Saturday, June 4, 2016

Causality Concerns

Much more data, please.
After my last post (a couple of weeks ago, I know), there was some discussion both via email and in my house about the “hidden causality” of the question in question, mainly:
“Do you think the stock market has gone up or down since Barack Obama became President?”
Now to me, there was no “causality” either stated or implied.  The word “since” was an operand for a time stamp:  “As of this date, did the stock market…etc.”  Because the question had the magic two words (Barack Obama), people may have interpreted it as “Did Barack Obama cause the market to go up or down,” but that’s obviously incorrect.

What if researchers had asked if the Japanese NIKKEI average had gone up or down since Obama took office?  No doubt many more responses would have tried to ascertain up or down versus “no clue.”  If respondents had been asked if the stock market was up or down since the Philadelphia Phillies last won the World Series (2008), again, you’d get a much different result than using Obama as the date stamp.

Because humans have issues with causality.

We don’t like gaps in our thinking.  Everything has to have a reason for happening, and when we don’t know the reason, we make shit up.  Seriously.  It pains us to “not know,” so we come up with the damnest rationales for things, and the more serious the issue, the more outrageous the rationale.  So it seems. 

  • Folks getting sick or dying in droves – must be the work of the devil.
     (oh, it’s because of germs?  OK). 
  • Hurricanes and tornadoes – must be the work of climatic disturbances.
     (oh, it’s because you still allow abortion and gays to marry?  OK).
Wait a minute…

Yeah, we still do dumb shit like that.  In the 21st Century. 

The human brain doesn’t like gaps and works hard to fill them.  It’s a shame we don’t follow that method; instead, we look for easy answers that might not make a bit of sense logically or scientifically, but soothes us because it feeds our biases and prejudices.

A lot has been written about the confusion with causality and correlation.  Just because two things seem to “correlate” does not infer causality.  See this link for some fun ones, but the one I used to teach in my marketing research class dealt with motorcycles and mustaches.  It’s a fact that if you have a motorcycle, you are more likely to have facial hair (a mustache, at least…sometimes a mustache and beard).  Conversely, if you have a mustache, you are more likely to own a motorcycle.  But does having facial hair CAUSE you to buy a motorcycle?  Does owning a cycle CAUSE more hair to grow on your chin?

They may be correlated, but there is no causality.

The same could be said for our original discussion of a President’s “effect” on the stock market…or gas prices, or a number of things where a complex set of economic and environmental factors are in play.  And yet, people feel qualified (or justified or whatever word you’d like to toss in there) to opine as to why this or that happened. 

Even when they get it exactly wrong.  And that’s scary.

And on that note I will make a comment about opinions and comments on a subject that has been “in the news” in the poker world just prior to the start of the WSOP, and that is the sexual harassment and racism allegations of Dr. Jaclynn Moskow stemming from a 2014 appearance on Poker Night in America.  I only know one of the parties involved (Nolan Dalla) and for not that long.  I do not know how others know of Dr. Moskow or Mr. Dalla or any of the others mentioned or involved; for how long, how well, etc.

What I do know is that I have read a LOT of opinion on the subject.  I am amazed, because many of these opinions begin with phrases like, “I was not there, but…”  This is both for opinions of support on both sides.  One write up even had this summary phrase, that opinions were based on the “perception of the events rather than direct evidence.”

Yes, opinions are like assholes, I know the joke.  Still, people are using “perception of the events rather than direct evidence” for their rationale.  That REALLY scares me.

I don’t know what happened, and sexual harassment (any harassment) is bad, and the poker world has some unusual quirks (and quirky people), and yet…I was not there, so I could not feel qualified to make ANY judgment or opinion on this event.  And yet many others have no such qualms.

Here’s an experiment:  next time you have shooting pains, or bad cramps, or some illness or discomfort, go to your health care specialist and ask them for an opinion…based on the perception of the events rather than direct evidence.

Let me know how that works out for you. 

In the meantime, use your head and think logically, and if you don’t know, either (a) find out for sure, or (b) keep quiet.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you. I've been shouting in the wilderness that until and unless we hear a full explanation with supporting documentation we have absolutely nothing upon which to draw a conclusion. Right, wrong or indifferent the people that know what happened haven't been heard from...yet.