like, they’ll just throw things out like that out of nowhere. And, you know, maybe if you had something to back that up like if it really did come out that Jeff Bezos is like stealing money from people, that would be pretty bad. Begun say things and then not actually back them up with any proof. So, there’s, all this fear-mongering that happens and people throwing out these wild statements and trying to connect the dots where they don’t really connect. a big one that I see is like companies taking advantage of people. And in reality, it’s like, well, people sign up for jobs and they understand what they’re gonna get paid. They understand the benefits and maybe, you know, maybe we wanna create more opportunities for people, but the fact that there are, you know, people who don’t make a lot of money is not the fault of the company’s employing them. So there’s kind of, it’s almost like this blame game where the causation and correlation, people just connect things that they just wanna demonize, you know, a group of people or something in the economy or a company. And it happens constantly. Once you start like paying attention for this guys, just listen to the radio. When you’re watching tv, when you hear people talking about the news, you’re gonna start noticing it and it’s gonna start driving you crazy because you will realize how little people actually bring the facts into the claims that they’re making.
Brittany: That’s absolutely right. And I actually just thought of another one, which, you know, and this is more war on terror, which is still happening, but I think for the younger kids, they may not know it as well as all the other things going on these days, but you know, they used to tell us that the reason the Middle East was, or like Taliban people like that were bombing us is because they hated us for our freedoms. Oh yeah. And you know, people would be like, oh, well, I mean we’re being bombed. They hate us for our freedoms. That seems to make sense and they weren’t looking at the facts that one, we were actually bombing them first. Right. We were occupying their countries first. And you know, that’s why. So it was this like, correlation, well obviously they hate us for, you know, for our freedom clearly. Yeah, of course, the government took care of that because, after the war on terror, they just took away our freedom. So I guess nobody hates us now. Yeah, but.
Emma: I was gonna say that TSA, the TSA likes to claim that they’re always stopping terrorist attacks when in reality, I don’t think they have proof that they’ve ever stopped.
Brittany: One. No. On the contrary, right? They’re like doing a worst job.
Emma: Exactly. Yeah. It’s pretty insane. But you, when you start to look around, you’ll start noticing these things and it is pretty crazy how people will try to make up reasons for things. And once you know, and then you will be able to avoid that, avoid doing it on your own. So there you go.
Brittany: I think that’s the most important thing, right? So for all these logical fallacies, and this is the reason we talk about them, the cure is the same, right? The remedy to these, all these problems are critical thinking. And that’s what we’ve lost in our, yeah. I mean, the education system really is, we don’t teach people, like I said, how to think. We teach them what to think, we give them an agenda. And what we should be teaching is, you know, how to see through these logical fallacies. Because even if you’re not someone who’s homeschooled, if you go to school, you should listen to your teachers and say, all right, if my teacher, you know, using a logical fallacy, and that does not mean you should raise your hand and tell your teacher they’re wrong, even if they are. Cause that might not go well, right?
Emma: Fun mom’s teacher.
Brittany: Your parents might get called, it might turn into a whole thing, but you know, it’s good to see these things and say, okay, I see that this is wrong now. So critical thinking, remember that just because two things are connected does not mean they’re actually connected. Look for the facts. I think I said this in one of the very first episodes we ever did. Go on a treasure hunt, right? Find the facts yourself and make it fun. So that would be my remedy, my prescription for seeing through these logical fallacies.
Emma: Totally. And another thing too, you kind of touched on this just now, it made me think of this, is you have to also learn how to respond to logical fallacies and how to actually like talk to people about them because it is not fun. I’ve been on the other end of this where someone just goes, ah, strawman fallacy when you’re talking about something. Yes.
Brittany: Oh my goodness. Just they use the logical fallacy against you.
Emma: Yeah, exactly. And they just say, oh, well that’s a strawman fallacy. And, you know, props to them for I guess being able to identify those things. But it’s not enough to just know what fallacies are. You have to actually understand how to, how to respond to them and how to, you know when you’re in a debate, how do you win a debate without just pointing a finger and calling names? Cuz that’s basically what it is. So we’re teaching you guys how to identify these now, but the next step is to start reading into these things and start maybe looking into joining a debate team if you’re old enough. And if there’s something like that in your area, there are all sorts of ways you can learn to basically flex that muscle and, learn how to think critically in debate and go back and forth with people. Because like Brittany said, that’s something that’s really lacking in our world right now and it’s not being taught to, the next generation really. So it’s kind of on you to have to learn those things, which on one hand is kind of a bummer, but then on the other, it’s like, well, at least you’re getting the chance to learn now. Cause a lot of people aren’t. So that’s kind of what I’ll leave you guys with. Brittany, do you have anything else to add? Nope.
Brittany: Nope, you said, everything. I wanna say.
Emma: Awesome. All right, well, we’ll wrap it up their guys. Thanks for listening and we will talk to you again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you later.